Crafting a Stylized Floating Island
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Crafting a Stylized Floating Island
14 June, 2019
Environment Art
Interview
Materials

André Felipe did a breakdown of Paradiso Amissum and talked about modeling, crafting trees, setting up a waterfall, presentation.

Introduction

Hi! My name is André Felipe and I’m a Junior Environment Artist based in Brazil. When I was six years old I got my first console, PlayStation 2, and right at that time, I decided I wanted to make games for a living! Quick, I know, but I was right! My parents supported me all the way (bless them!) and here I am.

I dabbled in different areas of production until I finally chose Environment Art and started studying it every day after university. In fact, 80lv has been a core component in building all the strong knowledge I have, as I’ve always been self-studying and having resources from the great artists gathered on a single site is amazing. Last year I graduated from the university majoring in Game Design and Development and now I work full-time as a Front-End developer (long story!). After work, I study hard in hopes to break into the industry and get my first Environment Art job, preferably outside of Brazil as I intend to move very soon!

Paradiso Amissum

Idea

I’m always roaming ArtStation looking for interesting 2D concepts to translate into 3D. That particular week a couple of months ago I was really set on making a waterfall, as it’s a very interesting element that involves particles, Game VFX and UV magic I’d never messed with. I thought it would also make a good entry for The Rookie Awards, which I’ve been looking to submit something for.

I had this idea in mind ever since I saw a RiME waterfall breakdown. 80lv published an article about it here which I found incredibly interesting!

So, when I was all set on making a waterfall scene, I gathered a bunch of reference from different scenes that had waterfalls. I was dead-set I wanted it stylized because my last scene was realistic and I wanted some style variation in my portfolio. I stumbled upon Yog Joshi’s artwork and decided that it would be my main piece of reference.

Modeling & Sculpting

I’m always pressed for time when doing personal projects, so I try to play to my strengths in terms of software and only learn new software on the weekends or at work. My sculpting skills have always been superior to my poly modeling skills, so I try to do as little as possible in Blender. I chose Blender when I first started because I saw extreme potential in it, it’s reliable, open source and very dynamic. I block everything out in Blender, usually using a reference sheet. I will then UV unwrap it, subdivide it to give it a nice mesh density and export it out.

I sculpt the High Poly mesh in ZBrush. I also control the poly count depending on the resolution of the normal map I want and don’t go too high (5mil polys max for a 2K map) in order not to lose any detail. There are two options here: use the initial blockout as a low-poly, or use ZBrush’s lowest subdiv as a low-poly. I always choose ZBrush’s low poly. You can read more about it here, that tutorial is very useful!

Then I bake and texture the model in Substance Painter. That part was pretty straight forward because I chose to use solid colors.

The island was bashed all together using 1 modular terrain piece that suited my needs, all 4 faces of it have different elements from the cliffs in the original concept. I figured the overall shape of the island after different iteration passes and feedback from Lincoln Hughes who also provided me with the Z-UP material I used for the grass!

Trees

The trees were tricky. I’ve always had a difficult time with foliage so I knew I needed feedback on this one. I made some trees mimicking the concept, but they weren’t too strong art-wise and didn’t have enough stylized detail, so I consulted with Laurie Durand, Lincoln Hughes, and Tim Simpson for this (the folks at Tuque Games are amazingly nice! Go check their work out). With their feedback in hand, I used more reference and ended up landing on a couple of different hand-painted pine trees as reference.

I really wasn’t confident in hand-painting the leaves, but I went ahead and did it anyway using Fortnite’s color scheme. The risk paid off and the pine trees really improved the overall composition itself.

Before hand-painting the leaves, I blocked the tree trunk out in Blender, made a single branch and UVed it, then blocked the whole tree shape out and went ahead to paint it.

Waterfall

The waterfall taught me A LOT since it was the main reason I made the scene. I used a BUNCH of tutorials to learn what was necessary: first, the 80lv’s one I talked about earlier, then I read Simon Trümpler’s blog on RiME’s VFX. Then, I saw Nick Carver’s waterfall for his game Waycaster and looked at Legend of Zelda Wind Waker as reference. Finally, the holy grail was Gnomon’s Jeremy Griffith’s Introduction to GameVFX in Unreal. This tutorial changed everything: it taught me step-by-step world position offset, panning grayscale textures, fundamentals of Game VFX and a lot of useful stuff. I strongly recommend you check it out! There are however countless free tutorials available on the internet, especially on 80lv.

First, I broke down the effect in a couple of different parts: Laminar flow, Dissipation (Turbulence), Splashing and Mist.

I drew a grayscale texture in Photoshop to drive the waterfall’s foam and WPO (World Position Offset) and Lerped two colors using this texture as an alpha.

For the turbulent shapes, I generated a Worley (Voronoi) noise inside Unreal and rendered it to texture using a blueprint. This noise was used to drive the bottom effects of the waterfall. I pan it across the mesh and lerp a gradient using the Voronoi as a threshold for the opacity and the gradient for Foam color. This creates the turbulent shapes you see at the end of the laminar flow and makes the water whiter towards the bottom to create the illusion of foamy goodness.

For the splash puddle, I created a disk with square UVs (as seen in RiME’s breakdown) with a hand-painted grayscale texture panning outwards driving the opacity. I also multiply the opacity by Vertex color here and paint the outside of the disk to remove the harsh transition of the opacity map against the water.

I created a particle material based on the puddles texture to create grainy water droplets that panned and moved outwards when they spawned. I then made a particle system for the splashing water droplets, they bounce away from the waterfall’s impact point.

Last but not least, the mist. I drew a little mist cloud grayscale texture that drove the particle’s outline.

The Voronoi noise from before was used to drive the mist material. I inverted it with a OneMinus node and panned it along, also increased its opacity so it looked more like a mist puff. To get variation I used a Dynamic parameter added by time on the panner’s time parameter – this gives every puff a different shape. I did the same for the splashes.

Materials

I’m not a strong hand painter (YET! Just you wait!) so I knew from the start I wanted solid colors + normal detail for the stylized look. Most of the materials are nothing special, just a solid Vector color + normal maps, except for the Waterfall and the Master material I used for the Terrain. Lincoln Hughes provided me with his Prop Master Material featured here on 80lv a while ago (check it here). I used it on the terrain and rocks and it saved my life countless times!

Presentation

I wanted to build the presentation upon the original concept and give it a more cozy and inviting feel, and also make it look more like Game Art. I wanted vibrant and live colors that balanced each other out, but I didn’t want any colors to be too aggressive.  So I decided on using the three primary colors as a base (RGB).

I gave the terrain a more pronounced red-ish color to outline the island’s shapes better and contrast with the green and blue elements in the scene. I differentiated the green grass mesh material color and Terrain Z-UP color to give the grass a bit of outline from a distance and some highlights at night. I also placed the trees to the left in a stair-like shape to direct the eye towards the arch, and aligned the middle one with the islands groove point.

Lighting was a huge task here, especially for the Night-Time shots where moonlight is almost completely white against the purple and dark blue of the sky’s indirect light. To learn more about that I strongly recommend Unreal’s Lighting Academy by 51Daedalus.

The colors were bumped up using Unreal’s Post-Processing Effects, specifically Color Grading, White balance, and Temperature. Apart from that, I retouched the colors in Photoshop as well. You can see the in-game colors in the little pan-through I made:

I want to thank Tim Simpson, Laurie Durand and Lincoln Hughes for their feedback and support!

Until next time!

André Felipe, Junior Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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Kai Marshall
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Kai Marshall

Awesome! So proud of you!!! <3

André Felipe
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André Felipe

Thanks my dude!!

Marcelo
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Marcelo

Congrats man! Stunning work!
I loved the scene closed at night.

André Felipe
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André Felipe

Thank you so much marcelo!!

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