Alaa Abdelwahed did a breakdown of his Portal of Infinity environment made in UE4.
I’m Alaa Abdelwahed, an Environment artist from Egypt. My passion for video games started nine years ago when I was playing Prince of Persia. I wondered how they made this game, so I started my journey into game dev as self-learner. Now I have 4+ years of experience in CGI.
Start of the Project
My project was inspired by Horizon Zero Dawn which has beautiful and colorful environments. I wanted to create something close to it. the main idea was to create a pure environment with a portal which teleports the player from one place to another.
I collected a lot of references for the environment and arranged them into categories (mood board, lighting, assets board, and quality benchmark board).
After I collected the references I started to breakdown the main reference to define the important assets and have a clear vision of the scene.
I decided to make the blocking as simple as possible. I started with setting up the ground in Blender and blocking the scene with simple 3D models to get a general idea and the perfect composition. I used the guidelines rule to pop up the key element in the scene.
Creating the Assets
The process of assets creation was very exciting. I collected a bunch of references for every asset and started to create the big ones (eroded soil and rocks). I modeled the base mesh for eroded soil in Blender, exported it to ZBrush and started to sculpt the primary and secondary details. I let the material to add the tertiary details. Once I finished sculpting I start to duplicate the subtool in ZBrush to decimate it and to have a low poly version of the asset. When I got the best polycount for the asset I exported it to Maya to make UV mapping for it.
Creating the Rocks
The process of creating the rocks is similar to the eroded soil but in the rocks, I concentrated on the scale of details because it’s very important to make the rocks look like real-world analogs.
Creating the Trees
For the trees, I chose “needle_tree” as my main tree type. Here are some of the photo references that I collected for the trees.
First of all, I created a simple model of a leaf in Blender. Then I started to texture the leaves in ZBrush before I distribute them on the branches. Once I finished the distribution I started to duplicate the canopy to extract the varieties.
The most enjoyable part was creating the leaf material in Unreal Engine. I created a master material for all of the trees, plants, and grass in order to be able to change any parameter and have control over the color variation for all of the trees from one material.
The portal is the point of interest which could teleport anything to another dimension so I had to make a magic effect to frame this function.
For the whirl, I grabbed a Galaxy image from Google, converted it to alpha and used it as a texture for a plan.
I used Substance Designer as the main tool for texture creation. Basically, I categorized materials into 3 types, Rocks – Plants – Mud, extracted all the other materials from these main materials.
In every material, I begin with the base shape, then use Tile Sampler node for the natural distribution to achieve the organic look. Once the normal map gets the look which I’m striving for I start to generate the color layer using Distribution Mask and other Grunge Maps.
When I’m finished with the textures, I move to Unreal Engine to create the landscape material which consists of 7 different layer materials. This allowed me to achieve a natural harmony. I exposed parameters for each layer to make it easy to toggle the layers in the materials for Instance Color, Normal Intensity, and Height Amount controllers.
I сreated some of the material functions to make the process of material production simpler. Here is one of them.
This material function helps me to simplify the master material and make it more organized.
I usually start the lighting process by looking at many references.
Among many lighting situations, I thought that the Daylight would give the forest a more natural look because it will help to emphasize the details. I start with the ambient light which comes from the sky, then I added the sunlight as my key source. After a few tweaks, I found the perfect angle and changed the sun color to match my vision. Moreover, I used the Japanese symbols to emit the light and attract the viewer eye to the portal.
Post-process is important as well. I grabbed a screenshot of the environment and I adjusted the colors in Photoshop by using only New Adjustment Layers. After I found the color tone I liked I exported the LUT to Unreal.