Grace Magnant talked about modeling and assembly of her modular Medieval Town made with UE4 and 3ds Max.
Growing up, I have always been a fan of Fantasy. Specifically, Medieval Fantasy with knights and dragons. It has always been an aesthetic that intrigues me, and I wanted to bring those elements to my project. I wanted to create something that brings that fantasy to life and also pushes my skills as an artist.
Start of the Scene
I found a reference photo (an earlier piece by Eddie Mendoza) to help get the scene started, then further pushed it into that fantasy realm that I was looking for. I wanted to keep the same medieval style architecture but add in more elements that gave the scene a fantasy look overall. In meters, I used 2×2, 4×4, and 8×8 blocks and planes to create a quick block out of the scene in Unreal. I wanted to make sure the scale of everything could be easily rearranged throughout the scene.
Modeling the Assets & Modularity
I knew that I would need to pay immense attention to the modularity to create the repeating houses throughout the background. This would also help later on if I needed to edit the buildings in any way. I created all of the assets within the scene in 3ds Max, but I started with the walls, arches, and windows. In the first weeks of production, I spent much time on various walls, arches, and windows that were similar in size but had different patterns that could make them unique throughout the scene. I started with very basic architecture then created interesting patterns and designs that could be added on top of them. Depending on the piece, the final assets had a geometry that ranged from about 200 tris to around 1800 tris. The higher polycounts were mostly for the windows which needed more geometry for their shutters.
Once I had a basic grasp on the walls, arches, and windows I focused my attention on the clock tower in the front of the scene. I knew that the piece needed to fit on a 90-degree angle but could also have the opportunity to fit on different houses throughout the scene. To ensure the pieces would fit together I made instances of the assets and placed them as they would be placed in the final scene. That way I could make sure the two pieces would fit together as I was working on them.
Next, I created three different roofs that were used throughout the scene and used them as a base for the broken roofs seen in the front. I added a few pieces that would hang off the rooftops to create variation throughout the scene.
Then I started to focus on the bridges using many of the assets I had already created, like the windows. I saved some time but also made sure to keep a consistent style to the rest of the scene.
When modeling was almost done, I went back and further detailed the pieces to add interest and break the 3D aspect that some of the pieces had. Finally, I focused on props and smaller items like shingles that could be placed along the roof to add variation, and barrels and benches that add a sense of life to the scene.
In all honesty, I wasn’t that good at texturing when this project started. Because of this, I made sure to ask for help from peers and teachers as well as look up tutorials online that were available. My reference was a bit difficult to decipher texture-wise, so I ended up researching different textures within the medieval and fantasy genre and based the textures off of those. I learned pretty quickly that patience was the way to develop strong textures. Don’t expect the final product to be done in moments, you will rather have to come back to it quite a few times before it is perfect.
The greatest struggle I had with the textures was keeping detail from a distance. Textures that seemed fine in Substance Painter, would seem flat and lifeless from far away. It was a bit tedious to go back and forth between the two programs, but I wanted to get the textures just right so that they would fit well with the scene.
Working off of the blockout I created in Unreal, I brought in the basic models that I made and ordered them throughout the scene. Any time I edited those assets I would merely export them with the same name then reimport them into the scene and they would automatically update. Once everything was in the scene I ended up making a few extra assets that would work to make seamless transitions between corners and textures. Objects like pillars and overhang braces helped bring more life to the scene. I spent much of my time re-adjusting the camera throughout the process as I really wanted to make a dynamic shot of the scene, so I found myself trying various different shots to make it work.
Expanding the Scene
What I struggled with the most was expanding the street off into the distance, much farther than I had previously planned. However, due to the amount of work I spent on modularity earlier, I was able to make various different houses throughout the background of my scene without too much of an issue.
Another challenge I struggled with was the floor. Because I choose to push the street further back to gain more interest in the background, it became very apparent that the floor was a repeating texture. To solve this issue I decided to play with levels within the scene and try to dig different paths into the ground. By using many of the assets that were already in the scene I was able to make an interesting pathway on both sides of the shot. This not only solved the issues with my repeating floor textures but also added a new sense of life and fantasy to the scene.
Much of the lighting came fairly naturally as the scene progressed and most of the lighting came from one directional light. That being said, I did add various gentle spotlights to add interest to the back alleyways that were not in direct view of the directional light. If I had more time for the project, I think I would have played with lighting more than I did, test the different light positioning, intensities, and possibly even the times of the day.
Overall, I learned a lot about modularity, composition, and 3ds Max. Prior to this semester, I had never touched 3ds Max before and was interested in learning this new software solution. I had learned how to use Maya, so I knew the concept of sculpting, but 3ds Max works in a different way that was difficult to understand at first. Now I am very comfortable with the application and have learned things that can be translated into different applications. This project also really emphasized the importance of modularity in a scene, especially for the street in the background. Finally, it helped me understand time management and recognizing what you can get done in a week.
I have to give a big thank you to my friends who supported me through this project as well as my teacher, Vincent Joyal, who really pushed me this semester to become a better artist.