Building Materials and Meshes for Sci-fi Games

Environment artist and indie developer Sungwoo Lee talked about how you can build high-end 3d scene without baking.

Environment artist and indie developer Sungwoo Lee talked about how you can build high-end 3d scene without baking.

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I’m a big sci-fi fan and I recently found out that I don’t have a sci-fi scene in my portfolio. I decided to build one. I was inspired by the sci-fi stuff in the movie The Martian. But those are not the only reasons that I build this scene for. I also needed to find out a workable workflow for my indie game developing which will start in a few days.

Scene Breakdown


The first step is create a blockout for the project and then get into assets creation. In this case I didn’t make any high poly objects. I don’t like to bake models all the time. Sometimes the time we spent on baking is more than on design and level building. So I tried some new method that could work without baking.

This time I build these models with beveled edges and edited their vertex normal to get nice smooth edges.


No high poly means no normal maps, therefore I need to draw normals on these meshes. I used NDO to complete the whole process. It really needs patience to control and manage each normal layer. But i believe it’s well worth the effort. Although this process also takes a long time, it gives more options for creating detailed shapes. So I like this workflow more than traditional baking.


Creating texture is much easier than making a normal map. In this case I just used 3 different materials: white painted metal, black painted metal and steel. Each materials can be found in the DDO. It’s quite simple. Before texturing I baked out ID and AO maps from 3DS Max then overlayered the detail ID maps from normal maps.


In this project I spent most of the time on making normal maps. I just spent several hours on UE4. This project is not designed for game play, so I didn’t optimize materials. All these textures come from Quixel Suite. Even so, I kept the scene reasonable. It can runs above 60FPS on GTX 970 with max quality. I just combined Roughness, metallic, AO, Emissive to one RGBA Image. I do not advice imitating my material editor, it’s not for normal game workflow.

If I optimize the shaders and lights I can definitely increase FPS. It would work well on current generation game platforms. I’m a indie game developer, so I tried many methods to let my workflow works on middle and high end performance PC but I didn’t test it on PS4 or XB1. The technical developers who are working in big game studios have huge advantage over us, so I think they will bring the high-end graphics for players soon, especially with these kind of tools.


Lighting The Scene


I think most of readers here are interested in the lighting. For this scene I set up spotlights on the middle to light up the whole scene. Then I put point light on the side to simulate artificial lights. I think most important thing in lighting is being reasonable. When the scene become too dark do not increase exposure value blindly, just fill up with lights or increase light bounce. If it can’t help, then you need check your albedo colors.

Sungwoo Lee, Artist, Game Developer

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Comments 1

  • Alan Garcia

    hello, i'm a student of videogame art maker so when i see your job i be fascinated so i would like to teach me how do you do that impressive scenarios or if you have tutorials i would like to see it. thank you for giving me the inspiration to move forward. I hope you answer me thank you.


    Alan Garcia

    ·5 years ago·

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