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Timothy Dries did a breakdown of the industrial environment scene Last Bastion created in UE4. His new work is focused on detailing the assets and storytelling.
My name is Timothy Dries, I’m an environment artist and I have been working in the game industry for about 3 years. During this time I have been working on multiple professional projects such as Planet Coaster and Jurassic World Evolution, but most of my time is spent working on personal projects in order to develop personal skills and push my art and name further in the 3D world.
I have also made a few articles on 3D art and started a weekly blog with my weekly progress and useful tips. I am doing this both to test if I can keep to a tight schedule and keep to a consistent work but most importantly to help other people in their artistic endeavors and careers.
My last piece, strangely enough, started out as an asset package because I wanted to try selling assets online which I have never done until now, and get to know the pipeline so that I could do the same with all my scenes and people could learn from my workflow if they are interested and support my future ventures.
The scene before any storytelling elements added
The way this piece differs from my other pieces is that I ended up adding a lot of storytelling to the scene because at a certain point I felt that the scene was very. I was too focused on just creating assets but not adding any other value to it. Another reason why I added storytelling to this scene was that it’s one of the major things my portfolio was lacking, and I still need to improve it.
The scene with updated story elements and lighting
So, storytelling was the biggest area I wanted to explore, but there were many other smaller areas that I explored as well, such as making prefabs, be quicker in producing a full scene, being more focused and of course trying myself at selling assets online.
To start out this scene I wrote down a list of all the assets I needed to create a solid block-out for. Once I made a solid base I started adding missing components such as more decorative pieces, for example, the wires, lights, scaffolding, valves etc., and I ended up creating roughly 170 different assets which in the end were reduced to 150 in total. The challenge was finishing all the assets in a good quality so other people could use them all. In the previous scenes, I could get away with leaving some details not worked out completely because they were distant objects, but not this time.
Early block-out stage
The production of these assets was mainly focused on the different scales for all the pipes, starting out with the bigger pipes then making some smaller pipes and filling in the gaps, while following the reference. I was creating the scene itself while building the assets and again filling in the gaps if I felt something was missing during the building phases.
The objects I created were pretty simple, but they all had to be modular as the complexity of industrial scenes relies heavily on the number of pipes and different intersecting pieces the whole structure consists off.
This brought some issues, specifically with managing the disposition of all the assets. I ended up experimenting a lot with them and made a couple of different scenes to test a few scenarios.
Different scenes I worked on during development
I have multiple sets of pipes. I started with 2 but ended up with 5 in total, creating 2 bigger sets: one aluminum and one painted metal, 2 medium ones and one small aluminum one to create additional detail in certain sections where needed. As for creating the pipes themselves, I made different sections such as 2, 4 and 8-meter sections, then for the corner sections, I created 90 and 45-degree corners just to give the sets more flexibility.
Different sets of pipes
As for the materials, to make the all the pipes work with dirt and achieve their flexibility I had to consider a lot of factors. One of those factors was that I couldn’t have any unique dirt baked down using Substance Painter as this would have caused issues with directional dirt when the pipe was used upside down.
At first, I tried to make them all unique and use one color, but then I decided that more modularity is needed for the sake of both variability and usability.
The way I layered the material in Substance Painter was straightforward. I added a painted metal material on it with some edge damage. To get a color mask that I could adjust in the process, I used white paint layer and made everything else black, which gave me a mask to multiply the color over.
The color mask (white parts are going to be colorized in Unreal)
On top of this layer, I added a simple cloud texture which is a Tri-planar projected onto the mesh, to minimize the stretching of the texture.
Check out this article on Tri-planar texture usage by Brent Owens.
The tri-planar mapped dirt texture
I then exported this mask as a separate map so that I could use it in the Unreal Material both as an alpha map for the WorldAlignedBlend and as a simple overlay for the dirt color and optionally the roughness.
Material preview from Unreal
The workflow for the most of the materials was the same. I just needed these 2 additional maps to be able to change the dirt and color.
Working on the assembly
During the assembly and test building of the first scene, I also built test prefabs which are pre-built parts. I mostly did this for the scaffolding pieces and some of the smaller pipe pieces.
Different prefabs from the final scene
The challenge was figuring out how to handle these prefab units in the best way because there are multiple ways of creating them. You can convert them to static meshes or create individual blueprints for all of them, which in the end is what I ended up doing. This allows you to add and adjust components even after you made them, add lights, etc. The only issue was that when you create a blueprint with multiple assets, they all offset from the grid, and I was unable to align them with other parts.
Preview from a prefab made in a blueprint in Unreal
With other materials, I basically used the same workflow. For example, some of the scaffolding pieces were produced just like pipes, with the color aspect instead of the dirt, as they are not meant to be used with full 360-degree rotation.
For the dirt on other pieces, I made some dirt decals that could be used on different assets and I also made a quick foliage shader that waved using the simple grass wind node inside the material itself to keep the movement subtle.
Working on the lighting
There is a mix of dynamic and static lights in this scene. It looks fine but it’s not something you would use in a game. There are a lot of different static lights that were baked down, but they all have a very small radius to minimize overlap. The main light source is the directional sunlight which is set as dynamic. I prefer working like this because it reduces iteration time a lot.
Zoomed view of the scene with different lights
Challenges and imperfections
Some of the things that went wrong were already mentioned before, such as the dirt master material that should have worked for all the assets.
For this specific scene, a lot of my time was spent on adjusting all the assets so that they line up with each other when used in conjunction. The workflow was mostly placing the assets in the game, making prefabs, snapping stuff together and then looking for z-fighting.
Another thing I still need to work on is going deeper in finishing the assets themselves instead of focusing on larger scenes. In the next works, I will also try to achieve results closer to the reference, and add more details to the individual assets.