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3d artist Michael Eurek, who worked with Pixomondo, The Mill, Mirada, Shade VFX & Logan, shared his thoughts on building simple 3d scenes in Unreal Engine 4. He talked about the creation of assets, materials production and the creating of beautiful lighting setups.
My name is Michael Eurek. I am from Chicago IL, USA. My background is in Visual Effects for film and commercials. I have worked at a variety of commercial and film post houses in Chicago and Los Angeles, including Pixomondo, The Mill, Mirada, Shade VFX, Logan, and others. The biggest project I worked on was Martin Scorsese’s film Hugo as a 3D generalist. I didn’t get into games until last year where I worked at a small indie company in Chicago called Phosphor Games. There, I worked on two Heroes titles.
Abandoned Hospital Scene Production
I browse photography and art websites on the internet and have a folder where I save images that I find inspiring. I came across a few photos of this hospital five or more years ago. I attempted to create a room using Unity 3 back in 2012. I had never worked in a game engine at the time, so it was a good learning experience.
I was pleased with the end result, but when I look at it now, I knew so little. I decided to recreate it using UE4, mostly because I have a good understanding on how the engine works. The main things that I wanted to accomplish were to get more realistic lighting and to create most of my textures using Substance Designer. The textures were a huge part of the work. All of the tiling textures are hand created using only Substance Designer.
The scene is only 3 rooms connected with a small hallway. The video and screenshots only show 2 of the rooms. The third is behind closed doors. I needed something behind the door because it has a glass window above it.
I built the scene using modular pieces. I have floor pieces at various sizes, wall pieces, ceiling pieces, doorway pieces, etc, so that I can quickly add or remove rooms without too much hassle. There are props that I have placed throughout the level, including the surgical lamp, bed, and rolling tray. I made other props like hanging and fallen wires that I can scatter wherever. I also wanted to have some reusable rubble pieces to add some more details to the ground. I simulated tiles and plaster pieces falling into little piles, which I think worked nicely.
Creating Materials for Assets
Substance Designer was a very important part of the process for this piece. I wanted to get a good grasp on how to use the software, so I decided to make all of my tiling textures in it. Height and normal maps are extremely important in realtime graphics, and unless you are using a 3D scanner to scan physical materials/objects, the best textures are created from scratch.
Zbrush is a fantastic tool to use for getting beautiful unique textures, but it is not a fast process. Substance allowed me to create solid height maps relatively quickly which I could then create all of the other maps from. The best part about Substance Designer though, is that if I wanted to make a major change to the final texture, I could easily do so and it would propagate to all of the maps instantly. As an example, I can load my wall tile file and change the number of tiles that appear. The color, cracks, holes, scratches, everything associated will update automatically.
I used Quixel Suite 2.0 for all of my props and 0-1 texture painting. If you have well thought out models and nicely baked normal and AO maps, the painting process is so fast. I used to texture in Photoshop with a similar workflow that the Quixel Suite uses, but to have all of my maps update automatically and the ability to paint in 3D is so great! I think it would be a good idea for me to learn Substance Painter as well, mostly because it has similar functionality, but I can directly use any of the substance files I make in Substance Designer. Since I already know Quixel Suite, I didn’t want to spend all of the time learning another new program for this project.
How to use Substance Designer & Quixel Suite in your Work
Substance Designer and Quixel Suite are used in different ways.
I used Substance Designer to make procedural tiling textures. There are ways to use the substance files directly in UE4, but I didn’t feel it was necessary for this project. I output the final result into textures, then imported those into the engine to use with my materials. I used Quixel Suite to paint the props.
As far as organization, I just had to make sure I had the correct texture maps for each material. The key to getting nice looking materials is to really understand how your maps affect the material. What I mean by that is, everything you add to your textures should properly affect the material’s color, glossiness, and bump.
If I add dirt or dust to my tiles, I have to think of how (if at all) that would affect the surface bump of the material, how would it affect the glossiness, the color, AO, etc. Once I have the maps working the way I want them to, I bring them into UE4 to use with my materials. I built some functionality into my materials that gives me some control in engine. I can tint the diffuse, control the strength of the normal map, and lighten or darken the roughness.
This eliminates the need to constantly edit the textures, export, then re-import. I also make use of vertex painting to blend between textures, which allows for a lot of variation and hides obvious tiling in the textures.
Lighting The Scene
The lighting in this scene, or any scene, sets the mood and tone. I wanted to create a peaceful feeling in the environment despite everything falling apart and being broken. I think I was able to achieve that feeling and most of it was due to the strong, warm sunlight. In addition to setting the mood, the lighting allows the different properties of the materials to show. You can see the sharp reflections in the water pools, or get a sense for how dusty it must be when looking at the non reflective floor.
In terms of total time working, I think I put in about 1.5 months. I started in September though. I think one of the biggest challenges was learning how to use Substance Designer. Once I got over the initial difficulties with learning new software, I really got the hang of it and I’m happy I decided to use it. Additionally, I tried to push the quality my lighting. I am inspired by the artist Koola (apologies that I don’t know his real name) and have been trying to achieve lighting results like his. After several iterations, I think I am getting closer.