Carson Cuneo shared the asset production pipeline for the Scrape-Goat project, told about the lighting techniques that allow for making the scenes more vibrant and warm, and spoke about the challenges of creating the project in a short amount of time.
My name is Carson Cuneo and I’m a graduating senior from Ringling College of Art and Design. I’m graduating with a BFA in Game Art and minoring in business. This past summer, I was a summer associate at 343 Industries and had the opportunity to work on Halo Infinite. This upcoming summer, I will be joining the Infinity Ward early careers program to work on Call of Duty.
Scrape-Goat was my senior thesis that I worked on with my outstanding partner Granger Martin. You play as Bill E. McGrazer, a robot goat rancher on a faraway hot dense planet. He utilizes these goats to mine rich minerals to be processed and sold. One day, thieves invade and loot one of his most beloved robot goats. McGrazer will do anything in his power to get his goat back. For roughly 2 months, we had been elaborating on several ideas and this is what we landed on. Granger and I were first inspired by a concept we found from Jordi Van Hees. We then made all original concepts of our own world loosely based around the idea of a fortress built within a canyon's walls.
The Scale of the Project
It’s around a 15-20 minute third-person shooter experience all created in roughly 16 weeks, 8 additional weeks for the concepting period. My area distanced 14,000 uu x 5,700 uu in playable space, then expanded much further with set dressing and the vista shot. We wanted the world to feel very epic and expansive. To do this, we designed the game flow to have many grand reveals. Around every corner, we wanted to show there is a much bigger world beyond what the player gets to explore.
I started by creating primitive blockout shapes to set a strong grey box foundation. I had also written down an asset list of everything I would want to create so time wouldn't be wasted on making things I wouldn't need. After laying a strong foundation, I was able to start going through the list and mold the simple shapes into the rocks and plants they would eventually be. Following this method also helped make sure the large details were strong before moving to the medium and micro details.
All the assets were created with ZBrush and Maya then all texturing was done through Substance 3D Designer and/or Substance 3D Painter. The plants and trees were intentionally made to be easily rotated, scaled, and bashed around. Something that helped my environment was having aged variations of most plants. This helped with the believability and also allowed me to implement blend space animations so some plants could change after interacting with them.
100% of the materials were either created in SD or SP. The most fun I had while texturing was with all of the rocks. To get the detail I needed, I created a master material with tiling large, medium, and micro details. This also helped when optimizing texture resolutions. Utilizing this method allowed all rocks to use an instance of this material, have the ability to turn on and off detail sets and kept everything looking uniform.
For each rock, I would have a base Substance 3D Painter pass using smart materials I created then would further give each rock detail that fits itself. After this, I would bring it into UE4 and add that base pass to each rock's material instance. That’s how I was able to get tight surface details on the rocks from any distance.
The only procedural part I played around with was the Canyon wall creations. I used Houdini to get a simple shape pass on them before sculpting over top. Beyond that, I only used Houdini for its strong pyro and other simulation VFX tools. I was responsible for all the VFX on Scrape-Goat and compiled several flipbooks out of Houdini from liquid blood and water to steam and smoke simulations. I also experimented with vertex animated textures as I was inspired by the incredible Mortal Kombat blood simulations.
Assembling the Scene
Since the blockout phase, the composition was one of the most important aspects of creating our world. Because we were trying to create a seemingly expansive world in a short amount of time, we wanted to control the player's focus through the composition. To make the canyon and terrain feel organic, I started off by imagining how it would have weathered over time as water became more scarce. Similar to how the grand canyon has eroded tiers, I tried to implement this in our canyon walls along with how the wind would’ve shaped the rock throughout the years.
The foliage and tree placement were then done to compliment the compositions while still keeping the integrity of where and how they would grow. I would keep in mind grouping techniques and having smooth transitions between foliage into the ground and rocks. The tree placement was also used as organic "hot spots" where more life would thrive underneath and then fade out as less shade would be provided.
Lighting and Rendering
I’m sure there are many more tricks I will be learning in years to come, but one of the tricks was separating the world into different levels. All of it was loaded in the persistent, but having separate maps for the fortress, forest, and vista allowed us to reduce bake times and only have to bake light in specific areas when we needed it. I tried to do most of the lighting with just the skylight and directional light to keep the world consistent, minimize bake times, and reduce variables of what could be causing lighting issues if they ever arose.
I would also take advantage of lightmap importance volumes and the volumetric lightmap samples densities. Strategically defining where it should be more populated helped us light the scenes in the most optimal way. After this, we set up our own post-process to determine how we wanted each of our areas to look. What helped my exterior become much more vibrant and warm was primarily done through the slope and toe under the film dropdown. Lastly, I added reflection captures and other light sources to complement the current lighting scenario. This sort of allowed me to "hand paint" where light would be in a final pass.
There were many challenges that came with this project. Creating all of it in a short amount of time, experimenting with new things neither of us had tried before, and even going from a team of 3 down to 2. I had never tackled blood spatter, waterfalls, water shaders and splashes, smoke simulations, or lightning FX ever before and I planned on creating all of that along with the environment within a 16-week period.
Beyond this, when our partner dropped off the team, the scope increased significantly now with me being tasked with creating the canyon walls, creating an unplanned vista, expanding my area to create a new starting point, and taking charge of the NPC enemy characters. It was intense having to pick up these duties along with the original scope I had in mind, but I learned immensely from it.
For beginners working on similar projects, I would advise them to not be scared and be willing to try new things. I may not be a shader tech artist now, but creating the creek and water shader in my environment taught me so many new techniques that I could utilize in future VFX projects. I tried and failed with many previous shaders I created before landing on what I did. I would also recommend setting deadlines. Creating deadlines for the new things I wanted to try taught me valuable time management skills and made it much easier to start over and try again if something wasn’t working.
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