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Creating A Cinematic Rain On Lake Environment With Megascans & UE5

3D Artist Zubair Tanoli talked about Serenity in the Storm project, explaining how this beautiful showcase of Unreal Engine 5 capabilities was brought to life with the help of Megascans, Lumen's lighting, and Nuke's touch-ups.

Introduction

Greetings! I am Zubair Tanoli, 3D Artist from Pakistan. I would like to thank 80 Level for showcasing my work and giving me an opportunity to write an interview.

My journey into multimedia began with my father, who introduced me to the world of video editing and audio processing. Building upon this foundation, I pursued formal education in graphics design and 3D art at Arena Multimedia. During my time at Arena Multimedia, I had the privilege of working and learning from industry experts and mentors such as Mohammad Bilal and Waheed Nasir. Their guidance enriched my skills and provided invaluable insights into the craft.

Subsequently, I joined Ice Animations, a leading animation production house in Pakistan. There, I had the opportunity to work on a diverse range of projects, both local and international. These included collaborations with renowned brands such as EBM, Knorr, and Bisconni, as well as prestigious ventures like the Mansour cartoon series (aired on Nickelodeon) and Day of Reckoning. Currently, I work at Epic Games, where I am focused on creating 3D photogrammetry assets for the Quixel library. This role allows me to blend technical precision with creative expression, contributing to high-quality resources used by artists worldwide.

The experiences garnered from these endeavors have not only refined my artistic abilities but have also instilled in me a deep passion for multimedia production. I am eager to continue my journey, pushing creative boundaries and contributing to innovative projects in the ever-evolving realm of multimedia arts.

Serenity in the Storm Project

The project Serenity in the Storm was inspired by Aaron Westwood's short film I AM. Initially, my plan was to create a series of environments similar to those depicted by Aaron Westwood. However, as I began working on my first scene, I realized the potential to fully explore and render the environment I had created. This realization led me to pivot towards producing a cinematic short film.

To gather references and inspiration, I utilized platforms such as Filmgrab and ShotDeck, which offer extensive libraries of cinematic references sourced from various movies. Additionally, I studied random cinematic B-roll shots of forests and jungles, which greatly aided in planning my camera work and scene composition.

Getting Started

Before diving directly into 3D modeling, I planned out my compositional elements. Initially, I identified trees, logs, and a boat as essential components. To gather these basic elements, I sourced trees and logs from Quixel and the boat from Sketchfab.

Next, I began by blocking out the foreground. Since my intention was to create a cinematic environment rather than a gameplay setting, I focused solely on blocking the scene according to the planned camera view.

Once I had the foreground blocked out using Quixel assets, I proceeded to create a landscape to compose the midground and background terrain. While the terrain might not be prominently visible in the scene, it serves to add color variation and depth to the water. On top of that, it also facilitates the seamless scattering of assets.

Materials

When working with assets sourced from various platforms such as Megascans and Sketchfab, I prioritize double-checking the albedo color to ensure consistency and harmony between them. Adjusting these colors to blend seamlessly enhances the overall scene, making it more believable.

Megascans offers a versatile material system that facilitates easy tweaking through slider adjustments, which proves invaluable in this process.

Additionally, for custom assets, I've developed my own master material. This material boasts numerous features, including three material layers, multiple blending options, color corrections, and a simple Triplaner mapping method. These capabilities afford me greater control and flexibility in achieving the desired visual outcome for my scenes.

Scattering

Assembling the scene was very enjoyable. With a reference and inspiration to start with—an image from Aaron Westwood's short film – I quickly began blocking out the main establishing scene using the Megascans library.

I started by blocking out the larger shapes first and adjusted the overall composition a bit. I added a water layer with small waves between the foreground and the background to enhance the scale of the scene. Then, I added focal point elements, such as a boat and foreground boulders.

For scattering, I used a combination of Unreal's Foliage tool and a plug-in called ia scatter. It's a very fast and powerful tool for quickly scattering objects, with some very cool scattering methods worth checking out.

I began by scattering the medium details in the foreground, such as small rocks, boulders, and wood debris. Then, I hand-placed the foreground trees and a fallen trunk. Once I was satisfied with the medium layer scattering in the foreground, I scattered the grass with different variations and sizes.

Lighting & Rendering

Lighting and rendering can really make or break your renders. I wanted to create this scene in real-time, so I chose Lumen instead of Path Tracing. Using Lumen with hardware tracing gives amazing results.

The lighting setup was very simple. I used an HDRI backdrop to get a photorealistic sky and realistic ambient lighting. Additionally, I used directional lighting to give soft directional shadows.

Post-production is an important stage of rendering as it helps enhance and polish the lighting and final look. Here are some settings I tweaked:

  • Bloom: To give the scene a softer look and feel
  • Exposure: Set the correct exposure
  • Local Exposure: Adjusted shadow contrast scale to make the shadow areas a little bit brighter
  • Temperature: Adjusted to 6000 to give the scene a cooler vibe
  • Color Grading: Increase only contrast because I did the color grading in Nuke and DaVinci
  • Max Trace Distance: Set to get better Lumen traces at a distance

For the lake material, I used Andrew Svanberg Hamilton's lake material from the Rural Australia pack. On top of that, I added the UDS weather system to create ripples.

Tips: adjust the Max Trace Distance to get better distant reflections and lighting traces. Play with Shadow Contrast Scale settings to make shadow areas brighter instead of adding more lights or increasing overall brightness.

It took 15 days to finish this environment alongside my regular office work. I faced many challenges during the creation of this environment:

  • Creating a large-scale real-time environment with a lot of details: Using Nanite was a perfect choice as it retains mesh detail and doesn't cost much in terms of GPU performance and FPS;
  • Scattering: This was a challenging task. Even though PCG (Procedural Content Generation) is very strong for generating and scattering objects, I wasn't experienced enough to use PCG in this project. Instead, I found the plug-in ia Scatter to be very powerful, allowing us to scatter almost anything, including static meshes with LODs, Nanite meshes, and skeletal meshes;
  • Realistic lighting and weather effects: This was another big challenge. Here, Lumen was very useful, and Ultra Dynamic Lighting for the weather was a perfect choice, allowing us to generate weather effects with just a couple of clicks;
  • Achieving photorealism: I wanted the final output to look as if it came straight out of a camera. To achieve that effect, I had to simulate lens effects such as depth of field (DOF), vignette, motion blur, bloom, and chromatic aberration. Most of these effects were handled directly in UE5, but I added chromatic aberration in Nuke.

For learning environment art, I highly recommend watching these free video resources:

Zubair Tanoli, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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Comments 1

  • Anonymous user

    Great insight into Zubair Tanoli's creative process! Inspiring read for 3D art and game dev enthusiasts.👍🏻

    0

    Anonymous user

    ·3 days ago·

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