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Ahmet Bluhm shared the production details of his environment based on Assassin’s Creed art style and talked about creating procedural materials with scans and Substance Designer.
Hi, my name is Ahmet Bluhm and I’m an Environment Artist. I live in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. I studied Game Art at SAE Institute in Frankfurt am Main and now I’m looking for a job in the industry. I am currently working on a Wild West Environment with a realistic style. My dream is to work for big companies in AAA Games.
Main Concept and Inspiration
My inspiration comes from Assassin’s Creed. I love Ubisoft’s artwork. I wanted a sort of a style like Assassin’s Creed Revolution and the new Assassin’s Creed Origins. I like the style because the game feels very realistic.
The main concept is from Gilles Beloeil, his work is just amazing.
What I liked so much about the concept are the overgrown vegetation and the old ruins. I’m a fan of ruins of aging stories. Such a ruin tells a big story. Why is that broken? What was the fountain used for? There are many questions that make the concept so special for me.
The good thing was that based on the concept I knew well from the beginning what belonged to the scene. What I’ve changed is the look of the fountain because I didn’t like how it looked. I wanted a big variety of different plants. So I decided to create my own foliage library. My focal points are the ruins and the foliage.
I collected some references for the main elements. For the plants, my friend happened to be in Greece and collected references for the foliage.
First, I made a simple blockout. I wanted to test scale with the concept.
For the ruins, I created a midpoly mesh and imported that in ZBrush. I did not sculpt too much detail because I created a detail normal map for all ruins. I will explain later more about the detail normal map.
When I was happy with the blockout, I started with the first materials.
With the help of Substance Designer, I created materials for the terrains and for the assets. All materials was created in Substance Designer and it’s all fully procedural. I created 5 materials. The Ground materials and plaster materials are the main materials.
First material was the plaster material, and it is pretty simple.I searched for references that fit the ruins and then created the base shape.
For the Base shape, I always try to get the bigger shapes done like, for example, with a stone floor. On the stone floor, I try to create the big stones and then I slowly add micro details. Then I try to get some individual components like branches, pebbles and more. Plaster material has not always been plastered perfectly that’s why I created an uneven shape. When I was happy with the shape I started with the micro details: from larger ones to the smallest.
TIP: don’t forget to use Blur because Grunge Maps are really noisy. That’s why I blurred it a little and then combined it with perlin noise to get it wavy.
For the color, I used the gradient map. I took the curvature node and combined it with different grunge maps to get a more realistic color map.
If you want to see more about the material, I uploaded it on Gumroad. You can get it for free and explore (it’s accompanied with comments as well).
For the nice micro details in the engine, I used a detail normal map. The detail normal map makes the asset more high-res looking. It’s pretty simple.
Working on Vegetation
One of my favourite parts is to create vegetation. For the vegetation, I wanted to create my own library like Megascans‘ one. I saw a tutorial from art by Rens where he explained his workflow and I was immediately inspired. Find Ren’s tutorial here.
After reading Ren’s tutorial I created a really cheap simple lightbox for my smartphone.
For the lightbox, I bought two wood stands and one wood plank to lay my phone on. The next thing is a led light stand which is very important. Here is an example of how I shot the foliage.
For the pictures, I used Adobe Lightroom CC. With this software solution, I can get pictures raw on my smartphone(I have iPhone X). I edited them in Lightroom on my computer to get the right color. I shot 4 pictures and used them in Substance Designer. There I created the normal map with the Multi Angle Node and then the height map.
With Substance Designer, I exported 4 different maps: Base Color, Normal Map, Subsurface Map, Roughness.
TIP: watch out where the normals are. The biggest mistake I’ve ever made was not looking at the normals. With proper normals, the foliage in the engine looks much better.
Here you can see that I have a lot of control over the vegetation. I can change the subsurface, the color and value for roughness. That’s why Unreal Engine is a very powerful option.
Here are some images from my foliage. Rendered in Marmoset.
There are no big secrets in this part. I used dynamic lighting and didn’t bake the scene because I wanted to have it all real time. It was pretty simple to be honest. I had a plugin in Unreal it’s called Ultra Dynamic Sky. With this system, you can customize clouds, sun, sky and the moon.
Here are some basic settings. With the settings, you can quickly change your scene as you like whether it should be at night or in the morning. I wanted the sun to be behind the scene and I changed that with my time of day and the sun angle.
My reference for such a daylight was Greece. Greece has a strong sunlight and slightly cold shade during the day and I wanted to achieve that, so I played with settings until I got what I wanted. If you change something in the Ultra Dynamic Sky system, you automatically change the settings of fog, volumetric, light source and skylight. What is cool, you can also individually change the settings.
All assets are moveable. For the shadows, I increased the AO in the light source a bit.
A great trick I’ve learned from a lot of artists is the LUT. You can easily create your own lookup tables. Just download the Color Neutral LUT from Unreal Engine site and merge it with your scene image in Photoshop. Then edit your scene image, adjusting contrast, hue, and saturation and export the LUT to Unreal Engine. You can read more about it here. After that, I just moved the camera around to get some interesting shots. And the project was done.
The most difficult part was the composition, I think. If you make the composition right, the scene will be good overall, that’s why it’s very important. Vegetation was also difficult because I worked with a lightbox for the first time. The whole time I just tried to have the best result and it paid off.
Planning is the key. I planned the whole thing with Trello and created deadlines for all my assets. I always knew exactly what should be done. So in the end I was faster and more efficient. I wanted to thank my friends and Dinusty community for the amazing feedback. It helped me a lot and and thanks for opportunity 80.lv! Now we continue to work on the new scene.
Ahmet Bluhm, Environment Artist
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev