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A talented student of Ringling College Carol M. Torres Gonzalez talked about the production of the environment for the upcoming game Eigengrau (inspired by Ico, Rime and Wind Waker), which was developed by a small group of young people. She talks about the production and the usage of various tools, which helped to build this dramatic, cinematic space.
I’m a senior game art student at Ringling College with a focus on Environment Art. It’s been 4 years since I’ve been enrolled in the college, and 3 years since I’ve started working with 3D software. Ringling has been a great place for me to develop my skills and work ethic while constantly being inspired by amazing friends and classmates. The Game Art BFA program at Ringling College brings our feature film aesthetic to games and is focused on providing students with the professional artistic skills necessary to create compelling and believable interactive experiences. It’s been an intense and wonderful start of my journey, and I’m truly grateful for it.
Eigengrau, is a three person project where a young gypsy girl follows a white moth into the dark truths of an abandoned castle. The Throne Room is the last environment within our game; a cold, dark and once royal space where the most climatic scene in our game takes place. The biggest goal I wanted to achieve in this environment was creating a dramatic, cinematic space lit by moonlight.
The concept for Eigengrau first came up when my teammates and I were recalling the most exciting experiences of our childhood. A lot of us found rich moments in exploring forests and abandoned buildings when we were young. That set our course for the tone we wanted to capture; the adventures, mysteries, and dangers of exploration. We were really inspired by games like Ico, Rime and Wind Waker, which capture these moods quite well, while also looking at Firewatch for its compelling art direction. This gave us solid emotional beats that we could aim for in our art direction prep, and a base for a visual style that would evolve and mature over time.
I started by creating 3D blockouts within Maya that had a believable height and width to them. After blocking out the space, I’d bring the meshes into ZBrush, where I’d sculpt surface and material details. The main difficulties I found within the scene were planning destruction and being bold with it.When you’re creating an interior space lit only by an exterior source, I learned that it’s essential for you to be bold about where you’re letting light filter in. This creates large pools and transitions of light and shadow that can really add some drama to your scene. In my experience, its essential to work with lighting during this process, especially if you’re aiming for dramatic effect. It’ll help you think ahead on your textures, values, and whether the lighting scheme you thought of as effective actually works.
I chose ZBrush because it’s the program I’m most familiar with. Maya and 3Ds max are good for precision-based operations. Zbrush helps bring an organic quality to the sculpt. It offers a lot of freedom and quick iterations to models. For now, I enjoy using both programs. They complement each other well.
I mainly used Quixel SUITE for this scene. Most assets were worked on a 1 to 1 map. After creating normal maps out of the high-poly sculpts, I generated an AO, Specular, and Cavity map out of it. I’d then blend these in the texture along with a real-world material image till the texture had a balance of stylized values and realistic noise.
Below is an example of how I’d set up the material in Unreal. For some pieces, I’d generate a height map and tessellate the material to give it more form on the mesh.
Unreal Engine 4
Unreal Engine has been the preferred engine of our game art. In these past 2 years Unreal Engine 4 has proven to be very user friendly. Its tutorials and marketplace have also been a great learning resource to enrich our curriculum. One thing that gets a bit tedious to work with is Matinee, which we used for animations and camera work in our trailer. The interface is tight and constrained. Large changes for shots and animations can get a bit exasperating.
Lighting was one of the bigger challenges in this scene. Most of the scene’s lighting was done with spotlights, fog sheets, god-ray meshes, a post-process, and a sphere reflection capture actor for the intense shine on the throne. Constantly asking my teammates, peers and instructors for feedback was also an essential part of the process. This was a communal effort and I’m grateful for their critiques and advice.
The environments in our project run through a color gradient that start with vivid magentas and purples, and slowly transitions into cool, dark blues. The throne room is the final room where the most climactic event in our trailer takes place, so it was incredibly important for it to make a strong impact the moment it was revealed and emphasize the contrast between the first environment shown.
One of our art direction slides where we establish our color gradient for the project.
The environments in this project took about 4 months to complete. I’m sure a vine foliage tool/blueprint would have been helpful for adding more overgrowth in the scene.