Vitaliy Koshevyy did a breakdown of his outstanding snowy landscape made with Maya, SpeedTree and Redshift.
First of all, I would like to thank 80 lvl for the interview and the opportunity to share with you some of my workflows.
My name is Vitaliy Koshevyy and I am 3D Environment Artist from Israel.
Since childhood, I always liked creative work which combines problem-solving skills. I was born in Ukraine Kherson city, a place where technologies were far behind the modern world in that times, and my exposure to media was very poor. Besides the technology, life itself was quite poor and I used my imagination often to fill my life with things I could n’t have. Later on, it helped me during my works.
When I was 13, my family and I moved to Israel. After gathering some friends I have realized that I had a big gap in the things related to movies and games. Very quickly I became a typical gamer and played all of those popular games and watched most of the well-known movies. One day I have realized that I want to be a part of the creators’ side and not just a player. I started to go behind the scenes of the games and try to tweak their graphics and sounds but I didn’t know how to create my own content. One day I saw a video on YouTube from Blizzard Company that released a Behind the Scenes of their Cinematics. I was amazed by the ways the VFX were done this was the first time I was exposed to the progress of that stuff. Since then I wanted to get into 3D/ VFX industry.
I was inspired by places and their atmosphere that described a certain mood and I wanted to create such worlds in a 3D space. After finishing 3 years of service in the Army I was completely lost and didn’t know where to begin. A 3D profession in Israel is not very developed so it was hard to find any clues where to begin. After running between colleges, learning through tutorials 2D, 3D, animation, rigging, and etc. and trying to create my own games with friends I have finally decided in which direction I wanted to go. Finally, I have assigned to a 3D and Animation program of 2 years. There I have found my passion for Environments creation. In addition, it gave me the opportunity to know more about the industry, created good bonds with people from the industry and even out of the borders.
When I start working on a project I always ask myself what kind of feel I want to pass to the viewer and how I want to show it. The first and most important thing to do is to gather References, references and again references. This is the most important thing before doing any other task. We can surely remember the general image but always miss the smallest details in it and sometimes the reason for them to exist there. References can help you understand more and guide you to better artistic decisions.
This time I am going to talk about one of my latest projects FrozenLake but in general, these workflows related to most of my projects. After viewing references and unifying the main picture I start to construct a basic scene.
Then I prefer doing a simple layout to see if composition and scale of subjects are proper and look good. I try to keep things as basic as possible and go deeper into details with a progress. First I think about 3 main things:
- The place a scene takes on (the landscape of the area, forest, desert, alien planet, city streets, or the walls of the interior like caves, rooms, sci-fi ships, etc.)
- The objects that fill it (like vegetation, humans, hard surface nature, buildings, man-made stuff and so on.)
- The lighting conditions (Light sources and what comes in their way – fog, clouds, refracted materials, objects that are not in the scene but cast their shadows).
Doing the landscape of this scene was a simple task as it didn’t contain too much definition and unusual parts because the whole scene was covered with soft snow. Usually, I am working within Maya and its basic sculpting tools and try to achieve the most of the details by blending displacement maps. Sometimes when I feel that it’s not enough I would send some basic shapes to Mudbox/ZBrush to achieve certain details but again I would convert it to the displacement map to maintain working viewport optimization. It also gives you more control over the map as you connect it in the Hyper Shade through color correction nodes.
Using SpeedTree for Vegetation
SpeedTree is a time saver software when it comes to vegetation. It’s node based, simple to use, has a wide range of vegetation solvers and ability to animate the plants under wind conditions, which then you can export as Alembic file. It allows completing a plant within minutes of work, something that you won’t achieve by modeling.
I don’t really use specific measurements or numbers to create the materials, I just rely on a reference and the details in it. Snow Material was a simple material. Once you understand why materials behave in their way it becomes much easier to replicate them in 3D. Snow is actually made from flakes that are almost transparent but due to their different shapes and the air trapped in between the light bounces all around instead of going straight. To achieve this phenomenon I used 2 small and big noise maps.
Small noise maps were connected to roughness with color correction node to achieve a reflected-flakes look. They were also connected to the displacement map to brake the flat shape. Same maps were connected to Refraction Transmittance to make the popping up flakes more transparent.
Big noise maps were also connected to displacement to have the snow in different levels of height. This map also controls the density difference between small areas by connecting it to Scattering Coef. Overall, the density of the snow was controlled by Scatter Scale and Refraction Color.
The Lake material was a combination of 2 materials: snow and simple ice. They were blended with a mask created in Photoshop that defines some cracks with snow gathering area and snowy footsteps. The Ice material consists of refraction enabled with some noise map in the roughness slot.
Sometimes the background of a scene might be in a far distance so most of the details are not noticeable. What I usually like to do is optimizing my backgrounds by converting them to 2D images so the render time is quicker and the project size isn’t that big. What I have done in the FrozenLake scene was achieving the final look and finishing the trees, then rendering them out as a 2D image and placing again in the scene as flat cards. Even though there is a movement of the camera in the video, it’s still hard to notice any difference because they are far enough. This technique works under certain circumstances like the lighting of the scene and the types of materials used. Mostly it works with soft ambient light and very rough and diffuse materials.
In order to create this type of lighting, I created the scene with volumetric clouds in Maya and rendered it as a Spherical HDR image. After setting up the HDR in the scene I added direct light with a low intensity and soft shadows to add a bit more contrast. To make it more atmospheric I also enabled Redshift environment volumetric and added some low opacity fog footage in the After Effects with an additional render of Z-Depth map.
I like to make my works livable, not just still 3D images, I want to feel the place as if I am standing/ walking there. Redshift gives me the ability to achieve that goal and speeds up the process. It’s a fast render engine and works great even at low spec PCs. Its ability to go out of the core and use PC RAM gives no limits to my projects. It contains any node that other popular industry standards render engines have and similar to them. If you know any other render package it’s easy to transit.
Recommendations for Learners
It’s really hard to recommend a specific tutorial or a book since being an Environment Artist you have to touch most of the aspects in a 3D world: modeling, sculpting, texturing, cloth simulation, assets scanning and so on.
I think nowadays procedural workflow is growing up so you should consider learning Substance Designer, World Machine and Houdini. Color theory and composition is also something good to have in your pockets. It sounds a lot to do but you need to keep things simple and manage consistent workflow over your projects.
Sometimes I watch tutorials from the game dev world, take some ideas from there and try to replicate them with tools I am using.
Here are a few useful sources for each aspect of Environment production:
- one of the best articles for the basic understanding of art in CG by Neil Blevins
- Some cool 3D inspirations: Marek Denko and Anthony Eftekhari
- Books about 2D art that might be useful: Art Fundamentals and Beyond Art Fundamentals
Also, watch movies, play games and observe the surroundings!
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