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Creating a Japanese Pagoda in ZBrush, Substance & V-Ray

An Environment Artist Narcis Calin shared a breakdown of the Bell Of The Set Free project, shared the workflow, and explained how to use ZRemesher and DynaMesh in your modeling process.

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Introduction

Hello, I'm Narcis Calin, an environment artist from Romania. This project was inspired mainly by "Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice". I loved the art style of the game and I wanted to create something similar to it. You can see the full project here.

Gathering Reference Images

The first step is as always the hardest. Starting a scene can be difficult because you need to find many references, get the scale right and create basic lighting and it can be a tedious process but is also the most important step. I used PureRef to store all my reference images. I took real-life photos for realism and some screenshots from the game for artistic reference.

Workflow

The pagoda structure was made by modeling different parts separately and unwrapping them before placing them. After all the structure was modeled I made the UDIMS and imported it into Substance Painter. Then I modeled a base shape for the bell and got it in ZBrush where I made a DynaMesh to "weld" the shapes together and a ZRemesher to finish the base. Before sculpting, I unwrapped the bell to get some nice UVs for later.

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The stairs were made following a similar process, excluding the DynaMesh – ZRemesh process

For the scene foliage, I used external models from Megascans. All the scattering work is made with Forest Pack. I tried to make the foliage go from smaller to bigger, meaning that it will go from moss to base grass to bushes and at last trees. I also gave randomness to the texture so the plants don't look all the same.

The soil is done with displacement and rock scattering. Some bigger details like boulders or big branches and some smaller details like leaves or forest debris also helped to improve the ground. To further improve it I used some procedural texturing with noises to get larger details to break up a little the uniform shape.

Regarding composition, I tried to make guiding lines to the bell, like the path itself leading to the bell, also the torches are all tilted to point at the structure and of course, the lighting is also creating a path like a gradient, going from shadow at the bottom and light at the top.

Optimization-wise, I made heavy use of proxies and point clouds, something that Forest Pack does automatically for you when scattering. I also needed to optimize the plants' textures. I achieved that by lowering the resolution of some textures, removing Roughness and Normal Maps, and also by setting certain plants that are far away from the camera to clip mod in the opacity settings, giving pretty much the same result from far away but with faster render times. I also rendered the fog separately without GI and with just a black material override and then added it in post-production.

Narcis Calin, 3D Environment Artist

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