Brandon Brown shows how he creates his Mountain Top Shrine environment with modern game tools.
My name is Brandon Brown and I grew up right outside of Columbus, Ohio. I recently just graduated from Columbus College of Art and Design so my career is just beginning. I’m currently working for Island of Misfit Toys as a Subcontractor working as a 3D modeling & texture artist on an unannounced feature animation. It’s my first job in the field so I am truly thankful for Steve Hubbard bringing me on.
The Mountain Top Shrine
The Mountain top Shrine was really one of my first UE4 environments that I did on my own so I wanted it to represent what I’m really into. I looked all over the web for the perfect concept and that’s when I came across this concept by Jae Park. I started with a base mock up with cubes and started to slowly replace them as time went on. The first thing that I made was the cliffs since they seemed to be one of the most important assets in the environment. I quickly sculpted a rock, decimated it, and threw it into UE4 to see how it looked. It’s always a good idea to get these assets in as soon as you can to see if they’re going in the right direction. After it looked good I began to sculpt 4 or 5 different rocks that I could bash together to create the cliffs.
So similarly to what I said before I wanted to make something that I really care about and something that would match my portfolio. I’m really into meditation and the mystical experience so I want to bring that into my work. A lot of my inspiration comes from this and games like Uncharted and Tomb Raider. A lot of my reference was from China, Japan, and Tibet. To bring all of this together I used tons of different programs like Maya, Zbrush, SpeedTree, and Allegorithmic.
The most difficult asset to build was the main building in the environment. The architecture is so complex in some of the buildings done in Asia that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I think blocking it out and making everything fit together was the hardest part. How does this building work? And does this even make sense? I looked at tons of blueprints and after awhile I finally had the ball rolling. You just have to take it one piece at a time and go from there. After the base was built I brought everything into Zbrush to make the wood detailing. I tried to sculpt as much assets as I could before relying on texturing. I want it to look and feel like it’s suppose to in clay before texturing. If someone can’t tell leather from denim in just the sculpt alone then you have a problem. Relying on your artistic skills is more valuable than being technical. You can always learn substance designer but being able to sculpt your textures is valued. ( I really do want to learn Substance Designer)
So branching off of what I said above, blending sculpture detail and texturing is how I built all of my materials in the environment. I started with sculpting then moved onto baking the detail down to a low poly asset. From there I used Allegorithmic B2M to create tileable textures, and imported them into Substance Painter to create my own custom material. From there I was able to control the blending between the sculpt and texture. Using Substance Painter’s masking tools is really powerful when trying to blend multiple materials together along with their Triplanar projection helps get rid of seems. For some of the text I used the projection tool and then used masking to look like it was worn down. For the actual color I used a mixture of hand painting inside Substance painter along with the color from the texture. Substance painter has lots of great brushes that resemble dirt, paint strokes, and randomness. Along with their brushes; being able to control the roughness/metalness on each material really helps define what you’re trying to make.
The background was built using the 4 or 5 different rocks that I sculpted and bashed together inside UE4. It was a lot easier to make cliffs this way instead of relying on world machine. I remember when I first started using UE4 and thinking I needed world machine to create levels. It’s not always the case, and using WM can sometimes over complicate things if you’re first starting out. Using UE4’s terrain tools and creating my own cliffs works just fine. World Machine is a powerful program which I do need to dive into but It wasn’t necessary for this environment. Along with using the cliffs I built, I used Speedtree for the trees, and created my own fog fx while also using the standard height fog inside UE4 to push the atmosphere.
I started to push the lighting about half way through production. It helped bring the scene to life and I highly recommend doing this early on. It will push your materials and overall environment to the next level. I had all the standard lights, sun, and sky set up but it didn’t make me feel anything. That’s when I looked into the “color lookup bar” Which allows you to take a screenshot, import it into Photoshop, do all of your post work, and compress all your layers back into the “color lookup bar”. I’m pretty sure UE4 has documentation on this or videos on Youtube. Once you re-save your color look up bar, import it back into UE4 and apply it to a post processing volume and drag it out into your scene.Make it big enough to cover your whole environment and bam! All of your post work is now inside UE4.