Creating Large Open Levels with Vegetation
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Creating Large Open Levels with Vegetation
21 June, 2018
Environment Art
Environment Design
Interview

Check out how Rudy Lamotte creates amazing large environments, filling it with trees, beautiful vegetation, and awesome atmospheric effects.

Also be sure to check out his previous interview on vegetation creation for games.

Intro

Heya! I am Rudy Lamotte, an Environment/Vegetation Artist currently working at Ubisoft Annecy, France. Before Ubisoft, I was working at Kylotonn in Paris on some awesome racing games, such as WRC6 and Flatout. At the very beginning, I started to learn SpeedTree with one of my best art director Maximilien Torti. He taught me a lot and I am very thankful.

Environment production

When I start an environment, my ideas mostly come from seeing a wonderful picture or anything that comes to mind. Other video games inspire me as well. For this one, I wanted a change and try something bigger in UE4 and I anticipated that I was going to run into some issues with such a large landscape. I wanted to do something more fieldy mood and after seeing the nice trailer of “Ghost of Tsushima” from Sucker Punch studio, I was really impressed and I liked the Japanese atmosphere. So, I searched on the internet for pictures and videos of rice fields in Japan.

The landscape

This time I did change the way I work on the landscape. Usually, I tend to use world machine to make a simple terrain but here I went on a website called “Terrain Party” to extract some satellite data of an area in Chiba with rice fields. I also made a quick mask in photoshop on top of a Google earth view to get the position of the rice field. Then with those two maps, a Houdini friend of mine Jeffrey help me to get the rice field aligned on the terrain using Houdini. Then, I imported the heightmap into UE4 which looked like this at the beginning:

As you can see there is nothing special about the terrain.

Vegetation

For the vegetation it’s important to make some interesting shapes of the trees, to be mindful of the varieties, as well as the saplings. Keep in mind that you should give it symmetrical shape for the most massive trees in your scene. If you get an Asymmetric shape, you will spot the same trees over and over on the billboard.

Here is an example of a symmetrical tree and asymmetric tree. I’ve exaggerated it a bit for this example.

There are obvious exceptions with less dense trees that are shaped much differently from others. With the broadleaf in my scene, I have 3 different shapes in the canopy, as well as on the trunk, but 3 of them mixed together works fine. For the number of the varieties that you should add to your tree family, it all depends on your project/memory and how it will look all together. You can also make a dynamic shape as on the one on the far right.

Getting into the little details on your tree. In SpeedTree, you have the possibility to add flare which is the bottom base of the tree. It is really important to add some to avoid what we can see on the right. The tree will look way more natural with that detail.

Some other cool details are to add some leaves going a bit down to the bottom, which will help to build a more natural tree. Adding branches, mushrooms, knotholes, ivy and so on along the trunk are also some cool details to add but be careful; the more details you add, the more the tris count will rise. Depending on the kind of game you are working on, you have to balance the details and focus especially on the areas where the player will mostly look. Actually, I can’t wait to try all of the new features of SpeedTree 8. There is some really cool stuff with those kinds of details there. 

The LOD of the trees. Well my tree doesn’t go over 10k for the most common one but when you have to make a hero tree you can go over it, but keep in mind that the lower the better. So the way I work here it’s like my tree has 9995 tris count for the lod0 what I am doing is that I am dividing it by two to reach around 5k for the lod1 and so on. When you arrive at the last LOD, sometimes it looks somewhat bad, you can tweak your tree by growing the leaves. Nobody will see from far away that your branches are a bit bigger than usual. The nice thing is that it will keep the leaf cloud volume and make it less moving in terms of geometry. If you don’t do that, you might get a weird tree with holes and branches disappearing.

Here the LOD submenu for the leaves. This is where you will remove the leaves as the detail level decreases. The size scale will help you increase the size of surviving leaves while helping you maintain the same leaf cloud volume. Keep property is where you will tell how many leaves you want to keep. A “keep” value of 0.0 will result in no leaves remaining on the tree at the lowest LOD. Raise the value up until enough leaves are left to cover the original leaf cloud volume. If some of the surviving leaves are too small or you get some holes just increase the size scale of your leaves. If in some part you still have holes. just select the leaves on your lod0 with the generator where the hole appears and tweak the “keep” value to keep it alive.

Texturing

Well, it’s something that I already explained a bit in my previous article. Depending on the tree that you choose, find its texture leaf by taking pictures of it or making it with 3ds Max/ZBrush/Designer whatever technique you like and make a high poly mesh of it with varieties. Then export those meshes into SpeedTree and spread it along with some branches as the picture on the left. With all those branches you can make an atlas as on the right. After you get that atlas, the last step is to make a low poly mesh from it within max or another 3D software and spread the mesh on your actual 3D tree.

To export your branches from SpeedTree as a texture here the way below.

Post-process

For the amount of vegetation you have to deal with the LODs, and the billboard has to appear somewhat close from the point of view. Be careful with the transition, though. It can pop a lot on the screen. With the secondary vegetation, you can tweak the culling distance which will make the grass, for example, disappear at a certain distance. In Foliage mode within UE4, click on a static mesh that you placed and go to the submenu instance setting.

The shadows are deactivated on the material of the LOD 1/2 because it drops the fps down.

Lighting is simple, I have a directional light and skylight. I use DFAO and I also have the Height fog and Atmospheric Fog. In the skylight, you can plug an HDRI to get more realism lighting. I also use a post process and LUT.

I hope this was helpful and enjoyable for you. Thanks for taking the time to read it and thanks to Kirill for the article! Feel free to check my ArtStation if you want to see other projects of mine.

Rudy Lamotte, Vegetation / Environment Artist at Ubisoft

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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