Vladimir Lepotic did a breakdown of his Library scene made in UE4: adding variety to the scene elements, crafting cables, setting up & baking lights, and more.
New Scene: Goals
Since we had discussed the Beton scene, where dynamic lights were the main tool of expression, here I tried to deliver similar results but with baked lights. As always, my plan was to tell a story through my environment. In this particular scene, my intention was to achieve an atmosphere of mystery and to leave the viewer with the impression of the supernatural. Besides, the scene was more challenging due to the number of details. Now when it is over I think that my knowledge has improved in many areas.
The initial idea was born during the CGMA course approximately year and a half ago, but in that period I had other work to do so I completely abandoned the project. Lately, when I started searching for an inspiration I got some new ideas and decided to start the project from scratch and re-design most of my initial plan. I knew that I wanted to model a library, and Chetham’s library with its very simple design and structure immediately attracted my attention.
Some reference images of Chetham’s library and a couple of other libraries that I also liked
I particularly found useful that library consists of some really neat modular elements which turned out to be great practice for the 3D environment. Lighting in it was interesting, too. It offered a well-balanced mix between natural light coming through the windows and artificial lighting coming from the lamps. Afterward, other elements such as cables and servers served as an additional source of light, which hopefully contributed to the mystical impression of the whole scene.
Structure of the Scene
The general structure of the scene consists of a few key elements such as bookcases, books, lamps, etc.
Objects used in the scene
The main idea was to make a modular scene with as few elements as possible which is why I have chosen to model a library. The scene is not very big but I tried to distribute chambers in such a manner that they gave an impression of the higher magnitude. Camera movement in the video is used for the same purpose. If we talk about the actual style and feel of the scene, I mostly followed the style of the Batman Arkham series, however, Dishonored 2 and The Order 1886 were inspiring, too.
Some references for the mood and lighting setup from the games I liked
The main task was to make the library look as realistic as possible. It had to be full of different books, but I wanted to avoid the repetitive process of making each book separately. I actually made one texture with 6 different book covers. That texture was used for all the books in the library, and I only varied the color of the covers. Ideally, one might want to have an additional texture for another set of books, but since I was running out of time, I was satisfied with that.
Later, in order to avoid placing books one by one, I filled bookshelves with the stacks made out of those 6 book covers. I put single books only in places I found particularly interesting.
Different stacks of books I used
While I was working on this, I got some help from Clinton Crumpler, a former mentor of mine, who advised me to use a material option that varies the book color depending on the position of it. I also used color variation in material itself to add even diversity.
Color variation with material parameters
Color variation by position in 3D space
Besides books, I also made one texture with 12 papers that are torn out from the books. I made them using the same method used for the book covers and scattered them around the library in places that I found interesting.
Paper planes on the left and texture map on the right
Only a few places were left without books, the rest is completely covered with bookcases. That is how Chetham’s library space looks like. The comparison to the real layout helped me to make the walls look more realistic and avoid leaving an impression of emptiness which might occur when sole plains are used. However, I dedicated more time making the texture to look like real concrete blocks. I also used parallax occlusion to get a 3D outlook because the walls are just simple planes with the texture on them. I tweak the parameters a bit to make the model look more real – without that tiny change, the walls might have seemed fake.
Wall texture and Parallax occlusion
Material parameters for the parallax occlusion
The servers were not complicated to make: they are made out of three meshes that I tried to randomize to avoid repetition. Generally, in real life, servers look similar among each other and I didn’t have to try too hard to make variations. Essentially, those are simple box shapes as one might see.
Server models (1. Only low poly, 2. with normal map and 3. Final look with textures)
I tried to make them look more interesting and less static by using emissive light for little lamps that flicker inside the cable. It is a tiny improvement that helps the overall atmosphere look trustworthy, as it gives the impression that servers are really working and the data is being processed. I also tried to enrich the scene with wires hanging out of the servers. Those are simple planes with transparency maps – this is a more optimized solution because it would take too many polygons to make all those wires.
Main server room
Wires and cables texture maps
For the tubes, I used splines. There are many good YouTube tutorials for that and the general idea is pretty simple. One option is to make a complex blueprint which would eventually give you plenty of options for manipulation but I decided to work with a basic model of spline and get the result as quick as possible. The tricky part was to distribute the tubes in an interesting manner and avoid overloading the scene with them. That’s why I paid extra attention to place them mostly in the key points of view and at the same time make them visible. Another important element is that splines are not recognized as static meshes so it is not possible to bake lights on them. Thus, after I set all the tubes, I turned everything into static meshes to be able to bake the lights onto them.
Distributing cables/tubes with splines
As I said earlier, the lights are baked. I tried to achieve real-life conditions by combining artificial and natural light meaning that even during the night when it is dark outside some light will still come through the windows.
Natural light coming through the windows
Most of the lights are static baked point lights and some are stationary. I also used a simple blueprint where I connected the lamp as an object and the lamp as a source of light which made placing the objects in the scene faster. I also used lighting profile which made the whole scene look more realistic and credible. For some lights, I used a light function with blinking effect to achieve dynamics and make everything more interesting and intriguing. In the following picture, I present some of the light elements and parameters I used as well as details I have paid attention to.
The lighting in the scene is a combination of reflection capture spheres and lighting, and finding the right balance between them is important. That is a part where I can’t give a simple formula for getting the real-life illumination.
An example of placing reflection capture spheres and lights in the scene
From my experience, I can say that it is necessary to develop the feeling for subtle variations between light and dark and it is also recommendable to tune the parameters until the given scene conditions are achieved. In this part, patience is highly important.
Technically, one of the most demanding tasks was to set the parameters for the baking process that can last for a long if the parameters aren’t set precisely. It’s quite similar to rendering. Additionally, baking depends on the number of computer processors used and their power. Thus, the whole process can be sped up if extra processors are used. For the first time, I distributed the total workload between three computers (via SWARM agent) and managed to make the baking time shorter. I have learned a lot about static light, baking process, and patience as well.
When you work on a scene you have to look at it as one whole piece. Everything needs to work together in harmony. From my experience so far, I learned that it is important not just to focus on lighting but also on models, textures, and everything else. Lighting will work only if it has a good foundation to bounce off. As I mentioned before, it is all about training your eyes to recognize subtle differences between light and dark and small tweaks of parameters until you get good results.
Thanks for reading!