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Efrem Pivetti did a breakdown of his recent environment Efsunkâr the Hidden City and a character for it made with UE4, Maya, ZBrush, and Substance Painter.
Hi guys, I’m Efrem Pivetti from Milan, Italy. It has not been a long time since the last article but I recently joined the great team of 1047 Games as a Technical Environment Artist and had the opportunity to work on a really awesome game Splitgate: Arena Warfare. I am really happy about it and even if I have been working only for a short time, I learned a lot.
Read the previous interview with Efrem where he talked about his stylized Snow House in UE4:
Efsunkâr: Start of the Project
The project essentially started with the purpose to have fun. During these months, in order to finish the second year of school, we had to make a personal project, so I thought about starting a big project that aimed at improving my skill as an environment artist and approaching the character design workflow.
Before starting, I had no idea of what to do, except that I wanted to recall the mood and the feel of the first game of the Fable series. The plan was to create a cool fantasy environment where my character, the Hero, could move freely and explore every part of it.
I started with a deep research of references for both the environment and the character, trying to find a starting point until I got to the idea of a city built inside of a mountain.
Some of the key references I used are from great concepts that I found on the web and from existing Turkish and Arabian places. I tried to mix those things with some shapes and styles belonging to the classical Dwarven fantasy architecture.
The first blockout was much smaller but helped me a lot during the study process. I usually work with fast blockouts in Maya to define the main shapes and make simple overpaint sketches. I kept most of the elements of the first version but after the initial modular study of the houses, I extended the dimension of the environment.
Modular houses study:
When the first modules were defined directly in Unreal, I started to compose some shapes of the houses using blueprints and settle the spaces with a series of terraces from the main central corridor.
In this part of the project I worked step by step, and I really enjoyed it because I could move through the environment with Unreal’s base mannequin and this helped me to directly verify spaces while I was creating the scene.
When most of the scene was finalized, I started some lighting tests and made overpaints for the hero assets. At first, I wanted to make a night lighting but after some tests, I preferred to make a daylight scene which I had never done before.
Without a complete scene made in Maya, I had to work with the modularity of the assets.
For the houses, I made modular pieces in Maya and set a tiling material in Unreal trying to keep a very simple style of texturing. I set the master material with three layers of vertex colors: one for the bricks, with a height lerp, and two with normal maps and colors input in order to paint some soft color and detail variation.
Working with these colors wasn’t easy, I had to do a lot of tests to find a nice palette to use. Using instances material with parameters for colors and textures and watching the changes in real time helped me to speed up this process of the study and define the style of texturing.
For other modular assets, I took the idea from this great article by Tobias Koepp that was similar to what I wanted to achieve.
To create walls, columns and stairs which I composed in Unreal, I made some modular rock pieces using ZBrush, Maya and Substance Painter. I repeat the same process for other general rocks and the woods.
Merging the actors was essential to optimize lightmaps and collisions. Working with a lot of geometry, I also had to take care of LODs for every asset.
The style of texture is really simple. With Substance Painter, I used flat colors and some smart masks for the edges and the occlusion and created my own smart materials to which I added shades of colors painted by hand.
Using Unreal, I made a basic master material for all the baked assets, with texture and controls parameters that helped me to work faster and make adjustment directly in the scene.
For the curtains, I made an asset with a shape that works well with scaling and stretching. I positioned them by hand and made wooden supports directly on the walls. I also used another asset with a spline blueprint that allowed me to make more variation and connect the top of the houses. For these assets, I made a tiling material with two layers of vertex colors, one adding the wind effect and the other with an opacity mask for the holes.
I used the grass to break the colors but I wanted it to be flatter and to create a material contrast between the rest of the environment. I used the Thura Oo’s Semi CelShade PostProcess Material with a custom depth setting only for the grass and the tree.
For the props, I followed some references, made simple models with 2 different texture sets to add some variation and set the composition in the engine.
I set all the lights to static and worked with draft settings for most of the time in order to work fast and balance all the colors and intensity. With the directional light, I tried to find an interesting light cut on the city. I placed blue points lights to create a soft contrast between the central area and the sides and orange points lights to detail the city.
The skylight was set to static as well. I used a soft yellow and changed the lower hemisphere color to avoid complete black shadows.
Post-processing was the last step for general color correction of shadows, contrast, and saturation.
Learning the character workflow production was a really fun challenge for me. I started with making some shapes study and sketches in Photoshop to define a very basic concept. Thanks to it and my schoolmate Andrea Anselmi, I got a nice sketch as a reference to follow.
In the beginning, I wanted to make a more cartoon-like character exaggerating the proportions of the body but, considering that this was my first one, I preferred to stay as close as possible to a real shape.
I made the body in ZBrush starting from a sphere and using the base male model as a reference for the proportions. After I blocked out the armor pieces and the ornaments over the body in Maya, I returned to ZBrush for the details.
I made the retopology and the UVs in Maya, then used Substance Painter for texturing along with the same workflow applied to the assets and some stylized materials from Substance Share.
Rigging and animation were a real challenge for me: I had to study a lot to understand the workflow. I used the ARTv1 plug-in to make the rig and some very basics animations in Maya.
Taking into account personal and others school works, it took me more than six months to complete this project. I know that there is still some work to do, especially for optimization in Unreal, but I’m really satisfied with the result.
With this school project, I had the opportunity to have a lot of practice related to the artistic part of a game development from concept creation, through assets production and to the engine management.
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