Romain Durand talked about the way he created fantastic stylized assets for a new game Renegade Line. Excellent results and a very neat approach.
I think that what I’ve learned and improved the most this year how I work on the lighting of my scenes/work. I went outside a lot during the early morning and at dawn, in order to see how light was reacting with the environment, and also how good looking those two time in the day are. What I also studied was the color reaction depending on the near environment (Global illumination).
I really wanted to test a mix with bright red color and soft purple/blue for the shadows, with of course some Global illumination, in order to blend all the color of the scene softly.
Style in Every Asset
After Renegade Line had the successful Kickstarter campaign, one of our main goals was to improve the art style in terms of looks and performance, but also how it interferes with the gameplay, which can be quite important for a fast multiplayer shooter. So we started completely from scratch: new technical concept, new theme, new assets and new level design.
We decided, that the goal for the art style was to keep the environment simple to read and simple in shape. With this, the idea was to keep all dynamic gameplay information very visible and quickly readable (Other players, grenades, talents and potential dangers for example).
This was achieved by using only simple textures, simple shape for the environment and also smoothing and highlighting the edges (Curvature), so everything not related to the environment has the chance to pop out and be noticeable.
The workflow was different depending on the assets, for the house I modeled everything inside Maya, use alot of bevels and lattice and then apply my textures that I created thanks to an high poly sculpted in Zbrush and baked in Marmoset/Photoshop. For all the vegetation, it was made inside Maya with simple planes and some work on the vertex orientation in order to smooth the shape, then I simply apply and alpha texture and then multiply it with a solid color inside UE4, this way, we can easily adjust the color of the vegetation to fit the ground textures and the lighting of the scene. For all the cliffs/rocks/some props, I create a base in Maya, then sculpt them inside Zbrush, then retopo inside 3D Coat and baking with Marmoset, I always use a blurred curvature in all the textures in order to soften all the edges.
Working With Materials
The soft cartoony look was achieved thanks to a curvature map that I used during the albedo creation, the curvature was added and blended with the albedo then I blured it a bit in order to soften all the edge and highlight the interesting shape of the assets. For the look itselft, the idea was to keep simple and clean albedo, with not a lot of variation inside it and keeping them as simple as possible. This cartoony look was also accomplish thanks to a lot of work on the normal map that I hand painted most of the time inside Quixel or 3DCoat. 3D Coat was here to do the retopology, I find it really pleasant to do it on this software, it was also used to paint some details on the objets, for exemple the rust on this object.
I think that the water was the most complex material I had to work for Renegade Line, for the color the idea was to lerp two two blue color, one strong blue and one more in the sky blue. The foam come on top of that to give a big contrast between the blue and the white of the foam. Some little movement are made with two panning normal map in order to give some more living feeling to the water, in order not to have only the movement of the waves but also some little flow. You can find the full water shader breakdown over here.
For the wind, I had two things to work on, the vegetation and the ocean. For the vegetation it was pretty easy with unreal, we are using the SimpleGrassWind node, it is working great with the way we decided to do the vegetation (cf stylized leaves tutorial). The Ocean was more complex, because I had to study how it is reacting to the wind, and big waves help to give this effect of movement to the scene.
We tried a lot of different light process, from baked to realtime and then realtime GI, the idea for those assets was to keep them a bit desaturated/bright, in that way they will all blend together with the light and have the same mood/feeling. In my opinion Realtime GI or Baked, pure realtime is great for realistic rendering. With baked for exemple you can push the light to bounce everywhere, same for the Realtime GI that gives this feeling of saturated light. On top of this, we always use a lot the skylight of Unreal, it gives us a great blue color on all the scene and it help to give this “pastel” color palette.
For the natural environment, the idea was to have similar elements with some changes, for example, all the cliffs assets follow the same creation process and use the same details textures and albedo.
What is changing is the main shape, but all the details stay the same, that we can blend them together easily during the level design. For the vegetation, the idea was to have the same kind of leaves everywhere, thats why the normal trees and bush share the same material and shape. Also for the houses, we wanted to be able to build a city with it, we then decided to divide the houses in two categories, unique and big one, and the small one, that way we can add the small one next to the big one and create big clusters of houses.