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3d artist Bert Ruiter talked about the production of his newest 3d environment. This a very tiny James Bond inspired miniature scene with a lot of tiny details. Bert was kind enough to share his production process and gave some tips for beginners.
My name is Bert Ruiter, I am 24 years old and currently I live in a place near Utrecht, the Netherlands. Although I’ve always been fascinated by videogames, it never really occurred to me I could be creating (or at least contributing to) them. That is, until I read about an education about game design at the Grafisch Lyceum Utrecht, which I entered and finished about 4 years ago.
After I graduated there, I went to the NHTV University of Applied Sciences Breda Netherlands. There I studied Visual Arts, a 4 year bachelor’s degree study. In these four years I learned so much things, ranging from traditional drawing to world building. In my final year I did my internship at 2K Czech, where I got my first ‘real’ industry experience, working on an AAA game. In my last half year of my study, I created this Thunderbird 1 launchbay diorama project, which got me graduated about a week ago.
For my graduation project my main goal was to create a portfolio piece, that would hopefully help me land a job in the industry. I’ve created a lot of hard surface assets in the past, but never an actual scene / environment, which was really something I wanted to do. This, combined by inspiration from diorama / cutout scenes by for eg. Paul Pepera and Scott Homer and a nostalgic Thunderbirds (Thunderbirds is a television series broadcasted in 1965) setting led me to my decision to create this project. I really liked the idea of having a big contrast in atmosphere (the industrial, slightly gritty launchbay and a tropical pool on top of this) and the challenge to build up a scene in UE4 from scratch.
Starting the project
First thing I did is gathering as much reference as possible from the original environment. Since this show already passed its half century anniversary, it was a bit of a challenge to find high resolution material. Although, what mattered most for me was a general layout of the environment. With this information I created an initial blockout in 3Ds Max, which I got in UE4 asap. Although I changed some objects during the project – by position, silhouette or replacing it – I mostly kept true to the blockout I created. During the project all I had to do was replace the blockout asset in UE4, with the finished asset.
Creating the Assets
First thing I did was create a prefab scene in 3Ds Max. This contained size references, materials setup (for the highpoly and ID map baking) and a layer setup. I did this so I could quickly create a new file for every asset, without having to repeat this step all the time. Another benefit was that it kept the scenes consistent. In this prefab scene, I imported the blockout asset from my blockout scene and started building the final assets around this. About 90% of the assets were created by sub-d modelling the highpoly model, creating the lowpoly from that, baking it, repeat.
Although I like to create small details, I tried to keep in mind what would be best to actually model, or to add in the normal map with nDo, due to time constraints.
Some other softwares I used – or experimented with – for asset creation are Marvelous Designer (the air vent hoses), zBrush (the rocks and stones) and Speedtree (vegetation).
Texturing and Materials
As mentioned before, I wanted the launchbay area to have a more industrial look and feel in contrast to the swimming pool area. Since there is lot of huge scaled machinery in there this was not super hard to achieve. I’ve used a lot of metallic materials, combined with leaks and grunge. In the beginning, I created a modest library of smart materials in dDo, by using existing materials as base. This way I was able to texture my assets fairly quick and easy, plus it kept the materials consistent.
Texts and Warnings
Small details like stickers and warning signs significantly improve the believability of a scene. Since most of these were not going to be clearly visible (small), most of the texts are pretty generic, but they do the job. Mostly I used decals (floating geometry) to apply the texts and warnings, so I could tile my textures, without having the same text repeating all over the object.
For the floor I used flight deck ships as reference. Their decks matched the materials and look and feel that I had in mind. These lines and signs I cut into the geometry of the floor, which allowed me to use vertex paint easily, while using multiple (instanced, for different colors) materials.
Lighting the Scene
On the launchbay I wanted to have two main colors; red and blue. Besides these colors being the original colors of the Thunderbird 1 rocket, these are also complimentary colors, reflecting energetic (red / orange) and cool (blue). Beforehand you might think this is easily achieved by simply using these colors in the textures, but actually the lighting (and in some degree the post processing) is most contributing to this. See the image below for a comparison between the lighting before and after.
I started by having three base (static) spotlights, aimed at the left and right side, plus the ceiling. Because the rocket itself is the hero piece of the environment, I wanted it to be ‘separated’ from the background. I did this by playing a bit around with environmental fog, and highlighting it with some more spotlights aimed to it. Added to that, I created cylindrical shaped point lights to create some interesting highlights. To make the smoke particles more interesting, I used more spotlights aimed on the particles, which gave them a brighter and orange like appearance .