I’ve worked in the media production industry for over 10 years focusing on design for print, web, broadcast and mobile apps. In 2014, I took a major chance and left my full-time job to become a freelance designer. Though this decision came with its pros and cons, all that mattered to me was the time that became available to explore my interests and passions. In 2015, I founded a Meetup.com group called Art and Tech Collective where I organized events at my local college focused on VR and Game Development. While organizing meetup events, I began working with digital art students which then led me to create a student mentoring program. Later that year, I began experimenting with 360 motion graphic videos for VR platforms like Samsung VR, VEER.TV and YouTube. I then entered my first design challenge with Mettle.com where I got the 3rd place for my Mech Room 360 Countdown project. Not long after that, I began learning Modo 3D from tutorials I found online with the goal of creating my own Virtual Reality worlds from start to completion.
I initially began researching online programs and bootcamps to recommend to my students, but in the process began growing interested in joining them myself. With a full plate of freelance work and a growing family, time management was always a priority. Many of the programs I reviewed recommended students schedule at least 30-40 hours a week and dedicate 12-16 months. These types of programs simply didn’t fit my current life situation, but after some further research, I came across Game Art Institute. In reviewing their program, I realized that the duration of their classes and bootcamps was much more manageable. This resulted in me joining their March 2019 Game Artist Bootcamp with the goals of better understanding the game environment workflow and becoming a better 3D artist overall.
Bioshock Fan Environment
Start of the Scene
The scene initially began as an idea to create a 1920s style candy shop where I could place a bubble gum machine prop I created early in the bootcamp. In searching for references, I decided to pivot towards a 1920s bar and lounge scene. As I began gathering more references, I kept coming across images of the game Bioshock and instantly thought, how cool would it be to create a scene in the Bioshock universe.
I blocked out the scene in Modo around the aesthetic of the original BioShock game. The layout was based on photo references of actual bar lounges. To establish a scale for my scene I used diagrams I found online of standard bar settings. I then continued to use the UE4 Mannequin to assist in adjusting the overall scene scale.
To gather further reference material, I began playing BioShock: Burial at Sea and taking screen captures of areas at the beginning of the game. I ended up loving the aesthetic of this version of Rapture so much I redesigned my assets to capture its cleaner and fresher look. Since I decided early on to make this shift, it wasn’t too much to update my assets to the new look.
Working in Modo
Modo was the software I picked up when recommended by a friend who worked in VFX for TV and film. I originally worked in Maya, but after trying Modo I realized it was very intuitive and quick especially its selecting and beveling tools. Its UVing has also always been a huge win for me due to its great unwrapping tools and ease of use. I would highly recommend anyone interested in learning Modo review the tutorials offered by Pixel Fondue on YouTube channel, that’s one place to find a wealth of knowledge.
I used the standard high to low poly workflow. All my modeling, UVing and Vertex Normals were done in Modo. I then set up Substance Painter projects utilizing their default Unreal Engine 4 template. I baked all my texture maps in Painter, built my materials and exported them using the Unreal Engine 4 (Packed) Config. Setting everything to Unreal Engine presets made working between the two programs seamless and predictable.
I like to approach building textures the way they would exist in the real world. All my textures were built in Substance Painter, utilizing Substance Source materials combined with default materials. As I textured assets, I created custom Smart Materials whenever possible. This allowed me to build a library of materials that helped keep a cohesive look and feel across the entire environment.
I built the reflective textures in Substance using its default Aluminium Pure material as a foundation. I created lite surface dirt layers and paid a lot of attention to roughness and color values. The goal was not to go overboard with grunge and damage but to use mostly roughness to tell the story of the materials. This approach was recommended by my mentor Simon Fuchs during my time at GAI. This approach allowed me to capture a good balance between pristine clean and rapture dirt and grungy.
One major step in my process was setting up the vertex blending material for my walls and pillars. I went through many iterations where I completely repainted all my vertex blends in UE4, each time dialing it back a bit until I got the look I was going for.
The lighting was one element that was always being adjusted as I built out the scene. I spent countless hours changing light values and baking. The scene is lit by a mix of Static, Stationary and Movable lighting. There were many adjustments to cone angles, attenuation radius, shadow bias, and contact shadow length. There was a lot of attention given to volumetric fog and post-processing volume settings, specifically Ambient Occlusion and Screen Space Reflection. I also adjusted the World Settings to increase Lightmass quality.
One major part of my lighting process was setting the proper lightmap density for the entire scene. I did this by adjusting Lightmap resolution of each prop individually. This allowed me to ensure a cohesive lightmap density across the entire scene. The results were much higher quality shadow bakes from static and stationary lights.
When working in a texturing tool like Substance Painter it is very important to familiarize yourself with the documentation and workflow designed specifically for the combination of your texturing software and game engine. I frequented both the Unreal and Substance documentation to learn the proper RGB settings and node connections to successfully create my materials in Unreal Engine.
For my final video, I used Sequencer to capture my final camera moves throughout the scene. I rendered out camera move as PNG sequences at 4K resolution and brought them all into Adobe After Effects to combine with audio and compose my final video.