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Very impressive article Jake! You are very talented.
nice article! i love seeing the breakdowns.
3d artist Kimberly Wagner discussed the production of her new environment.
After graduation last summer, I got an internship with Infuse Studio where I worked on a bunch of different asset packs for the Unreal Market place, such as the Victorian Room and the Space Station. Through Infuse I was lucky enough to get to work on a contract they received working as a level designer on the Steam game, Islands of Nyne: Battle Royale.
This project started out when I saw a LinkedIn connection posting screenshots from The Division and was inspired by the architecture. I also realized that The Rookies were opening up submissions and this would be my last eligible year to enter. For The Rookies, I created a “Grand Mansion” environment, which was the basis for this environment, the “Abandoned Mansion.” I’d gotten lots of good critique from East Coast Game Conference and it was suggested I try and make a kind of “before and after” kind of environments like a “lived in” and “50 years in the future”, to display a range of different texturing techniques in one base environment.
My main goals for the “Abandoned Mansion” were to practice things not already in my portfolio: fine details like debris, leaves, broken objects, and lighting since those are some of my biggest weaknesses right now.
I started with blocking out assets in Unreal with simplistic models from Maya to get the scale I wanted. I wanted an environment that felt huge and open, but not empty. I knew I wanted multiple levels and huge columns. After blocking, I modeled each piece (some multiple times) until everything lined up and looked the way I wanted. It was difficult at first to gauge the size of the room, and I went through a couple different layouts before sticking with the final design.
Knowing I wanted a sizable front room, the tallest walls needed to be three stories high, since I wanted multiple levels. So I started off making the wall and moldings along the ceiling and floor for the one-story walls. I knew ahead of time that texturing would probably be an issue. How could I make a 3-story wall and quality-wise be the same as the 1 story so that they could blend well? This was another reason I started with the 1-story wall. Once I’d UV mapped it, I duplicated and stacked the pieces on top of each other, merging the vertices to be one piece, but not readjusting the UVs. This was fine for me, having the UVs stacked, because I knew the wallpaper would either be a flat color or a repeating pattern.
From the walls, I easily built the floor piece, the two different types of staircases, and the ceiling pieces. I made some pieces to hide seams that were very visible after building the lights. I’m still new to lighting in Unreal, so it was easier for me to hide ugly seams than spend days and days figuring out how to fix them.
For the abandoned portion, the biggest challenge was getting the debris and dirtiness of the room to look good. I’ve always avoided debris and such because I found it intimidating, but I wanted this environment to challenge these things, so I googled how other people approached it. For most of the broken pieces, I took shapes in Maya and used the “shatter solid” effect to get jagged pieces. This worked for the broken ceiling tiles, the ceiling beams, and the column.
While working with Unreal asset packs on Islands of Nyne, I got a glimpse into how others created meshes for ruins and such. I created a “pile” of debris in Maya using rigidbodies to get the broken pieces to lie randomly on the floor without having to painstakingly place them one at a time.
Lower and higher elements
The lowest level was the easiest level to build, but the hardest to set dress. Originally I didn’t have the two walkways on the third level around the room, but ended up placing them there to help fill in some of the space. I wanted it big and open, but not needlessly so. It took a while to figure out a good size, especially with the fountain. The second level was a little trickier, because I wanted it to be a little more than just a landing between the first and third floors, and originally I wanted a wall of windows, but later scrapped that idea to put in the longer room in the back. The third floor was originally the most unnoticeable at first, until I put in the walkways around the room. The problems there were getting it to look proportionally correct and not too short between the floor and ceiling, even though, mathematically, it was correct.
This whole environment brought on a lot of modular challenges I hadn’t faced before. It was suggested that I place beams along the ceiling above the columns to help them look like they are serving a purpose, and aren’t just floating/thrown into the scene. I had my columns placed along the grid, but due to the size of the ceiling tiles, I ran into an issue where, if I wanted beams to be across all of the columns, I wouldn’t be able to line all of the beams along the edges of the ceiling tiles—some would have to cross through the middle. I went through a few ideas—making different ceiling tile pieces for certain areas, etc, but eventually went with the first solution of having the beams lay where they needed to be—either along the edge of a ceiling tile or in the middle. I figured that would be less distracting, since the large dome was the focus among the ceiling anyways.
For texturing, I relied mostly on Substance Painter. I used Photoshop for a few things, such as the foliage and the image for outside the windows, but mostly used Substance.
For the “abandoning” part of this environment, I relied a lot on decals. I’d never experienced them—didn’t even know they existed—until I worked on the Space Station pack at Infuse. So this helped heavily with the grunge on the walls and floors. It made it easy to vary the mess without getting repeating or tiling issues since my walls are a tiled material, and I didn’t want to lower the quality of the textures.
I wanted windows but I didn’t want them blocked out or empty, so I utilized this parallax texturing technique described in this 80.lv article I’d saved. I found an image of a garden that I liked and in Photoshop I added a filter to blur it a little. I wanted the horizon line lower, but knew you wouldn’t be able to clearly see anything out of the windows, so I didn’t worry about the squashed look of it. To make the image taller, I merged a sky on top to add a little bit of blue and some clouds. Glass is also new for me inside Unreal, so I knew I wanted almost a frosted glass look, which this outside texture helped accomplish.
I am still new to lighting within Unreal, and I’d had a lighting setup in the scene that kind of stuck until the very end of creating the cleaner version of the environment. I’d posted some screenshots on my LinkedIn and a connection started asking me about my process, then asked if I would mind if he gave me some pointers on a more realistic lighting set. We emailed back and forth for a while and he helped me create a much better lighting. It was a challenge because the scene is so open, it kept winding up very dark in places I didn’t want it to be, so figuring out how to naturally light areas without it seeming odd was hard.
I started with just a directional light for the sun, upped the temperature and made it a warmer color. I wanted a later afternoon lighting. It ended up pretty dark, so I added in a few low-intensity spotlights in front of windows and the holes in the ceiling to add a little warmer glow to the room. Then I added some cooler spotlights to lighten up shadows and such.
Originally, this scene was built in Unreal 4.15 and I had been using BP Godrays. Well, Unreal released 4.16 which included volumetric fog, which (I feel like) really improved the lighting in my scene and made the godrays unnecessary. I’m still tinkering with them, but the volumetric fog is now a part of the exponential height fog, and took me a little longer than I’d care to admit to figure out.
The original clean scene took me about a month to make from concept to completion, and the “abandoned” portion took about two weeks. Lighting was definitely the most time-consuming. When I finally got my lighting looking good, it would take quite a while to build. So if I changed my mind on something and had to rebuild the whole scene again, it would take a while.
It was definitely a new experience taking an existing scene and changing it into something different while still keeping the base scene there.