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Wow, amazing job, really inspiring !
Where do i send gold, i want the game!
Sergei Panin broke down his ArtStation Wild West Challenge scene with some Bioshock vibes! Software used: Maya, ZBrush, UE4 and Substance.
My main goal in the Wild West Artstation Challenge was to practice in design. Most concept art which I have seen was not what I wanted so I decided to create something on my own. I started with very generic ideas like train assault, bank robbery, and gold mines. Then I saw concept art by Luke Hinchley and it gave me an idea of what I wanted to see in my environment. I asked myself, why not to create Wild West Bioshock in the skies? And the story of my environment began.
I used a little bit expensive way of work when creating buildings, but to tell the truth, the result was satisfying. I had 2 types of buildings – heroic ones (like the bank and sheriff house) and generic. At the start of the project I decided not to use only tileable textures, but mostly use planks with vertex paint. This gave me more flexibility and with LOD systems it was not so expensive (the main problem not in polycount, but in the fact that you need a bigger lightmap resolution).
Also, I decided that I would have 4 types of doors and 4 types of windows to create different variations in the scene.
This idea is coming from GDC talk about Fallout 4, where they used assemble pipeline for a lot of assets. That sounded cool for me, so I decided to work in that way.
I had separate windows, doors, and planks assembled in Maya and then exported in Unreal. If it was necessary, I would add unique details like pipes, flags, boxes, posters. As a result, it’s not looking boring and similar to each other.
House in Maya:
House A: Variations A & B:
With a variety of textures and materials, you can change any house very quickly. Another type of wood? Sure. Another color? You can control it in a shader (I have used white paint as basic texture tinting it in Unreal). Also, I wanted to add something interesting to another vertex paint channel (like burn effect), but then I changed my mind. More complicated does not mean better.
As for heroic houses, I have used quite many unique materials for them, mostly because of design. I also painted very simple concept art for myself, and it was all about finding the good design. I divided the sheriff house into elements and worked on it step by step: logo separate mesh with unique texture, some unique planks and trims for the gate and pretty simple main form for the sheriff house. You can see how the house (and other buildings) on the background) changed during this 8 weeks:
This is not the best way of work, but it’s flexible. and that’s what matters the most during a challenge when you have neither too much time nor clean design (never start to work without a clean design!).
I have shown most of my modular tricks in the previous part, but I will list all my modular elements here.
Billboards + Decals. Result: A lot of interesting options for dressing up the environment.
Pipes. Result: Interesting pipes assembly for the dress up.
Planks. Result: Interesting and flexible buildings.
Some trims and modular elements. Result: Elements with an interesting design, which I can use as trim sheets or modular pieces. Also, I have used wood from this texture in different places.
This safe is just 2k texture, unique, of course. This safe helped me to understand what design I want to see in my environment and design was the hardest part for me. I am not a concept artist, but I think practice in design is crucial for any environment artist to improve the artistic taste. I opened a lot of references and started to work in Maya, then ZBrush. I have used JRO alphas here. This content is super awesome and saved me a lot of time. As you can see, I was not trying to add all details in the sculpt, because height layer in Substance Painter is also really powerful.
There are a lot of articles about design, but I made a list of the most critical parts for me:
- Work with form. If you want to add any details, increase their size by 30% and check how it looks. In a lot of cases, this will look more interesting.
- Decide your color palette at the start, not at the end.
- Start with the references.
- Do not use only simple colors. Use gradients, HSL, color balance for color variation.
- Work with the contrast of colors and roughness.
- Do not use only generators. Free hand even for scratches can work very nice.
My material library is pretty big here, and it was not very good. For good organization, you should have a work plan, but when you have only draft sketches and an idea, it becomes a little bit complicated. Mostly I used unique textures or modules (like planks described previously). But I like to use trims as well, so I used them many times when it was possible. For examples, for wood connections, bridge elements and different patterns on buildings.
Wooden Elements Production
Most of the time my pipeline here is pretty simple. I have a big library of materials in Substance Painter as I always buy good materials when I have an opportunity (I also like to buy smart materials, because this is a great way to see how other artists think). First, I plan what I want to do, for example, this modular pack of planks. It means that I should create something very generic without too many unique details. Then I sculpt in ZBrush, but without micro details, only big shapes. I tried to add micro details at this stage, but later in combination with materials in Substance Painter, I had a mess in the normal map. Clean sculpt is better for this pipeline in my opinion.
Trim dynamic, Hpolish, Clay Polish, Clay brush. I believe everyone knows how to achieve something like this in ZBrush, it’s not difficult. After that, I bake planks in Substance Painter and start playing with the library of different materials. I always try to find interesting combinations: I can take AO dust from Metal Armor smart material and combine it with 2-3 materials of wood. I find such a way very artistic. Substance Painter materials give you fantastic flexibility with micro details which is very important for a stylized environment like this one.
I also tried to use a Cutout filter after the article Character Art: Balancing Between Stylization and Realism and the result was very nice. As you can see here, these planks are painted in white (it was also done in Substance Painter). In the base color alpha, I uploaded paint position for tinting and tinted only painted parts.
Alpha channel of base color for tinting:
The pipeline for wood may seem pretty long, but only in words. When you do not need to sculpt the detailed for 2 days you can save time and work more on the base color and roughness in Substance Painter. A great number of details does not mean good materials.
In this environment, I used Ultra Dynamic Sky plugin as a experiment. I can say that it was a nice experience, but next time I will prefer to use HDRI, which I can control a little bit more. Dynamic Sky gives you very fast and nice result, but at one point I understood that I would like to control the background sky a little bit more. My main recommendations for the lighting: use references, work with sky and fog, watch the shapes of your shadows (and their color). Сlouds are a part of your composition and you should work with them as with any part of your project. Finally, don’t be afraid to add a bit of fake lighting in your scene. I can’t say that I always follow these recommendations, but we are all learning!
First draft lighting (at first I wanted sunset):
Second iteration of lighting:
Third iteration of lighting:
I am really happy that I have created my own environment with my own design and ideas. That was important for me. Also, looking at my last ArtStation challenge submission I see improvement. Now I rather think more about art than tech. I have a few ideas of what I have done wrong like mistakes with the skybox, some art style drawbacks and, again, I am trying to make a way too large location in a small amount of time.
That was a great experience for me which is the most important, so I can say that I this challenge was a success.
Sergei Panin, Environment/Level Artist
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev