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In an exclusive interview, BioWare environment artist Ignacio J Guajardo describes how he created the incredible scenes of Future Hospital Sant Pau and Rivet Busters. He also gives details on how he created the models/materials.
About Ignacio J Guajardo
I got into 3D art all the way back in high school when my cousin showed me 3Ds Max. Since then, I never turned back. To me this field combines a lot of things I enjoy all into one. So I felt that it was the right fit for me.
My first industry gig was at a small company called Kotoc in Barcelona, Spain as an intern back in 2012. I went back to school with a solid interest in hard surface modeling, which I guess showed when Epic threw their Gears of War art test at me.
The following summer I headed over to Epic Games to work on Fortnite. I learned a ton and was able to bring back to school the then unreleased UE4, and share it with my thesis team members (legally cleared by Epic of course). That’s when I graduated with the project Rivet Busters. Now I’m at BioWare in Austin, Texas.
Optimization of Tools
For Rivet Busters, it was a group of four of us working on the project: Jati Darmawan, Clayton Chod, Garrett Stevens and I. However, we all divided up sections of the project so that we would all have clear ownership of who made what. When creating things on your own, you have to be smart about how much you can handle, what to cut, and where to optimize your workflow.
A workflow optimization that I made, was to utilize Unreal Engine’s layered material system. This allowed me to focus on the modeling, and once done all the bakes go straight in engine along with a material ID map and get plugged into a layered material, which essentially skips the whole texturing process once you have all of the master materials you need.
I took this process one step further on my latest personal project, Futuristic Hospital Sant Pau. With Substance Designer the same concepts apply in which you model something, give it a material ID map, and let your already set up materials do the texturing work for you. The difference here is that you are able to go into much more detail and do a lot more.
What Toolsets to Choose?
If you’re only starting your work, it’s necessary to pick a core program to be strong with such as Max, Maya or Modo (which is obviously valuable). You also need something to sculpt with as well – Zbrush being my go to. Then an engine must be chosen, like UE4. Lastly, I definitely think Substance Designer or any tool that makes the pipeline more streamlined and procedural will be the way the industry is headed and is good to learn now. To wrap it all up, I think it’s important to at least be proficient enough in concept to do paint overs on your work in order to think faster on what needs editing.
Future Hospital Sant Pau
The idea behind this scene actually dates back to when I lived in Barcelona for a summer and actually lived across from the Hopsital de Sant Pau. So obviously I was immediately inspired by its architecture and went in for some photography. I always wanted to cook up an environment based around this architecture, but never got around to it until now after digging up my reference images. It’s especially beneficial when you’ve seen the architecture with your own eyes.
I think it’s worth the investment to look at things away from Google images or Flickr. The real world has a lot to offer in terms of reference, and if you happen to end up somewhere with interesting architecture such as Europe, you have to bring a camera with you to engrave these images in your head for when you might need them in the future.
With this epic building I started off by coming up with some guidelines that I thought would create an interesting design for a building.
So I have a hospital facade that I want to turn futuristic, how do I do this?
I look at my reference image and decide that I should mimic the curved silhouette of the real building. It’s also a good idea to keep a sort of background story in your head when creating something like this. So for this, the real story is that this building was recently renovated in real life. So my spin on it was, what if this was renovated in the future? What sort of materials would we need, what sort of architecture would it follow, etc? Second, was to envision how well-maintained it would be and in what state could that part of the world be in? If you keep these sort of back stories in your head it becomes a lot easier to make strong decisions in your art.
Composition is also very important. In order to present a new design to your viewer I think it’s always nice to have scale reference of where the viewer can go and say “ok so this is about the size of an average human.” Here I did that without having a human in the scene. Instead I had things like a standard door, a wheelchair, birds and things that clue you in to what the size of the building is in relation to a human.
In terms of the composition, I made sure the building had a clear silhouette that could lead your eye throughout all of the sculptural detail, and sort of loop your interest around the area of focus. You also have things like circles, which are a main draw for your eye and say “Hey look at me!” So with the circular window I attempted to get people to look at it, by having the curves of the design lead you down and explore the detail. Since there is a lot of detail happening in the center of it all I made sure to keep the sky simple and peaceful.
Building Light in Sant Pau
I work with light from the very beginning. I’d even render out some previews in v-ray while I was working on the high poly to make sure the scene could read under some different lighting conditions. It’s important to consider lighting as well as composition in the beginning because both can act as a sort of scope reduction in the fact that they can both help you hide things you don’t want to work on and instead focus on the important parts.
It is important to also keep the lighting simple at the beginning so that you don’t get bogged down with lighting build times. In this case, the lighting here is ridiculously simple. A sun light, a skylight for bounce, and an HDRI image for good reflections. Previously you’d have to fake the bounce light by adding a bunch of fake lights to simulate this, but UE4 has gotten so strong in the bounce light department, that you don’t really need to do this anymore. I believe I threw a couple around just so I wouldn’t have to re-build lighting, but for the most part with some tweaking, UE4 handles that for you.
Creation of the Rivet Busters Scene
Rivet Busters had some inspiration from Bioshock , Gears of War, and The Great Gatsby movie among other media. I personally bought around 20 or so books on art deco architecture to fully immerse myself in this style. One of the things that I wanted to achieve was to really feel the hustle and bustle of the city.
It’s an exciting time to be alive. Great inventions are happening, people are excited, and we are at the center of it all. So I had to do all of this without including crowds of people which would have been cool, but way too time consuming. Instead I had cars running around to simulate people running around without having to do complex crowd animation.
Then I actually also had people, that were standing still. I got away with having them stand still with the hopes that people would understand that they were looking at the fireworks that my thesis partner, Jati Darmawan, provided for me (as well as the rain). Then I have flashy signs and rain to add movement to the scene. Dynamic is something I really something I wanted to go for with the use of all of my art elements at my disposal.
One thing I really had to balance here is to make the scene feel busy without flooding the scene with too many different color lights. It’s a balancing act that’s made a lot easier if you focus on using a single light in the beginning. Start off with the skylight and get that looking right, then move on and add a single light where you want to have your primary focus. Your scene should already work with these two lights. If it doesn’t, I’d work on the scene until it does before you waste more time down the road.
Using Unreal Engine 4
Unreal Engine 4 is a beautiful and easy to learn tool that spoils you. I always complain when a different engine doesn’t have something UE4 does, and there are many things UE4 does better than other engines. UE4 is my pick of choice simply because that’s what I’ve learned with and I see no reason to switch as it has virtually no disadvantages for what I do.
The smarter the engine, the less technical fumbling an artist has to do. This means an artist can just sit down and focus on the art. I think that real time engines will even eat its way into the film industry for the fact that you can play around with shots in real time without having to render out frames that often take hours to render.
The Secret to Complex 3D Structures
I think that when creating a structure with a lot of detail it’s important to think about how much use you are going to get out of all the work you do.
This can be divided up into modularity, re-usability and uniqueness. When working on these high poly assets I think it’s very valuable to save any intricate modeling that you do such as bolts, patterns, shapes, and detail so that you are able to re-use them later and not have to re-model another perfect bolt ever again.
So in the end, the speed at which you model will be exponentially faster with the more bits of modeling you save up in your asset library. Things such as grating and bricks can be saved off to be modular so that in the future you can just duplicate those and throw a lattice or bend deformer to get the shape you want.
Once you figure out what you can model with your asset library, you can then start modeling your new unique parts as needed. By making this process faster you can focus more on the actual design of the asset, its readability in the level, and functionality if any.
If You Want to Become a 3D Artist
The biggest advice I can give to people starting out is to surround themselves with people of similar interests and dedication. This community you surround yourself with will push and motivate you to better yourself in your craft.
Even more importantly, be part of a community that you can be happy with. Having that as a base for for one’s creative development I think is key. After that you can solidify your push to becoming a better artist by simply being disciplined and getting things done with no excuses.