Jiaming Chen did a breakdown of his Chinese environment made within CGMA course Organic World Building in UE4 led by Anthony Vaccaro.
My name is Jiaming Chen, I am an environment artist and currently work at Netease Games in Hangzhou, China. I graduated from Jilin Animation Academy in 2013. After graduation, I joined Snail and participated in the production of King of Wushu working in CryEngine 3. In 2016, I entered Netease’s Thunderfire Studio and took part in the production of Justice Online.
I spend most of my time working as I like my job. I’m always looking for a chance to learn new things and develop further, so I attended the CGMA course Organic World Building in UE4 and definitely learned a lot during the studies.
Reference & Inspiration
Some time ago, I was very obsessed with Ryuichi Sakamoto. In his documentary “Ryuichi Sakamoto: Cod”, he talked about the inspiration he drew from the forest sounds to compose music. His compositions stunned me: I could feel the earth, the insects, the birds, and other natural sounds. I wanted to make a scene that would evoke the same feelings.
At the same time, I didn’t want the environment to be composed of organic elements. Once, I saw an article about earth structures (I think it is a very distinctive type of structures in China) and decided to implement them in my scene.
I collected some references for earth structures, bamboo forests, rivers, and vegetation and moved on to the production.
I only had ten weeks to finish the scene, so I had to work efficiently. In the first week, I drew sketches, made a blockout, placed it in Unreal, and adjusted the layout of the scene. At first, I wanted to create a terrace but Anthony told me that the scene was too big to finish it in ten weeks. So I narrowed down the walkable area, removed the distant terraces, changed some rocks, and decided to make one of the earth structures bigger, marking the center point that would help to guide the player’s eyes.
I chose to use World Machine to create the mid-range of the scene.
In World Machine, I used a lot of layout nodes to recreate my blockout. After the large structure was set, I added a slope because I wanted my scene to be a bit slanted.
The surface map was created with the help of the b&w image generated in World Machine.
I made two large sets of rocks for the cliff in ZBrush. During the process, I mainly paid attention to the main shape and secondary forms to ensure that the rocks are large enough, I did not pay much attention to the small details because I was going to achieve those through the Normal map.
I made a simple mapping which would give me a better blend between the rock and surface textures.
Making Mixed Materials in Unreal
My earth structures use a mix of materials, and there are many ways to mix textures in Unreal. I use Lerp node to mix 4 textures and add a heightLerp blend to make different textures produce different heights and edges.
In total, I made three versions of the bamboo. At first, I made several sets and each group had three different heights. However, when I placed them in the scene, I found out the bamboo area was beyond my budget. Therefore, I split them just into three types: a tall, low, and bent bamboo.
I made leaves in 3D software and then imported them into SpeedTree to generate the foliage.
I used physical force to make the bamboos have different degrees of curvature.
Similarly, I made a lot of grass and plants.
I aimed at giving the plants strong highlights so that they could look very shiny and have a transparent effect. At the same time, I wanted to animate the bamboo in SpeedTree, so I used two sets of materials for bamboo and the rest of the plants. In the materials, I added the effect of opacity and self-illumination so that the light could be adjusted.
Here are all my organic assets:
In terms of lighting sources, I only used DirectionalLight, SkyLight, and Lightmass, and turned on dynamic lighting. I also added AtmosphericFog and ExponentialHeighFog. At first, I used a very strong fog effect as I like this visual effect a lot but it made the scene look very gray, so I reduced it.
In post-processing, I used a LUT. First, I downloaded a LUT from the Unreal documents, then made a screenshot and adjusted the color tone in Lightroom. I went for the movie-like colors, but later on, I lowered the intensity of the LUT.