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Research & References
When I started this project, I had no concept art as a reference. I only knew that I wanted to create a lighthouse stylized environment for video games. That's why building a solid reference board was critical for me so that I didn't get lost on the way. Miro is a great tool for doing that, as it provides freedom and you can see all your references in a glance.
Following the advice of the great artist Tim Simpson from Polygon Academy, I created various boards in order to keep building my idea and feed on it all along the creation process.
As mentioned before, I had no concept to work from, except for the sketches I have quickly drawn after my research. Thus, a solid blocking appeared to be as important as the reference boards. During this phase, I have worked on the general shapes and the silhouette.
I have started by modeling the hero asset, the lighthouse. When I was satisfied with its general looks, I modeled a few stones and two different trees. Then I quickly sculpted the ocean with the sculpt tool directly in Maya, as I didn't need a lot of details.
After that, I focused on the dimensions making sure all the assets worked well together, the lighthouse being the central reference. I definitely set the idea of the environment here and started building the mood by composing the scene: set the main camera and work from there, adding details.
Adding details to the scene allowed me to give more life, to create the feeling that something is happening here, but you can't really identify what it is. Here is an example:
I chose to work with UDIMs for this project. I have started using them not long ago and I thought they would suit well this environment. I knew by doing so I was compelling myself to remap all UVs to 0-1 before exporting into Unity. However, as I was working with a procedural mindset, I knew it was not going to be of any difficulty to remap the textures. Also, it gave me more freedom and flexibility while texturing, which is what I was looking for.
The texel density being set on the biggest UV shell and the others being readjusted depending on their necessities, I was ready to layout my UVs properly. By that, I mean organize them logically for easier manipulation of the texture sets in Substance, thus, work more quickly. I organized the UV Editor by lines (U axis), as follow:
Only a few pieces were modeled in high polys and sculpted in Z. After that, I have baked the normal, curvature and Ambient Occlusion maps of these assets in Substance Painter.
Next came the texturing part. I did all of it in Substance Painter, as it gave me the freedom I needed to work on the whole scene at once. I focused on the stylized look: not too much details, the textures just needed to accompany the forms.
I tried to reproduce a hand-painted style, but procedurally! The inspiration to do so came from VSQAD's “Hand-painted texture guide” incredible tutorial on this very platform. The reason for this choice is that I believe in the power of a non-destructive workflow, which has proven many times to be very useful.
A procedural workflow mixed with UDIMS and Substance's instance layers, with just a pinch of hand-painted details is a great recipe and an effective combination to work fast and maintain the quality level.
I have set up the lighting with Arnold, in Maya, because it was easier for me to reach the mood I was looking for. I worked first on the general lighting (night time), helped by the lighting board. Then, I went into details and lit the scene with secondary lights: some warm to simulate the artificial light source and reinforced the emissive materials and a few cold light to recreate the moonshine.
Import in Unity
The whole idea of this project is to create a low poly game environment. So the next step was to import the four groups of assets separately in Unity and build up the scene: trees, stones, ocean, and lighthouse.
After having recreated the look of the silhouette, I created the shaders, a fog with particles and set up the lighting. For this project, it was easier for me to have a clear idea of the lighting before lighting the scene in Unity. Indeed the time wasn't wasted, although next time I'll do the lighting directly in Unity.
The necessity of an external look!
Asking for feedback is absolutely essential for me. People from the industry and from "the outside world" have -for sure– spend a lot less time looking at what you are creating than you and they are all able to help you a lot with what they observe. Remember to always leave a space and time for feedback in your art process, it will only make your art shine brighter.
Take a Break
I went hiking in the middle of this project and first of all, I was a bit confused and thought it would disconnect me completely from this project. Well, it did. And it was good! I had learned a lot of new techniques before starting working on this Lighthouse environment, so my brain was racing and I couldn't figure things out quite correctly.
The break came perfectly well in the end. It helped me settle my new knowledge, finish this project and go back to work with a happier and more settled brain! (without mentioning the ton of references I took in the mountains!).