Hard surfaces, beautiful lighting, and great style. Vlad Shintukov talked about the way he used all that in his latest work.
Hi everyone! My name is Vlad Shintukov, I am an environment artist at TRACE Studio, it is an outsourcing company, based in Saint Petersburg.
My acquaintance with 3D began in 2008 – I was curious how games were being made. In 2016 I decided that I want to make content for PC and console games professionally. In particular – to make objects for the environment.
I am in the industry for 3 years. First year and a half I spent on the self-education and portfolio. After that, I started to receive small freelance orders for indie projects: props and objects for environment. Now, at TRACE Studio I am working on the unannounced but really interesting AAA project.
Sometimes we hold inner art battles. That time the task was to make a diorama on any media product.
My diorama is from the game Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix. It is made in a cyberpunk setting. Technological breakthrough in robotics, human body augmentation, the constant pressure of megacorporations, all of that create a special atmosphere.
The diorama is showcasing an installation from one of the games’ locations – Útulek Station, nicknamed Golem City. This area was originally built to provide the working class with temporary housing. Following the Aug Incident in Panchaea in 2027, the station quickly became a ghetto for the mechanically augmented.
Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of the concept artist who invented this installation. As I take it, he endowed it with the certain inner meaning. At first sight, it seems to be just a bunch of lamps, collected here to light the environment. But if we take a closer look, the lamps form a shape of big wings. I believe that it is a reference to the myth of Icarus and Daedalus. But, again, it is just my inkling.
First of all, I wanted to reinforce skills, gained at the studio: to get better at conveying mood by lighting, and at the least, to make a nice diorama. There also was a challenge to present this installation out of the game environment but keep it recognizable. My references were screenshots from the game and cinematics.
Having enough references, I got down to the blockout: set primitives to understand how the silhouette would look like, what objects to make, how to fill the environment with details. After that came time for high poly and low poly models. I made them with Blender 3D. For high poly I used plugin HardOps, it is very handy and time-saving tool due to the Nonsubdiv modeling and Boolean operations.
It was very exciting to work with each element of the diorama, be it a small prop or a large installation from lamps. Main pillars with beams were made by trims, which saved me a great amount of time. The rest of the available time I put into texturing and post-processing. Cables were done by trims too, they took the greater part of the modeling.
I tried three different approaches to the cables:
- Make a simulation in Blender;
- Make all cables in UE4;
- Make cables by curvature and adjust their position manually.
Finally, I chose the last option, it seemed to me that it was the quickest way. Also, I could twist these cables as I wished and change their configuration without simulation.
A diorama can be viewed from any direction, so I decided to place a pair of generators and a wall panel with cables at the back side.
While making the installation I faced with many interesting questions. How to make the shape not just flat but volumetric? How to fasten all these lamps? Where to connect the cables? How to place them in a way they don’t cross each other?
In the beginning, I was going to follow a real-life scale. But later, when I was baking and packing UVs, I realized that I had very different texel values on the details: from 3 to 14 PPI. After that, I had to scale the whole model to 0.4. It allowed me to keep 14 PPI on all the elements and reduce the number of textures.
I also used Substance Painter. I created there a smart material for the metal, which covers 80% of the construction. Once I met in a game a material I liked: the metal looked oxidized because of too high reflection. I made my main material very close to the reference. Then I prepared paint and plastic materials for main beams, enclosure, cables, and lamp details.
Render and Lighting
When all the textures were ready, it was time to put the materials into the engine. I used Unreal Engine 4 for the final render. Previously, when I had been texturing, I had already set up a scene in Marmoset Toolbag to understand how to light the model. I used the standard scheme with three light sources: key, fill and back. Plus, a few additional lights to get rid of too dark places. There is an emissive material on the lamps to make the composition more interesting and a bit asymmetrical. I also added some dynamics by fog behind the lamps and rotating fans. Lamps’ flickering was made with emissive materials too. See the functions I added to the Emissive channel below.
For all the lamps I used IES light maps.
When the light sources had been adjusted, I got down to the post-processing to get the same atmosphere that was in the game. What helped me here is such visual effects as Post Process Volume and Exponential Height Fog. I had to perform lots of iterations to get the desirable atmosphere. So, the result you can see right here.