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Bart de Vries prepared a breakdown of his stylized scene Desecrated Temple: sculpting and texturing different parts of the temple, establishing color and working on the presentation. Read his previous article about a Wild West environment here.
Hey! My name is Bart de Vries and I’m a 3D Artist at elite3d. Since the last interview where I mentioned that at work I was mainly doing realistic art (Blood & Truth has finally been released!), I’ve had the opportunity to switch to a stylized project! I’m quite happy with the change and I get a chance to explore character art as well as environment/props. This project has taught me a lot in terms of color shape and different workflows to approach asset creation which I definitely put to use in the Temple environment.
Concept by Emilie V.F
The Temple itself was one of the most time-consuming pieces as it has a lot of different pieces. I broke it all down into its individual components in my blockout stage. I’ve tried to optimize these pieces while saving the most detailed and unique ones.
Here you can see some beautiful production art illustrating how many different pieces I had to make and how I organized them. This excel sheet got updated throughout the process and is nicely color-coded for easy viewing. (Not all of the comments on these assets turned out to be correct but I have not updated their descriptions).
All assets in pink are made and mapped from a horizontal tiling trim sheet. The yellow parts are uniquely unwrapped, share one texture and are mirrored/duplicated. The green pieces are individually textured assets and mirrored to the other side. The skull in the middle is only mirrored in its UVs (2:1 Texture) and shares its texture with the two swirly pieces in red. The red parts are uniquely textured assets with the doors being a special case. The left door is a half-mirrored right door. The top part of the left door shares its textures with the right door while the bottom part is unique to the left door.
Light blue assets are tiling textures and the floor is a combination of a tiling texture and modular piece. The first half-circle step is a unique asset but is duplicated and mirrored to create the second step.
These secondary buildings received different treatment from the main piece as these were less important and the focus of the viewer shouldn’t be on them. They were mapped with three different tiling textures: Brick, Plaster, and Moss. Besides these, there were also the pieces in pink that share the same trim sheet as the main building but with a color variation. After they were mapped I added some extra geometry on the edges to break the silhouette a bit.
The red lines represent the mesh decals I used to get some definition on the edges. With these objects being further away from the camera I didn’t want to spend the time to sculpt the edges and used a common technique to roughen up the corners of the meshes.
This texture was created by sculpting the edges of a cube and baking them on flattened out strips of geometry. I painted out the mask for the edges – then you can place this geometry slightly apart from the original building mesh.
The stairs themselves are built from only a few pieces: a high-res sculpt of 5 steps and two bricks for on the side. The baked low-poly you can see in the top right corner is duplicated a couple of times and deformed to form the stairs you can see in the bottom of the image. To make it less uniform in the final scene there is a bit of moss vertex painting going on together with rocks and ivy. (Don’t mind the stretching, it’s not visible in the in-engine screenshots.)
The patterns that I made for the various parts of the temple are all sculpted in ZBrush with a very simple workflow of a basic blockout and then trimming away the edges with some TrimDynamic and Orb_Flatten to make it crisper.
Some of the more ornate elements have their own unique geometry such as the corner pieces (Mustache Man).
The roots were placed using my blockout mesh as a live surface in Maya and utilizing curves and QuickPipe to create them. This was a tedious process and not very flexible. Something to look into for the future.
Colors & Presentation
For this project, I used a different approach in terms of asset production. I wanted to get the colors and lighting in its best position possible to absolutely sell the environment. In my previous projects, I always did the texturing in one go after the low-poly and bakes. I realized that I spend a lot of time having to redo the textures throughout the progress of the scenes because either the lighting or my goals changed over the course of the project.
This time I decided to finish all of the main assets during the baking stage before progressing to the textures and lighting. I felt comfortable that I could at least get through all of the high-res and low/bake stages without much difficulty for this project.
The majority of the time on this project was spent on getting everything ready to start the texturing process. I spent about 3.5 months outside of my full-time job getting all my assets to a low-poly baked stage and final 2 weeks to finish it all (including textures, lighting, and presentation).
This approach was both a timesaver and something that dragged me down. Staying focused on the project while not having a pretty image to work on for months did test my motivation at times.
Picking my colors was relatively easy as I was able to lean a lot on the amazing concept work while expanding in the areas that were less clear. My approach was to create some basic first pass textures on all the assets by using smart materials.
I managed to get this all done in a short weekend with clever use of these smart materials. Because I had been consistent with my sculpt, simple and not too detailed, my bakes were consistent too and I only needed to tweak the materials a little bit per asset to make them work.
When I finished the first pass of the textures I went to add some lighting to the scene so I had a clearer goal as to which colors needed some changes. The scene is completely dynamically lit and like last time (the Wild West scene) I used the Unreal Lighting Academy videos for reference.
Here you can see the first pass on the background and some more shadow volumes above the bottom part of the scene. I started to do some more texture passes here to make sure the colors were all working together.
In the bottom right you have some ferns and bushes that make use of a different color texture that is more blue/green than the other ferns and palm trees in the scene. The main ones are more saturated and yellow/green. Although this may not be the most efficient solution it did help bring the focus more towards the temple and lessen the amount of attention the foliage was taking.
This fog offset also made sure that the foreground objects were more readable than the background bringing the focus to the right place.
In short, to get all the colors to work well together there was a lot of trial and error. I had Substance Painter open on one screen where I made little tweaks and the Unreal scene open on the other screen to check if the new tweaks made more sense.
The whole scene was tied together with some post-processing using a ColorLookupTable (LUT). This helped me greatly in trying to sell the scene as a whole and making some final color changes.
For the god-rays in the back, I followed this tutorial by Dave Wilson:
The biggest challenge for this project was by far the background. I was contemplating how to makes this from the start of the project. There were a few options that I considered such as:
- Painting the background and using a parallax-based workflow
- World Machine (or an equivalent) to create a terrain
- Use basic meshes and simplified foliage to fake trees
My painting skills need some serious work so I decided not to go with the first option. I also have limited knowledge of World Machine so that one was also not the best choice for a portfolio project. This meant that I decided to go with the last option with a lot of simplified foliage meshes and a lot of fog and blur. In the end, I think this is still the worst part of the environment and definitely something that I can improve upon.
This project was a lot of fun for me! I learned a lot of new things which I was instantly able to use in my professional work.
I tried to create a new habit for myself where I would work on the project for about two hours in the morning before going to work. I realized I had more motivation to do personal work before a full day at the office rather than after. So this project was made during these early morning hours except for some of the last weeks where I put almost all of my spare time into it. Having a clear goal and my excel sheet from the beginning helped a lot to keep me going. There was always something to do and I was never stuck in that phase of ‘What should I do next’ as I had already broken it down into smaller components at the start of the project. Having solid planning and working from a concept was great for me.
Don’t forget to check out Emilie V. F. ArtStation as well if you’re looking for some cool environment concepts! She was kind enough to let me work from her concept and gave some final pointers to the environment on how she intended some of the pieces to work.
Thank you for reading!
Bart de Vries, 3D Artist at elite3d
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev