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Adam Idris shared a thorough breakdown of his Cryogenic Laboratory made with UE4, Maya, Substance Painter and Toolbag. The scene is made within CGMA course UE4 Modular Environments.
In my spare time, I’m constantly working on small personal projects and recently have begun delving into game dev as I feel it would be rewarding to be able to explore, bring life and interaction to the environments I’ve created.
The Importance of a Design Brief
I should begin by stating that establishing a brief before jumping into any project I work on. It helps prevent scope creep and not become bogged down on arbitrary details.
Concept & Break Out of a Comfort Zone
I’m very passionate about sci-fi and cyberpunk visuals and because of that tend to lean towards creating scenes or models from that universe. Previously I had made stylized ancient ruins and an alien environment. I decided that this time I wanted to challenge myself in creating a dieselpunk inspired environment.
Part of the challenge was to emphasize mood and convey the story through visuals in a cinematic way. With that in mind, I needed to source for references.
Notable references were Guillermo Del Toro’s Shape of Water, Bioshock, and the industrial revolution.
In this phase, I took note of vintage architecture right down to lighting, fixtures, fittings, and surfaces that would be part of the environment.
To create a more cohesive and plausible environment, I tried to deconstruct what materials were used for walls, pipes, and windows during the 50s.
Before building modular parts for my environment it was important to establish a scale. The approach for this was to introduce an average scaled mannequin model and setup Maya’s units to match UE4. 1 UE4 unit = 1 meter.
From here I have a grid that I built on and started to block in the major masses such as the walls, ceiling, and floors. By implementing the grid and a strict unit guideline I could ensure my assets would snap together as needed and always be on the grid. If I needed smaller incremental changes I would divide my grid by halves, quarters and eighths.
Just like painting, establishing the broad strokes gets you a sense of scale earlier on. Next was populating the scene with secondary and tertiary details. I spent most of my time in Maya and used a mass FBX exporter to get blocked in parts into the scene. This little script saved me a lot of time on the iterative process and automated the exporting process.
The following scripts were used for mass FBX exporting:
Medium Poly & Face Weighted Normals
After becoming aware of the production methodologies used on Star Citizen and Alien Isolation, I became interested in medium poly models and implementing face weighted normals into my asset workflow. This Reddit post was a handy overview.
For larger scaled assets such as the cryo chambers and bubble chambers, I added in extra subdivisions to account for the geometry appearing blocky and then applied Bnormal script to it. 1 to 2 bevels was sufficient to make a difference in the edges of my meshes. Here is the Bnormal script that was used for face weighted normals.
Texturing & Trim Sheets
With most of my geometry being either low poly or medium poly with face weighted normals, I was able to skip the high to low poly process altogether to focus on texturing.
To produce sharp normals for my trim sheet I opted to use Marmoset Toolbag. These normals were later thrown into Substance Painter to generate my materials.
To ensure that my textures for my trim sheet were given enough texel density, I set my trim sheet up to 2k bearing in mind that would be 4m thus dividing the geometry up to scale with assets in my scene. A peer, Dave, mentioned that he put his trim sheet next to his mannequin to better gauge scale comparison.
I needed to have a cryo chamber that was destroyed. The purpose of this was to create tension, suspense, mystery and to encourage the viewer to questions like “What was in this chamber? Where has it gone? Is it hostile?”. Not being particularly satisfied with the outcome in Maya’s Create Shatter a peer of mine recalled that UE4 had a mesh destruction simulation. I was able to quickly do this with UE4’s destructible mesh and a simple blueprint that ‘woke’ up the rigid body solver upon playing or simulating the scene. Still being relatively new to blueprints, I will admit, I stumbled my way through this part.
Destructible mesh simulation:
Films are notably the best point of reference for dramatic lighting. Early in my project, I knew that I wanted to invoke a mysterious but not horrific environment with a dense atmosphere.
I wanted to get a better grasp of how lightmass operated in UE4. As result, this part of the pipeline did require additional research. The following video proved to be very helpful in ascertaining the correct properties and settings to manipulate when building light:
To fake light bulbs, emissives became very handy for making convincing lights.
Master Materials & Instances
With necessary key project management methods employed earlier on, it was important to be able to manage the project as efficiently as possible. It was important to note that instances based on master materials updated quickly which allowed for rapid iteration.
Water is always a tricky one to execute properly. I arrived at a solution whereby I plugged a ‘simple grass wind’ node into the world position offset of the material. This was only applied only the meshes that were inside the cryo chamber.
During the post-processing, I focused primarily on accentuating a contrast between warm (yellow) and cool colors (green and blue) and paid particularly close attention to how it was affecting the mood. When in doubt, I regularly referred back my images.
I’d like to say thanks to Clinton Crumpler at CGMA/Dekogon for his constructive feedback during the 10 weeks of producing this environment. Additional shout out to peers Daniel Webb, Charles Kurcharzak and Dave Wilson for their feedback.
Adam Idris, 3D Artist