Melisa Cetinalp talked about creating a realistic modular scene made withing CGMA course UE4 Modular Environments mentored by Clinton Crumpler.
My name is Melisa Cetinalp and I’m a 3D Environment artist in Toronto, Canada. I grew up in a large family with many brothers and we spent the bulk of our childhood huddled around the TV playing with the Nintendo64. I knew since I was young that I wanted to be a part of the field that had such a huge impact on my childhood. This has led me to pursue studies in Game Art at George Brown College, as well as taking CGMA courses to supplement my knowledge. In my free time, I am either browsing Polycount, 80 Level, or Artstation. Having just recently graduated, I’m eager and excited to make the transition from a student to a professional in this field.
Alongside my studies, I took Clinton Crumpler’s CGMA course to further understand the modular workflow in Unreal Engine. In the past, I often shied away from the technical aspects of the 3d modeling pipeline as I found it hard to understand. With this project, I wanted to challenge myself to fully understand the modular workflow that is standard in the field, while still creating an environment that felt organic and had a story.
The course ran for ten weeks in which our first week was spent gathering references and pinpointing a specific scene to work on. I’ve always been interested in stories revolving around pirates and sailing and played with the idea of creating a submarine or ship interior. I decided to go with the gun deck of a ship as I found it had many repeating elements that would perfectly suit the assignment.
Pinterest has a vast resource library that allows for quick reference gathering. Rather than coming up with the asset list myself, I was inspired through images found on the site. I was even able to find an example of a well-documented gun deck on a ship called the HMS Victory.
We were urged to think of the story or idea we wanted to tell through our scene. Although my reference material was of a recently built ship, I wanted to tell the story of a crew that lived in the 18th century.
Creating a block out was quick and easy. Things to look out for was scale, so having a reference dummy to compare against different areas and props was handy. It’s better to keep things very simple and blocky as we are just trying to get a sense of how the objects will fit each other and occupy the space in the scene. In 3DS Max my grid spacing settings were set to 10 cm to match unreal engines default settings.
I created ceiling capstones and pillars separately, however, I was later advised by Clinton to group objects that would repeat together. This would cut down on texturing many separate objects, as well as the time it would take to place things individually.
Trim sheets are a staple to the modular workflow as they allow us to pack small details into a single texture atlas that is recycled throughout the scene. Things such as the edge of a window, or a row of vents are great to pack onto a trim sheet. Since I worked with a large wooden area, there were fewer options. However, I was able to use trims for larger objects such as the cannonball sockets, and bolts in the ceiling.
If you have a material that appears on various objects in the scene, such as rubber, you can have a strip of rubber in your texture atlas and UV unwrap the object to that area. This came in handy when I added in hooks and bolts to my scene, as I was able to flatten these objects into the cannon holder area of my texture atlas that shares the same metallic properties. It is better to reuse these areas of my trim sheet since they are small enough not to draw attention
When it came to texturing objects, I learned about the importance of using gradients. A good prop, no matter how new, should always have some sort of weathering to it. Gradients help lead the eye to a focal point. We learned that noise should populate as a gradient from macro to micro detail, rather than uniformly around an object.
I also incorporated this idea in the coloring process, transitioning from a darker to a lighter shade in the walls, masts, benches, etc.
The floorboard was redone many times in Substance Designer. At first, I had the wooden slates tile at a high value. However, these looked noisy and didn’t match the scene. I received a lot of feedback from my teacher Jamie Richards, who helped me breakdown my reference material and advised me to create long wooden strips rather than separate boards flushed together. This looked much more pleasing and natural in the scene. It can be frustrating when the asset you’re working on doesn’t look the way you envision it to, which is why constantly consulting your reference is important.
We worked with master materials in which all of our inputs were converted to parameters. The actual materials used are instances from which we replaced textures and moved some values around when needed.
At the end of the ten weeks, I was nowhere near, where I wanted my scene to be. I reached out to my professors Billy Matjiunis, and Jamie, who both advised me to redo many of the assets in my scene. It can be frustrating having to once again start an asset from scratch, but looking back, I’m glad I did.
This is where my scene was at the end of ten weeks.
I got about to recreating many assets. The stools were too small and distracting so I changed them to benches.
Billy told me that straight lines such as those on tables and benches stood out too much and that I should use more geometry to break up the silhouette of such assets. Adding a few extra edge loops, and scaling and moving vertices around read much better to the eye.
Another way to break up symmetry and repetition is to simply mirror objects in Unreal Engine. When building props I made sure all sides looked polished so that mirroring objects over would allow for reusability.
My favorite part of the scene was creating and placing decals everywhere. Creating decal sheets is a good way to take a break from larger tasks in the scene. Decals can be relatively cheap and can really help with the storytelling aspect of a scene, as well as breaking up large areas into smaller areas in a natural way.
Since my floorboards were now giant strips, I was advised to create the ends of the floorboard as decals and manually place them. This allowed me control of where I could break up repetition, as well as framing the scene in a way that created lines for the eye to follow. I also created blobs of tars that matched my reference and placed them sparingly to add to the overall cohesion.
I used flour decals to mess up the floor, and many dirt decals populated along the edges of props where dirt would naturally collect.
Compared to my reference of a newly built and kept ship, decals allowed me to push the storytelling aspect of my scene to one that feels lived in.
Lighting is integral to making a scene. It contributes to the mood and overall ambiance of a scene and goes a long way in telling a story. Different colors can evoke different responses in people. For my scene, I wanted a warm wash over the room. I chose orange hues and a sunset vibe that complimented the browns of the wood. I also contrasted this color by using purple hues for the shadows. The slight fog helped the space feel dusty and old, further contributing to the story.
I recently attended GDC for the first time as part of a school trip. It was a great experience and I received a lot of feedback on this scene. It was suggested that I take another pass on my lighting and to improve a few assets.
Here was my scene prior to attending GDC
Areas such as the rope net are a time-consuming prop as the ropes are knotted together. Initially, I just had the ropes overlapping, but through closer inspection, this became very apparent. I decided to create little knots, as well as frayed tassels to polish of any rope assets. Although my screenshots do not necessarily focus on these areas, spending time on these small details helps to sell the overall look.
Although there are many areas I could spend time further improving, I am ready to call this piece done and am eager to apply my newfound skills onto new projects.
This scene really pushed my knowledge not just in the modular workflow, but also in my overall knowledge of what makes assets and scenes read nicely, as well as different functionalities in Unreal Engine. I had tried a modular scene in the past but struggled to fully understand the process. Under Clinton Crumpler’s thorough guidance, I feel my knowledge of modularity, and the overall game creation pipeline has improved immensely.
Thank you to CGMA and 80 Level for allowing me to be the best artist I can be, and for giving me the opportunity to share my work. If you have some time, please take look at my Artstation! I’d love any feedback moving forward!
Thank you for reading!