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Zach Bush did a short overview of the way he builds very tight interiors with a lot of little details.
Hi, my name is Zach Bush and I currently live in Southwest Virginia, USA. In 2008, I received my B.F.A. in graphic design at Radford University. Upon graduating, I worked for the government for about 6 years which I quickly realized was not for me but I needed to pay off school loans so I stuck it out. I decided to change things up and went back to school to get my masters in 3d environmental design from Virginia Tech. After that, I still felt that I needed to learn a better pipeline for how to create environments for games so I signed up for the CGMA class UE4 Modular Environments taught by Clinton Crumpler. This class was exactly what I needed and was a great learning experience for me. I feel much more confident and well equipped with the tools and knowledge for creating game environments. I am now currently searching for a full time job as an environment artist.
The main goals were to learn how to create modular pieces as well as unique and tileable textures for my environment. I didn’t want the space to feel empty when the project was complete but rather to feel like it had been lived in. After working on this project for about a week, I decided that it was time to switch over from using Cinema 4d to Maya since Maya is one of the industry standard programs for creating games. It didn’t take long to get used to the layout since I had used it before but not consistently. Most 3d packages contain the same tools, so my main challenge was just figuring out where the tools were located.
Before opening up Maya or Unreal, I needed to come up with my concept. I decided to create a fictional space called a Light Lab. Here’s my backstory: In this post-apocalyptic, overly polluted world, natural sunlight has become scarce, and artificial light is becoming a commodity. In an effort to garner control, the corrupted government officials have outlawed light farms and require citizens to obtain their light from them, at huge markups of course. The Light Lab is a hidden light farm, creating synthetic sunlight outside of the government’s watchful eye. Engineers and scientist have gone underground to fight the suppression. Right now they’re only focusing on creating a functioning machine and getting the captured sunlight to people who desperately need it. The work is dangerous and hurried, but someone’s gotta do it.
My main reference was the office my wife and I share in our house. The format of this room was the room I wanted to create. I took a few pictures of it and quickly laid out where I wanted things to be located.
I created a Pinterest board for much of my inspiration and reference images of what I wanted the style of the room to look like and all the props I wanted to incorporate. This way it could all be in one place that I could quickly access while working.
Before switching over to Maya, I blocked out the modular pieces that made up the room in Cinema 4d. Then I looked through my reference imagery and blocked out a lot of my larger props: desks, chairs, file cabinets, tvs, etc., that I knew were going to be in the room.
The class as a whole was 10 weeks long and each week we had milestones to hit so we wouldn’t fall behind. After the block out, I worked in Maya and got started on developing the props by adding more detail to each one. I would place each model into Unreal once I had created it to help me figure out if and when I needed to create more pieces to help fill up the room.
I baked my maps in Mightybake. For a lot of the props I created I used Quixel’s DDO and NDO for my texturing. There were a lot of different props so I couldn’t go into a ton of detailing with each one but wanted to have enough to make the entire room work as a whole together.
For the sake of time, I took a seamless texture, from textures.com, of some seamless wood planks and created a normal and ambient occlusion map out of it. Then I placed all of these maps into Unreal to create the texture for my floors. The cracked plaster on the walls came from taking a masked texture of damaged plaster and I created a decal material in Unreal. That way I could place it anywhere on the walls I felt was necessary. I did this same technique for some of the trash on the floor and the stains in the ceiling tiles.
I kept the lighting pretty simple. I started out with a couple of point lights for the glowing energy ball, a spotlight for the one fluorescent light that still works, an Exponential Height Fog, and worked my way out from there. I only used a Sky Light and a few more smaller spotlights for the screens. What really allowed me to set up the mood I was going for was using LUTs (Look Up Tables). I had never used them before but during one of the lessons, Clinton showed us how to create them using Photoshop and placing them into the Post Process Volume in Unreal. This was a game-changer for me, it really helped speed things up and quickly gave an overall look and feel for what the lighting needed to be without having to individually tweak each light.
Clinton showed us a great way of how to plan everything out before jumping into the project which was very helpful because he went into detail about ways to go about it so you wouldn’t fall behind when working with a deadline. Also, learning how to correctly create modular pieces using the grid was something I always wanted to learned but never knew if I was doing it right or not. Clinton did a great job of teaching us how to use many different types of materials in Unreal which was a huge help in making changes to my textures without having to leave Unreal to do so. The best thing I would say I learned was getting clarity of whether I was had been doing something right, wrong, somewhere in between when creating environments. Getting feedback from a professional in the field was invaluable and I am very grateful to have taken the class. I would definitely recommend this class to anyone interested in learning industry standard practices.
Zach Bush, Environment Artist.
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.