Kobus Viljoen has shared the workflow behind the Abandoned Faith project, explained the process of making modular assets, and showed the lighting setup in Unreal Engine 5.
Hi. My Name is Kobus Viljoen, I'm 28 years old and I am from South Africa with three years of animation studies before starting to work. After working in the training AR/VR industry at BizAR Reality for the past 4 years, I decided to study game arts at Vertex school.
I started this scene as an assignment to create a full environment. I made use of modular pieces for most of the scene. I was also tasked with creating one hero asset for the scene.
For this project the goal was to utilize dynamic lighting, without baking, to be aligned with pipelines used in the game industry. I chose Blender as my main modeling software as it allowed me to work with my modular assets with lighting, sculpting, and modeling all in one place. Unreal Engine 5 was chosen to keep up to date with technology and learn the new way of scene creation in the game engines that will be used in future production pipelines.
Here's the list of software I used in production:
- Blender – Modelling, UV, and sculpting
- Substance 3D Painter – Texturing and baking.
- Unreal Engine 5 – Lighting, spatial testing, rendering, VFX, and full scene assembly.
- Photoshop – Ivy creation and post-processing.
- PureRef – Referencing.
I decided to go for a Nordic scene as it is a personal favorite and inspired by God of War. I started gathering references for all the elements that would go into creating the scene and setting I envisioned. The overgrown, destroyed elements of this scene were included to add interest and to break up the straight lines of the architecture. The elements also showed a certain amount of destruction to reinforce the abandoned feel of the scene.
Materials in this scene were chosen to be more opulent than the general nordic building style as the most expensive materials were reserved for temples and statues. Dark oak and gold were chosen as these materials were rare in the Scandinavian forests. The stone was to symbolize the temple as the strongest building in the village, unlike the other buildings which would have been constructed from only wood and straw.
Planning the Scene
I started by grey-boxing the scene. I decided to use Blender and Unreal Engine as these gave me real-time performance and allowed for fast-look development. My starting point was basic-level designs, with a preliminary size layout in Unreal. I then moved to Blender to layout lighting and to get the feeling for the scale of the scene.
The idea with the scene was to make a tomb the focal point and to have ornate wall pieces creating interest on the far side of the scene. The bridge leading down the center leads the viewer's eye to the focal point.
The tomb as the centerpiece added to the Nordic theme. Historically in Norse mythology, fallen kings and legendary heroes were often memorialized with monuments. Creating hidden lore in the piece and is intended to make the viewer wonder what the legend of the piece could be.
The idea of this scene is to create a dynamic look and add to the significance of the centerpiece. The carpet in the hallway leads the viewer's eye towards the center, past with the arches framing the scene.
Ravens in Norse mythology are symbolic as Odin’s spies in the mortal realm. By making the raven the hero piece of this scene, there is the overtone that the gods are watching the temple.
Modular Asset Planning
I created some initial assets to assemble the layout of the scene. These assets were large sections of the walls that form the rounding behind the statue. To avoid obvious repetition of the wall pieces, the pillars were ornate and the walls were made more subdued. The torch lights in the wall pieces add a focal point and bring warmth to the cold colors and look of this scene.
These initial assets were included to create the basic shapes and construction of the scene.
Once the assets were placed in the scene, I started with the material planning.
A trim sheet is a single texture consisting of a collection of materials that can be referenced by multiple objects in your scene. These are UV mapped to reference appropriate parts of the trim sheet. The textures are used to reduce texture maps in the scene and to create higher fidelity with the tiling textures The textures repeat on both ends to ensure that any length of the UV map can be referenced to this material.
The trim sheet was planned in sections, along with the overarching materials that were used in the scene. A high-poly version of all the pieces was modeled to fit the theme and style of the reference. This was baked down into maps for the textured versions. Materials were planned in a basic manner to get a better idea of how they would look in the scene. I did this by applying them to the basic greybox assets. The final sheet was created by adding aging and stress to make the scene feel more lived-in and make the materials more authentic.
Modular Asset Refinement
Using the original grey-box assets, I updated them with more detailed model pieces that catch the lighting and give a better sense of scale.
These pieces were then finished by applying the trim sheet pieces to them and defining the materials of all the objects, making the construction more interesting and creating color variations.
For this part of the project, I had Chico Spans as a mentor. He is a vegetation artist at Massive Entertainment. He helped me to create the planning strips for the ivy in this scene.
I started in Photoshop, where the stems and leaves were created by tracing over the reference image to create the basic shapes.
Some color variation was added to the leaves to show where different shapes would be distributed. The variations also gave a clearer idea of what the final sheet would look like.
In Blender, the flat sheet was cut into smaller sections for use in larger assemblies. These smaller pieces were then bent to create some depth. A small piece, consisting of three leaves was distributed at intersecting angles with the flat pieces to create depth. The intersected pieces created full assemblies to construct bigger pieces to make it easier to cover larger sections in the scene.
The ivy assemblies were used to plan the placement of all the ivy in the scene. This helped with giving an idea for where all the ivy in the scene would be, these were updated when final textures were applied.
For the final look of the ivy, I used a Quixel texture. The leaves were modeled and the textures were transferred to the modeled leaves. The leaves were distributed on top of the initial flat sheet, as well as some poly stems made between the leaves. The high poly leaves were then baked down to maps that were fed back to the original flat sheet. This updated all the assemblies to their final quality.
For the raven statue, I found a 3D scanned model on Sketchfab to use as a starting shape. I modeled some wings and rocks to get the pose that would fit in the scene.
The shape was then referenced to create a basic silhouette to lower the detail of the piece and give it a stronger base to support the weight of the carved stone. I created four feather shapes that I sculpted with high detail to get the feeling of large stone carving tools being used on the piece while still maintaining the softness of the feathers. The wing was then broken apart using the Cell Fracture modifier in Blender. It was also cut into three separate pieces to lower CPU usage when calculating the shatter.
The wings were bent using the Simple Deform modifier in Blender. Feathers were distributed along the back, flowing down to the tail. The softer feather mesh was used to show different textures on the chest. The finished shape of this mesh ended up with a lot of separate pieces. The quality appeared too high to be realistically carved out of stone.
The next step was to finalize the statue and to make it ready for use in Unreal Engine and achieve a realistic, stone-carved look. Starting with making the statue into one piece and reducing detail I used the Remesh modifier with a medium resolution. I created a lower resolution clay-like sculpture with the spaces between the wings meshed into each other. To make the clay-like sculpture more like a stone piece, I used a low-resolution Decimate modifier as it created a sharper look to the statue. This made it appear to be chiseled out of stone. Ivygen was used in Blender to create the ivy crawling across the statue. The Quixel ivy leaves were used as the leaf texture for this ivy as well to keep consistency.
The statue was textured using Substance 3D Painter. Ivy was baked into the Ambient Occlusion Map to cast dirt and shadows on the stone texture.
A Skybox was used to illuminate the scene and to get some real-world colors into the image.
The volumetric fog was used to create depth in the image and separate the foreground and background assets from each other.
Post-processing was used to pull down the lighter values and mute the colors. The intention for this was to get the authentic darkness and gloominess of the scene as a base.
A Spotlight was aimed through the broken section of the roof to show where the roof is not fully intact. This also gave a light path for the eye to follow towards the center of the scene.
The foreground pillar was illuminated using an area light to get a light bounce. This was done to separate the foreground and background.
Hallway area lights were added to illuminate the foreground in blue, drawing the eye to the contrasting orange center of the image.
God-rays were added to illuminate the bottom of the wing. Three area lights were used to give the beams an obstructed quality, enhancing authenticity.
Cloud images were created using a photo and adding noise to break up the image to create the illusion of cloud layers. These were then set to a low opacity and stacked together with the tree card to form the background in the distance, behind the walls.
The tree and cloud cards were then added in layers, creating the illusion of a misty forest outside the back windows and giving the scene depth.
Dust particles and fires were added with the Niagara effects system to create some dynamic movements in the scene.
It took me 6 months working full-time to complete the scene:
- Some optimizations were made to complete the scene in time.
- Modular assets allowed me to update the scene in large sections, by updating one asset which carried through the entire scene.
- Trim sheets allowed me to avoid creating a texture for each object which saved texture space and allowed higher quality on the textures used.
- Unreal Engine and Blender allowed me to work in real-time and iterate and refine the scene at a good pace.
- Ivy sheets were created to save time, custom growing all of the ivies in the scene and giving more precise placement.
- I created several high-quality assets for the scene, but the techniques used for the background and lesser focal points saved time and processing capacity by implying detail instead of modeling it.
Starting this project I ran into a lot of problems with scale and scope as I kept having to shrink the camera focus area down to fit the time I had to finish. Scaling down the scene came with the challenge of picking a focal point and distributing the details where they would be seen the most effectively.
Creating the ivy was a challenge as I have never modeled vegetation before. Under the mentorship of Chico Spans, I was shown a better way to think about this process. Spending time to understand these methods quickly became an amazing supporting asset adding the abandoned feel to the scene.
The statue presented quite a sculpting challenge that would have taken a lot of time to complete. I solved this by using modeling techniques to make all the feathers and the shape rather than attempting to sculpt every feather.
Keeping all the lighting dynamic meant that I had to do a lot more painting with lights to make them bounce off the surfaces correctly was a greater challenge than I anticipated.
Through this project, I learned how to create a full environment with new techniques. From learning how to properly assemble a modular asset pack, making bigger scenes in a smaller amount of time, and creating realistic trim sheets. With the knowledge gained of vegetation and Niagara effects as well, this project grew much bigger than I intended but also became more manageable and enjoyable with the knowledge gained by problem-solving and from the feedback from my peers and mentors.
Ending off this project I realized that breaking the scene into sections and focusing all of your attention on those sections, while keeping a vague image of the full scene in the back of your mind, creates better results and helped me to not feel overwhelmed with the scope of the work.
Thank you for reading my breakdown. If you would like to see my other works I would be happy if you contact or follow me on ArtStation.