Katelyn Johnson showed the way she produced a pretty environment, she created at Ringling College of Art and Design.
My name is Katelyn Johnson and I’m an Environment Artist. Originally I am from Kansas but I am a current Junior at Ringling College of Art and Design in their Game Art program. I was inspired to create this WWII Radio Bunker environment purely through my fascination with history. This upcoming summer I am fortunate enough to be interning at Insomniac Games in Durham, NC as an Environment Artist Intern.
WWII Radio Bunker
This space was designed to be a workshop set in the time period of WWII. My biggest focus was creating a believable space focusing on the technology used during the period. I specifically chose radios because of the historical significance of them during the war. I drew inspiration from various types such as spy radios, portable receivers, and others. I did as a way of getting inside the inhabitant of this bunker’s head, the soldier who would be living and working in this space would be building his own radios.
Production for the project began with intensive research of the time period. This included books, documentaries, and reference documentation as well. Finding photo reference was rather difficult due to lack of high-quality photos from this specific time period. After reading a few books such as Code Girls by Liza Mundy, I was able to grasp a better understanding of the space and how it was used. I later moved into working on the concept of the space by sketching explorations, creating notes, and trying out color studies.
Originally the bunker was going to be a more rectilinear shape. Breaking away from traditional bunker designs and choosing to use a cylindrical shape. I felt it created better silhouettes for lighting and overall was more dynamic instead of just using a box-shaped room. I started off with simple shapes for block out and immediately moved into the engine where I would set up cameras to find a composition I liked. I did this because I could set up lighting scenarios trying to emulate what I originally concepted in my 2D work.
I focused on working at a fast rate and making a list of what could be modular or re-used was important. This helped my flow and efficacy throughout the whole project. For example, the radios and pipes can all be broken into parts allowing variety and reuse. I was inspired off current games like Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Call of Duty: WWII when building these kits. Seeing how these games could use limited pieces to build a dense looking space inspired me to do the same. When creating props I put myself in the shoes of the soldier that would be living in this space. Giving him a personality with a background in tinkering with motorcycles further helped the set dressing of the space. This meant filling the bunker with ration crates to live on, books to read, and his tools to fix radios along with the engine. Giving the character more life in his background story carried over into the environment to make it more compelling.
A majority of texturing was done in Substance Designer, but I also used Substance Painter and Photoshop. Focusing on the materials that took up the most screen space first was key. When using Substance Designer I treated my textures as layers or masks. I would break up the textures I needed into categories. For example, the wood texture was broken up into 3 parts. Micro groves, macro groves, and finally a category for wear. Creating the concrete in Designer inspired off a tutorial I watched called “Get Learnt”. When using Substance Painter it was more for adding wear and tear to certain pieces like pipes, radios, and the desk. Using Painter I was able to use the smart masked as a base to create edge wear faster.
When creating materials in Unreal 4 I built one master material that I created instances off of. By Creating this early on I was able to apply it to everything in the scene, which was faster and more efficient than creating multiple materials. Creating parameters for every aspect of the material like roughness, metallic, etc. allowed fast adjustments. Making instances off the master material I could have a variety of metals all from a few textures instead of creating tons of unique materials.
Using Marvelous Designer was important to me because I want to be flexible in using various programs. I find that having even a little experience is important for environment art because if new tools can provide better help to making better art then it should be used. It’s a powerful tool that I used to create the curtains, blanket, pillows, rags, and jacket. Working in Marvelous on the jacket hanging over the bed was different than other programs because you create sewing patterns similar to how a clothing designer would. I would find a jacket pattern and import that pattern into Marvelous. Marvelous also allows you to simulate your mesh similar to nCloth in Maya and export it out. It was an interesting experiment that increased the productivity of my pipeline.
I began preliminary lighting during the blockout phase, I was able to find interesting shadow and silhouette shapes for the composition. Using spotlights for the fixtures in both shots was a good starting point. Using temperature instead of color in UE4 lighting I think creates a more realistic look overall. During my first pass of lighting, the scene had an overall green tone. Because of how the lights reacted with the materials, I had to make adjustments and desaturate the overall environment to create a more natural look.
This space was originally bigger but during block out, I cut back framing two solid corners to work on which helped production scope. The environment progressed over time but having a solid block out gave me a great place to start. In the end, I learned a lot from this environment, learning about modularity and using new tools to increase production. If there are any questions or simply wanna stay in touch please feel free to reach out on Twitter!