Creating the Africa Fantasy Environment
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Creating the Africa Fantasy Environment
6 September, 2016
Interview

Doru Butz from Evozon Game Studio, who has previously presented amazing scene called Cybepunk Alley, published a breakdown of a production process behind the Africa Fantasy Environment. The artist talked reaching for a savanna look, using modern tools and working on post-production. 

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This month was spent creating a new environment. We chose an African theme, based on the savanna. Vlad made a few concept sketches but eventually we settled on the one below:

copper

Taking into consideration what I learned when making the Cyberpunk Alley, I tried to have more variation and exploration from the block-out stage.

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Since this needed to be a highly atmospheric piece, I also started to block out the lighting and mood.

After I got to a result I thought was looking good, work on the foliage began. At first, I used meshes for grass and some quick trees, but I didn’t like the result.

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Using some textures, I had lying around, I remade the foliage and started work on the ground texture. For the sandy rock texture, I used Substance Designer so I could iterate fast and keep the texture flexible as the environment evolved.

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The next step was to make proper grass textures. This caused my original ground texture to be insufficient, so I remade it into a grassier/rockier version. By this time my references began to have more and more Uncharted 4 images in them. Their level of work was something I strived to achieve. The downside was that I started to stray away from my original vision of a savanna. After more work on the vegetation and textures, the whole piece began to look too green and lush.

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By this stage I had replaced most block-out assets with more refined and textured versions. I also remade all the foliage textures. The grass was made in Zbrush using fibermesh, and then baked and textured.

Grass_DIFF

Grass_NM

The rocks were also sculpted in Zbrush, but for the texturing process, I decided to make one main material node in Substance and texture all my rocks with it.

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Henge_all

When I reached this stage I realised my scene had become way too green to be called a savanna.

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I did more work on the grass colour, trying to capture the savanna look. But the scene needed a focal point. I decided that the whole mystery of the scene would be increased with a foreign object that would add a lot of contrast. So I made an alien artefact-looking ball, surrounded by vines.

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I think this made a huge difference as it fixed some scale issues by adding a much needed central piece. I started to add more colour variation in the grass and remade the trees (I did this a lot throughout the project, it was one of my main time sinks). Since I added the main focal point I felt that the large pillars on the sides were becoming unnecessary and distracting. I also changed the composition of the vines and of the henge in the middle giving it more flow and creating a nice curve for the eye to follow the metal ball.

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The grass was starting to look better, but it was becoming too lush, losing some of that savanna feel I was looking for. I removed a lot of the grass and redid the ground texture adding a more reddish colour in order to add more contrast to the whole scene.

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This had a more savanna feel to it, and I felt I was going in the right direction. I remade the trees (again) and worked on the final composition and colour scheme. I liked the blue and brown contrast between the ground and sky, but it felt like it was splitting the whole piece in half. The trees also look too green so I added smaller bushes/trees to showcase the scale better.

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This is the final shot. I reduced some of the contrast and pushed the atmosphere some more. I added more fog and some particle effects, to create the feel of an incoming sandstorm. I added some variation in the grass size and made a few variations of the ground texture so I could blend between them.

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Trees

Overall I feel satisfied with how the piece turned out. I do feel that vegetation is hard to do and could use improving on. I have learned a lot while making this, but I feel that the main takeaways are the same with the ones from the Cyberpunk Environment:

– composition and lighting are key

– a good block-out will save you a lot of time

– feedback is very important, get as much of it as you can

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