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3d environment artist Azam Khan shared some of his thoughts on the production of his Alien environment. This project, inspired by the Ridley Scott’s iconic film, is created with the help of Maya and Unreal Engine 4. Very high quality stuff. Azam shared some of his thoughts on production of meshes, materials and lighting.
Hello! fellow creative people. My name is Azam Khan and I am an environment artist. I am soon to graduate from Staffordshire University. I’m continuously learning and exploring new techniques to increase my workflow so I can stay up to date with the changing industry. This piece is a learning process for me and I am very proud of the outcome.
I’m a super fan of the alien franchise, watching all the films multiple times and completed Alien Isolation in nightmare mode. Yes, I did. The environment I made is heavily inspired by it however I took my spin on it by making it at least 50 years into the future. I emphasised that by adding more space to the spaceship and with ‘futuristic’ props such as the crate, bins etc. The most important factor of the environments is the retro technology, I made sure the computers, screens and kitchen appliances looked retro and to the style of alien.
All of the environment was modelled in Maya, I planned from the start that the environment would be fully modular so I can make it ‘game ready’. Having correctly placed pivots and real world scale sizes was the biggest priority when modelling. With this the entire environment can be rearranged, the hallway, kitchen and room. 100% modularity of all the models was my main goal. Majority of the models are high poly with the UV’s set out evenly for overlaying repeatable textures on top of the individual model textures; this is done through a master materiel in UE4.
My texturing workflow was fairly complicated as one mesh went through a lot of software’s to get the perfect materiel definition with detail on the textures. Starting with individual models:
1: Bake my AO map through Substance Designer. Since the models have no high poly model I use the same model for baking.
2: I apply normal map detail in Substance Painter. I also extract an AO map through the normal map and overlay it on top of the first AO map.
3: Using Quixel Suite I create textures using the normal and AO maps I created.
4: Exporting the textures into a packed format containing roughness, metal and AO map in one RGB texture file. Resulting in having in total 3 maps for each model; Albedo, Normal, Reflection maps.
For repeatable textures, I used substance designer however I used some maps such as repeatable normal maps from Quixel. As I’m new to substance designer it was hard to use but as a learning step I managed to create a range of repeatable materials; different set of plastics and metals for the scene. I also created two sets of textures for some materials for vertex painting used on the floors and walls, this was easy to do in substance designer.
I set the textures up with a master materiel within unreal engine that gives my parameters to modify colour, intensity and the ability to overlay repeatable textures.
The extra’s and Easter eggs.
Noticeable elements such as the flickering lights, monitor screens and lots of buttons. These small things were a big part of my environment. All the buttons and keyboard run of one materiel which have a lot of detail. The flickering lights runs off a simple master materiel which turns off/on an emissive channel. I can control the speed and colour.
I’m sure without looking very close there are lots of Easter eggs in my scene; starting off with the names on the mugs, Kieran and Christine are actually my friends. Also on the screens you can see the name Ross L, who is also my good friend and I can’t forget to mention my league of legends name: Bee M. There are lots of other Easter eggs on the books and other places as well. This is mostly for self-satisfaction and it’s like signing your name on your work.
Lighting plays a huge role in my environment, lighting needs to be smartly placed as it brings out the PBR materials. Firstly, before even doing lighting I made light-maps for every single model, this is crucial to achieve perfect baked lighting. The main light is a directional light coming from the two large windows filling up the hallways and using ‘Skylight’ illuminating the room. The scene is using the latest 4.11 version of the engine so I’m using the new ‘lightmassportal’ to direct the light into the hallway efficiently.
The rest of it are a range of standard spotlights and point lights, also with the edition of emissive lights which give off static lighting. I also edited the ‘lightmass’ settings to increase the quality even more, this can be found on Koola’s Unreal Engine post. It took over 3 hours to build but the result is amazing.
The final step was post processing which gave the final look of my scene, increasing the AO, tweaking the contrast and saturation and lots of other modifications. I aimed to get a desaturated scene with limited colours.
Bringing It together
The process of arranging the assets together was very simple because of modularity. I added meshes around the room, in the hallway to break up the repetition and also with lots of decals. Not everything worked together the first time, I took feedback from peers and rearranged the room to give it a personality, such as crates to define people moved in. The cups to tell that there are two people which are a couple. Picture frames, two beds etc. All of this adds together and builds up to create a game environment which tells a story.
Mistakes and tips
The texturing phase for me took the longest and that’s understandable considering I went through many steps to achieve what I wanted. I want to increase my knowledge within Substance Designer and painter so I can have my texturing my pipeline just run through them two software’s. To create scenes that are large, you have to model and texture keeping modularity and optimization in mind, that way it can shorten the time to create large scenes.
This project has been a huge learning experience for me, from this I will continue to learn more and make amazing art for everyone to enjoy. I hope this is useful to everyone!