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Exclusive breakdown from environment artist Rodrigo Mizuno. He talked about the creation of stylized assets and materials for this lovely urban scene.
My name is Rodrigo Mizuno, I’m from Brazil. I am a freelancer artist doing mostly environment work for a couple of indie studios at the moment.
I’ve previously worked as an environment artist on the game “Plants Vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2”. I also worked at some TV shows here in Vancouver, Canada.
I came to Canada in 2012 to study at Vancouver Film school and try to stick around in order learn as much as I can. I also did some course at a great school called Melies back in Brazil before coming to Vancouver.
I had two main goals when I decided to start the project. Ever since I decided to try the freelance life I have been fortunate enough to find clients and do environment work for them even though my current portfolio does not show much of my knowledge on the area, so I decided to create a piece that could reflect better my current skillset. The other reason was, of course, the need to create something.
When searching for references and inspiration I found myself admiring anime backgrounds a lot. I love the serene and nostalgic feeling that those give when well done and wanted to translate that to game art. Blizzard has always been a great influence on my work, I love how good at executing the “less is more” philosophy those guys at Overwatch are.
I had the train track going through the buildings in mind, and that was kinda my starting point. But even before blocking the map, I decided to create and finish one building to define the art style of the scene, a really import step for me to have cohesive style through the map. The idea with this one building was to have almost every material (metal, concrete, wood, foliage, glass, etc) and shader trick that the rest of the map would have. Creating my to my self a “pipeline” I had to follow, made the building of every other asset a lot more smooth. Once I was happy with that building I started duplicating the same around on UE4, scaling up and down in order to find the right compositions and how many buildings I would need to build on MODO later.
As I mentioned above, I made sure to spend extra time on that one building, even though it was not going to be the main building, he would define the look of the whole scenes. The architecture is heavily inspired on Venice, I love how they have cables running through the outside of the buildings or how pretty much every single first floor in town has metal bars blocking the windows, probably to avoid burglary. Those small details are there for a reason and are what bring so much character to a street, or city. So I tried to copy some of those elements, and create some of my own.
As for my workflow, MODO was extremely helpful, I was able to model and most importantly, unwrap my models really fast with the help of the right macros and scripts.
When doing a project with so much detail on your own, is important to save time where you can, so my idea with the vegetation was to fit as much as I could inside one texture sheet and populate the street with that. So I first modeled the high poly versions on MODO, bake it down to a plane and textured using substance painter. The most optimal way of doing the large foliage pieces would be to bake down large branches and clumps so you could save on triangle count, but that is not what I was worried here, and was still able to maintain stable frame rate on the map, so I was ok with that.
After the texture was done it was just a matter of assembling different types of plants using planes and populate the map. Is really important for bushes to edit the vert normals so they are pointing outwards like a sphere, that gives them a smooth look and shadows.
Yes, Substance Designer was of extreme usefulness here. I first created one brick texture using it, and from that one graph I was able to quickly create many different textures, like variations of the brick texture, and all the ground textures on the scene.
In order to make it more interesting I blended the brick with my wall texture using vertex painting and a height map (also generate with the same graph). The blending was done inside Unreal. Variation is key when trying to make something like a wall interesting to be looked at.
Fake Room Behind the Window
The trick behind the fake room was actually one my favorite things to work on, it is always fun to force yourself to learn new tricks. The idea is pretty much to have a texture of a room that moves with the camera, on a slower speed, in order to fake depth. Like how objects close to you move relatively faster from your perspective in comparison with something that is far away.
First I quickly modeled a interior on modo and rendered, not really worrying with the quality of the render or model, just getting some shapes and the perspective right.
After that I bring that image to Photoshop, threw some color on top and blur the image.
I learned here that in order to achieve good and readable results is a good idea to have good contrast between the different walls and floor/roof.
Then bring the image to UE4 and connect a bumpOffset node into the UVs of the image you want moving. And connect a constant value in to the Height of the node. The lower the value (going from 0 to negative numbers), stronger will be the parallax effect.
I also made some lines pattern and a roughness map, make sure to not connect the bumpOffset on those, as they are not to move and help giving the impression that there is depth behind the glass.
The right use of colors makes a huge impact into the final product, and is more than often under estimated by 3D artists. Although is something that I still have a lot to learn, I am always trying to study that subject, through books or articles, and I highly recommend any artist to do the same.
I set up my master material on a way that would be really easy for me to switch colors for my texture, in fact, most of my textures are actually grey, and I just overlay some color over it inside the engine, that way, all the buildings can use the same texture, making it extremely faster for me to experiment with different pallets.
The sky is there to create some negative space, somewhere where your eyes can rest, although I tried my best to keep everything not clean, I felt I was on the limit to make it look just too busy, and the clear sky helps to alleviate that.
Lighting is another aspect that should receive as much love as any other area of your work, if not more in some cases. It is important to study the time of day you are trying to create, and how the sun and the ambient light act together on such. The advantage of using a real time engine is that it makes the experimentation process a lot fast and fun.
I first started with only the sunlight and the blue sky dome, cranked the bounce amount of the light a little higher than normal in order to get a more stylized look, and baked my lightmass.
After checking the results the engine gave me I went around with point and spot lights and started painting areas I thought needed some extra color and highlight.
The clear look comes from avoiding really dark areas and using fog on a low level to create some atmosphere.