German Romanticism, Waterfalls, and Birch Trees

In my CSLS project, I have decided to focus on the Romantic novel The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr by E.T.A. Hoffmann (commonly known as the author of The Sandman). I will be using Unity 3D to create a video game based on selected scenes that could function as one part of a course on German Classicism and Romanticism. I already have several ideas about how I would develop a syllabus around this, which I plan to discuss further in a future post.

Hoffmann’s novel takes place in a tiny (fictitious) town called Sieghartsweiler, which must be located somewhere in southern Bavaria. I assume this because the characters mention that they can see in the distance a (real) mountain called the “Geierstein,” which is located on the border with Austria in the Bavarian Alps.

The initial challenges mostly involve learning how to use the software. Shaping the landscape into hills gave me some limited familiarity with the toolbars and commands, but the real progress started when I had to build waterfalls. Lots of them. And why would I do that? Well, when you place water in Unity – in my case, so that I can have a stream running through Sieghartsweiler – it exists as a flat plane. So if you need to change elevation, which I most certainly do, since the stream flows downhill, you have to do something so that your two planes of “water” are connected. Otherwise, there will be edges of water planes poking out awkwardly in mid-air.

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 1.43.54 PM

Here, I’ve hidden a drop of about a meter and a half using a combination of rocks, grass, and a “water particle generator.” The latter isn’t readily visible in this image, but it shows up in gameplay mode.

The next major undertaking was to populate Sieghartsweiler with trees. The novel mentions birch trees by name, and photos from this region confirm that tall, straight, spindly trees are the norm here. Unfortunately, none of the free tree assets from the Unity store fits this description; on the other hand, this compelled me to learn how to use Unity’s built-in tree creator, as well as how to paint and import textures and materials for the bark and leaves. I made three different versions, so that there would be variety, and then used the nifty “mass place trees” tool to rapidly stick several thousand trees in my scene.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 11.02.53 AM

Here’s the empty scene where I built my tree prefabs. The little red and yellow thing is a humanoid figure that I placed as a scale reference.

The only problem was that there were then trees growing in the water, so I had to go back and erase those. Although Hoffmann’s writings are full of bizarre and uncanny elements, there’s no mention of lake-trees.

Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 1.41.08 PM

Lake. No trees.

The next step will be buildings, at which point the landscape will really start to look like it “belongs” to the novel. I’ll keep you posted!

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