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Volodymyr Stepaniuk provided a little overview of his huge atmospheric scene built with UE4, Substance Painter, Substance Designer, and Maya.
Hello, my name is Volodymyr Stepaniuk, I live and work in Kiev, Ukraine. From young years I dreamed of making video games, and my dreams came true. My career has started more than 10 years ago in Crytek, where I had a great opportunity to work on such projects as Crysis 2, Crysis 3, Ryse: Son of Rome, Warface, and Ulysses Graphics, where I worked on Call of Duty WWII and other parts of the series.
Not so long time ago I decided to take a timeout in my career because after long years spent in the office I was pretty tired. So I quit my job and decided to do some personal stuff.
Train yard scene
When I lived outside the city, every day I traveled on such a suburban train to the city. That’s why I wanted to recreate something close and familiar. I always liked the brutal beauty of these trains.
Before I started, I collected the necessary references using PureRef tool which is perfect for such tasks.
The idea was to create an absolutely modular train. This allows you to change the size of the wagons and change them as needed directly in the engine.
My first step was modeling the blockouts of modules in Maya. Then, little by little, I added different details.
The main instrument for texturing was Substance Painter, but in some cases like graffiti or grass, I still used Photoshop. I’m not too good in Substance Designer, but this project helped me to improve my skills. I used it for tiled textures of bricks, concrete, etc.
Before I started doing textures for the train, I had to figure out how to make these trains customizable so that I could change the tint, color schemes, and dirtiness level. So except typical Albedo, Roughness and Metalness I decided to create 3 more masks. Two of them responds for colors, the third one responds for dirt and rust. All these masks combined together in one texture by RGB channels.
In the Unreal Engine, I created a master material that lets control tint and dirtiness using these masks.
Text and graffiti are made by decals.
To finish the trains the last thing I had to do is elements of interior and props like seats, etc.
When the train was finished, I realized that it looks too boring and lonely without the environment. So I decided to create trainyard.
After collecting references I did rails, hangar modules, pillars, and other props.
Here are a few bits of advice about large-scale environments. The most important thing you should remember all the time when you are working on huge scenes is that every object will be reused hundreds or thousands of times.
Try to make all assets maximum modular and variable. Different material variations with changeable color can be useful too. On large surfaces when textures tiling is too visible, try to use materials with alpha blending.
In addition, when working with large locations, you should always think about performance, monitor the number of frames per second and initially do everything as optimally as possible.
Foliage and decals were almost final touches of the project. I did grass using Maya and Photoshop. When making bushes, I model high poly leaves first in Maya, then I generated branches with these leaves in SpeedTree. Next, I baked these branches on a plate and using this texture I modeled the bushes.
Light setup is one of the biggest challenges for me. A lot of people can’t imagine how light important is. Before start working with light, I always think about what mood and what emotion the lighting will evoke. In this scene, I wanted to convey a gray and depressive atmosphere.
I found a great tutorial about HDRI lighting in Unreal Engine, which helped me a lot.
For the hangar interiors, I used a plane with an emissive material inserted in the windows, with “Use Emissive for Static Lighting” enabled. This gives a remarkable result after the light build. I also used color correction in the interiors to give them a little bit dusty look.
The most important advice for all artists is to love what you do, be open to new, learn and work hard.