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In terms of tools, I work mostly between Unity and Blender. For the last several years I’ve been incorporating physical materials into my work, meaning I often sculpt characters out of clay or foil, paint it, capture with photogrammetry, retopologize, and then work from there digitally.

I am a multidisciplinary (antidisciplinary?) artist; I code, I paint, I make small sculpture and models, I’ve made board games, animation, and digital games. On one hand, that means I have a really rich understanding of how these different fields intersect, and a lot of practical knowledge about how to build dynamic animations and rich worlds in Unity. On the other, it means that I have had to teach myself a lot and have developed some fairly non-standard workflows. I think of it as a sort of punk, only-plays-three-chords, by-any-means-necessary approach to game development, but I would say there are some gaps in my technical knowledge that a more traditionally industry oriented person may not have. But! I am very eager to learn more about the right way to do things.


Future Forestry Game (untitled, WIP)


I am currently working on a new game about living in the woods in the future. The game design approximates modern forestry techniques, as well as the hunting, foraging, and land management practices of the Maidu and Nisenan peoples indigenous to the foothills of the Northern Sierra Nevada and Central Valley. Mostly, I regard this project as a kind of loving portrait of the woods I grew up in and have recently returned to as an adult during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some more gaming-centric touchstones:

  • What if Firewatch were actually about forest fires?
  • What if Breath of the Wild treated the forest as a complex living system, rather than as a static backdrop for adventuring?
  • What if Stardew Valley systematized social activities more and let you do things like invite a villager for a hike? or let you invite them to help build trails around the village? or forage for berries together?

I am using many hand-painted textures, most of which are painted en plein air, and then processed in photoshop to make the colors more consistent and help tile properly. Working that way helps keep me from getting too burnt out sitting inside all day! One of my favorite bark textures so far, based on the pebbly bark of the Black Oak:

I’ve been experimenting with photogrammetry, but am finding it is too time-intensive to create original clay models for all the assets the game will require. Instead I’m making a few basic body types that I will modify further in Blender, and rely on a more stripped-down cel-shaded look for the characters.

I want to sometimes show the characters bathing / skinny dipping as well (a common summer passtime at the Yuba River here in Nevada County), and have them change outfits at different times of year, so I spent some time making a shader that could selectively hide parts of the underlying mesh to prevent clipping when they’re wearing clothes. I’m leaning towards the more realistic proportions and keeping clothing designs fairly simple for now. 


Fire Underground

video installation / realtime software animation / feature film / short film
about 1 hour

watch the full video here

Fire Underground is a feature length fantasy animation presenting an alternative history of coal. It pitches myths of forgotten forests, crawling proto-reptiles, and chthonic infernos against labor history, natural history, and Appalachian folk culture.

Although it is exhibited as video, the project was made with Unity, and several scenes were built with game-like logic, featuring semi-autonomous non-player characters, ragdoll physics, and deterministic simulation.

Nearly all of the 3D assets were created physically out of clay, cardboard, tinfoil, and more, captured with a simple photogrammetry setup, and cleaned up with Blender. Animation is a combination of canned mocap, in-engine IK solvers, ragdoll-physics puppetry, and some good old fashioned keyframing.

Visually I was very much inspired by Federico Solmi’s surreal animations, machinma in general, as well as early 3D games that had to build rich worlds out of computationally cheap tricks like billboarding sprites, prerendered backgrounds, etc. 

The full film has been screened at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and a 15 minute edit has been featured at several film festivals around the country.

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realtime software animation study
endless (approx 15 minute “lifecycle”)

A virtual creature / haunted skeletal jewelry. The Lich extends itself, perpetually extracts more lengths of chain from the terrain. It's body is animated by a real-time physics simulation. As the hand at the bottom feels it's way around, momentum imparted increases as it climbs up the chain. Eventually, the chain falls apart, segments of the Lich fall to the ground, and the cycle begins again.

The creature is based on some very creepy, very catholic jewelry I saw in a store window in Venice, Italy. 

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Freelance & Other Work

Vietnam Romance

computer game
Eddo Stern with Steven Amrhein, Nick Crockett, Jessica Hutchins, Lucas Near-Verbrugge

"If you hated the War but loved the Movies, you’ll love this game"

Vietnam Romance is about the fictionalized history of the Vietnam War and its cultural remains. The project takes various forms: computer game, collectible, card game, live performance / puppet show / dinner theatre, and video installation.

I have been working on this project off and on with Eddo for several years primarily as a gameplay programmer and general handyperson. I do wind up working on a lot of the game’s visuals, especially UI elements, particle systems and effects, and character animation.

As part of our remote workflow, I’ve started creating short videos to document new features, sometimes with expository voiceover. These are also convenient for demonstrating my work, but please note that these sometimes show glitches and bugs because they are documenting work in progress.

We’ve been working on a gamified remake of the helicopter rescue scene from The Deer Hunter. For the helicopter rescue system, I built a fairly complex character with animations for grabbing on to the rope, treading water, swinging back and forth, holding the rope while standing, walking while holding the rope, and more. There’s a lot of subtlety to the animation system, for instance the legs swinging back and forth is done in the animator (rather than rolling a fancy IK system or some kind of jiggle physics) and driven by changes in the character’s acceleration.

One involved animation sequence is  this minesweeping level, where the player hires Vietnamese people to clear a minefield in front of the tank. As the level progresses and several human minesweepers are exploded, the humans are replaced with a parade of exotic animals including monkeys, tigers, and elephants. For this scene we wanted to pay special attention to the way the character’s foot falls on the ground. Initially I tried to build a very involved IK setup that could ‘roll’ the foot from heel to toe, and stop mid-stride depending on how the vehicle moves. Eventually I did away with the IK system entirely, and came up with another, more elegant solution. If the character is moving over a certain speed, it transitions between animation states like you normally would. If it’s below a slow walk though, we adjust the playback speed of the animation based on the overall velocity of the character. The result is exactly what we wanted - our characters slow to a stop mid-stride.

The tiger is the last creature I added and by that point I had worked out some  much better audio feedback - that  woodblock sound speeds up to indicate proximity to a landmine.

Ghost in the Machine

Ghost in the Machine is an augmented reality app concieved by Larry Shea, a professor of drama at Carnegie Mellon and specialist in multimedia theater production. He hopes to overlay Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s industrial history directly on top of Pittsburgh’s newly gentrified East Liberty neighborhood, in the form of a campy, multisensory parade of historical technologies and fantastical characters, including marching electrical pylons and an Art-Deco/Flapper Angel of Electrification. I created some 3D models and animations for the project in the summers of 2018 and 2019.

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I’ve taught many courses on game development and 3D animation for undergraduate and high school students. Below is documentation from one of my favorite classes, a one week course on 3D modeling and character animation for high school students. More documentation of my teaching is available here.