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Stéphane Charré did a breakdown of his small hand-painted stylized environment Tranquility House made in 3ds Max & Photoshop and gave some tips for those who want to work in the same art style.
During the last months, I’ve still been working in Unreal Engine 4 improve the lightning skills which by the way, led me to increase the overall quality of my scenes. I enjoyed working on various environments in terms of global ambiance and colors.
I also started creating a stylized scene this summer as a personal project.
Sometimes I read some Unreal Engine 4 books to learn a few tips and tricks. Also, as an environment artist student, I’m currently taking lessons on game development and my teachers were giving me quite good pieces of advice throughout my progress.
Read the previous interview with Stéphane here:
Project Tranquility House
First of all, I think having good references is the key. I would like to mention the amazing artwork done by Friedemann Allmenroeder that I took as the main reference. Despite the changes in the original concept, I tried to stick to his art style as much as possible.
Friedemann Allmenroeder gave me the basics to start with and I just completed by searching other artworks or existent 3D models that would fit my ideas.
Here are some references picked from Sketchfab:
So far, I didn’t want to get involved too much into textures. Texturing is a terrifying part and requires more skills than we think, especially when you only want to use Photoshop to get a stylized hand-painted look. Stylized hand-painted materials need to be simplified and clean, it’s halfway between reality and fantasy. They must be understandable by their shapes.
Most of the materials are only using a simple Albedo map. I added a few more maps for objects with transparency and glossiness. Without normal maps, your textures are going to be flat.
Also, remember about the lighting: you should figure out where the light is coming from and adapt your painting accordingly. We can take rock cracks, for example: increasing the dark inside and highlighting the borders where the light reaches the most will let you imitate the shadows. Note that it’s not necessarily important to fully respect this rule depending on your art style.
Final note: for some pieces, tileable materials were required.
Achieving Hand-Painted Look
First step: I quickly block out my textures before entering the details. I found this GIF that perfectly resumes what I did.
The second step is to add the first major details you like to see. Could be rock shapes, wood cracks etc.
Finally, I increase the details by adding color variations and shadows/highlights.
You may need to repeat steps 2 and 3 a few times to get a proper render. The more you struggle, the more detailed the textures will be.
One more technique I use is utilizing the selection tools as much as I can. Making a selection and painting over will definitely improve the design and make your artwork less dirty. Selections will also separate the colors making your textures more readable.
As for my brushes, I use the Evenant free brush pack for Photoshop made by Walid Feghali. For the stylized art, I mostly use the same brushes. 90% of the work is done with Soft Round/Hard Round/Hard Lines & Texture paint brush 1. The rest can be done with some alphas, for example, grass or some additional details.
Brushes are kind of personal stuff, and I would heavily recommend you using brushes you are confident with.
Moving to Substance Painter
The idea is to get rid of the 2D pipeline including the production of details in Photoshop itself. Creating the details inside ZBrush is a must because the will be much more convenient to work with once you export the maps from ZBrush to Substance Painter. You will get all you need to texture your mesh.
The main difficulty of this powerful workflow is to handle all the new software solutions as they are complex and offer a bunch of features. However, I think that in the long run, it could be less time-consuming and improve your work.
I don’t think PBR is really necessary for stylized art, it mostly depends on the project you are working on, but I guess that nowadays PBR has become a standard in the video game industry.
Geometry & Modeling
I started drafting the first model of the house two years ago but I was not happy with the result as it looked quite messy. Luckily, with new experience I managed to rework it to my liking.
The final scene reaches around 13k triangles. Considering that all the details were coming from the textures, the goal was to keep the meshes as simple as possible.
All the models were made in 3ds Max. I separated them into three categories and started with basic shapes. Then I densified the geometry until I got the perfect silhouettes. I try to keep an eye on the overall look of all pieces by creating an empty scene and I aligning them side by side. It gives me better control over the ratio proportion and art style.
Speaking about the art style, the easiest way to achieve a stylized look is to deform your objects. You can bend or scale them in order to overstate the shapes. It’s a common technique used by many artists.
I really wanted to add something special to the scene, nothing really fancy, just little spots you would be amazed to discover. Even if my work isn’t perfect at all I always try to capture some additional attention by specific elements. I think it is important for an artist to possibly add a message to the work he or she shares, and if you can make the viewer smile, it’s even better.
Here are a couple of my secrets:
- A sort of a Sketchfab paper pinned to the house door
- My social media printed on the wooden sign
Considering the fact I worked on this project during my free time, it took me roughly 2-3 weeks. But keep in mind that I always prepare the whole concept beforehand by kind of gathering references in my head. It gives me the limits that I should not overpass. The most time-consuming part was the creation of every single texture Photoshop. It has clearly been my main challenge in this project.
If you want to create something alike, I heavily suggest approaching your ideas as quickly as possible and iterate as much as you can. The most important part here is to give it a try. If it doesn’t match what you were expecting to create, get back to new references and try again.
Here are the general links: