Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Cecil Powell gave a breakdown of his amazing elegant environment, which features a number of awesome virtual assets. This is a simple environment, but the meshes and decor create a very nice atmosphere and fill the scene nicely. Here’s how Cecil did it.
I am originally from Canada but also spent a great deal of time in Jamaica as a child and now reside in Central Florida. I have been in the industry for about 2 years now as a Lighting/ Environment Artist on Killer Instinct Season 3 (Iron Galaxy Studios) and Madden 16 (EA Tiburon). I attended Ringling School of Art and Design for an BFA in Illustration and University of Central Florida (FIEA) for a MS in Game Design.
When I decided to take on this project, I was in the middle of binge watching “Outlander” on Starz. I was intrigued with how they visualized the 18th Century, thus I was inspired to do this particular piece. I wanted to recreate the somber mood with realistic lighting and composition within the UE4 engine and as modular as possible. I wanted to create a point of interest which is why I went with a marble fireplace at the end of the room and the table leading your eye. But most of all I wanted to establish a mood to evoke emotion. When planning the interior, I first did my reference research which I believe is one of the most important steps for any artist to do. No one knows what everything looks like in their heads after all (well, maybe Bob Ross). I then started blocking out the scene in Maya as I find this is the easiest way for me to visualize big shapes and make quick edits for scale and placement. This is also when I figure out which asset I can make modular as to save quality time in the long run. I had a vague idea of the composition I wanted, but decided to refine it within UE4. I tried not to clutter the scene with objects and just keep it simple with assets that support the lighting.
As for asset creation, I tried to make as many pieces modular as possible. I have a total of 23 assets and I tend to use different techniques according to what I am creating. For instance, the table is a predominantly hard-surface, so I choose to build it out in Maya and create UVs then sent it over to Substance Painter for fine detailing. I absolutely love Substance this is where I do most of my texturing. I also use Xnormal just because it gives me good control on getting an AO and Cavity Map which I use to enhance the color map within Photoshop. For more organic assets, like the curtains I hit a little speed bump. First I tried creating a basic shape in Maya, exported to Zbrush where I dynameshed and started bringing out the folds. After a few hours of trying different techniques it just wasn’t reaching the quality level I wanted. So I decided to go back to the drawing board. After stepping away for about a day or so I came back with fresh eyes and is when I discovered Marvelous Designer. I have never used this program before but figured now is a good a time as any to try. I found their site and with the free trial I was able to watch a couple tutorials. Marvelous Designer was fairly easy to use with fantastic results. I was able to create a mesh with the folds I wanted. But it came out pretty high res, so I imported into Zbrush and Zremeshed to a manageable poly count. Then I cleaned up in Maya and sent it to Substance Painter for detailing (problem solved).
For the floor I did most of the work in Substance Designer this program is a must for making tillable textures. It’s node base texture creation allows you to play a bit while being very forgiving (happy accidents). After achieving the results, I then exported textures into Photoshop. Once again I used an AO and Cavity Map to enhance the color map and applied it to a plane within UE4. While putting together the materials for this scene, I really wanted to pay attention to how it would affect the lighting. As a lighter I really believe that the roughness map is one of the most important maps and deserves a lot of love. In most of my materials I make sure to add a multiply node with the roughness map and a 1 constant attached which feeds into the roughness import. This allows me to make small tweaks to the roughness map till I get the desired results. Also it is very important that when using the roughness map that you uncheck sRGB in the texture, having this checked will not give you accurate results. For the porcelain plates I started with the material looking more like plastic and slowly bumped up the metallic map till I achieved the look I wanted. I also took the design on the plate, converted to B&W and used that to create a normal map so I could get slight raising on the design. This way the light has something to play off of and it’s barely noticeable but I think it goes a long way. The carpet had me pondering for a bit, I really did not want it to come out looking flat even though there is not much geo except to give it some thickness. So ended up finding a carpet design online, made a color map in Photoshop and used it in Substance Painter to have a starting point. I then used the color map like I did with the porcelain plate to get a slight raising of the design. Then layered it in a tillable height map for the carpet fibers. This gives really nice breakup when the sunlight hits the carpet. I added pictures or paintings to the scene to help date it and to give a sense of wealth. Also the specular hits from the gold frames helps carry your eye along the left wall. They were pretty easy to create. I started building the geo in Maya and added detail in Substance Painter. Then I added a fill layer with only height and rough turned on. I used a rough brush to simulate brush strokes on the surface where the painting would later be, then I added the image for the actual painting later in Photoshop. For the ceiling I simply made some modular beams textured in Substance Painter and duplicated within UE4 rotating ever so often to give a little breakup.
Finally we are on my favorite part, the lighting. To me this is the dessert after dinner, the place where it all comes together. I knew I wanted the lighting to be really soft and inviting. So I started with the directional light by placing it so it casts light across the table giving almost a stair-step effect towards the fireplace, which also breaks up the wall and floor to the left of the interior. I increased the light angle to soften the edges of the shadows ever so slightly and increased the luminescence because the sunlight is the brightest light in the scene. Now on to the ambient light or GI. I simply placed spotlights facing in on each window with a wide outer cone angle and set to static as to flood the room with ambient light from the windows. This also creates soft shadows from the chair backs draping across the scene. I then moved on to placing point lights on the wall lamps as to frame the fireplace and another off screen to the left to give a little fill light. Once those were placed I then created emissive planes and put them just outside the windows to give the impression that it’s bright outside. After the lights were placed I dropped in some exponential height fog to help give a little depth to the scene. I added a slight blue tint to the fog as to give some contrast to the warm sunlight and wall lamps. The last step was to add the post process volume, this is pretty much my best friend. This is where I add color grading, bloom, SSAO, DoF, screen space reflections and a slight grain. I also set the auto exposure min = 0.5 max = 1.0 .