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The second part of our series on the latest masterpiece by Eidos Montreal will take you to the interior levels of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Gloomy sewers, train stations and the amazing Golem City. Environment Artist David Chan talked about building assets for these scenes, making sure they enrich levels and tell their own stories.
I am currently a Senior Environment Artist working at WB Games in Montreal, Canada. I was raised in Vancouver, BC where I studied 3D Art and Animation at BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology). Upon graduation I started my career at Electronic Arts in Burnaby, BC. Later I joined an Activision studio called Radical Entertainment where I was a Vehicles and Props Artist. After Radical I joined Slant Six Games as an Environment Artist for Socom Navy Seals and a Resident Evil Franchise. I was later recruited to Montreal where I worked on Deus Ex: Mankind Divided for Eidos Montreal.
Interior levels of Deus Ex are filled with tons of details that not only enrich the world, but also tell a story in some way. How do you think levels can tell stories with the help of assets?
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided does pack a lot of detail and it wasn’t until I joined the team that I really learned the importance of not adding details for the sake of adding details but rather adding details where it mattered and making sure that they told a believable story. One example is the train station in ruins in Prague. There was a bombing but where exactly did the bombing occur? Which room and which structures did it affect? How wide was the blast radius? All that affects the visual storytelling. Aside from that I made sure other elements fit in and make sense within the scene – in this case props such as ticket machines and benches. Other props such as heavy duty hydraulic lifts and scissor lifts help paint the “under-construction” aspect of it. I was making this destroyed roof panel and there was more to think about than just broken concrete. I gathered references and read about how reinforced concrete walls were built. I think by using real life examples of how things are staged is the key. Everything has a story and placing the proper props can help make that story more convincing and believable.
You’ve worked on some of the most gloomy parts of Mankind Divided: Golem, sewers and other locations. What do you think define the atmosphere of these scenes? How do you add to the atmosphere using assets?
I think a lot of people can agree that Golem is an impressive level in the game. First and foremost, I really have to give credit to my colleague Michel Lanoie. He really drove the quality of the level and it was a great learning experience working with him. I think what defined the atmosphere of Golem was the immense amount of clutter. Everything from the overcrowding, overhanging wires, converting traffic cones to lamp shades and everything in-between. As for the sewers it was the dampness, the mud, tight spaces and narrow passages that added to the atmosphere. I think the commonality within the gloomy parts of the game is giving the feeling that “there are better places to be”.
What is your general approach to modeling various assets? How do you build mechanical objects, modular sewer kits, structural assets and other details? What were your main tasks here? What software did you use?
Before creating assets or a scene I am typically presented with a concept image. For larger scenes we discuss a bit of the background. This information will give me enough to get started on the modeling process. For interior spaces, I work from the outside in – starting with the foundation, the walls and ceilings. Once I’m happy with that, I think about which objects can be re-used and which assets I’ll need to create, based on priority, i.e. functional pieces and hero objects come first and the smaller details will follow. At Eidos-Montreal I used 3DS Max throughout the project with some Mudbox work for the sewers, Quixel SUITE and Photoshop for texturing.
You’ve created textures that worked well within a physical based engine. Was this task challenging?
I adopted a texturing technique that worked rather well for mechanical objects. It requires 2 sets of UV’s – one for all the mechanical seams and the other for a tileable base material. This made possible a high-resolution look without using giant maps and it meant I could have one texture sheet with basic assembly lines that could be used throughout many other assets. Using a PBR engine took a bit of getting used to at the beginning, especially trying to get the materials to react correctly in the engine with lighting and post processing, etc.
What would you say was the most challenging part of your work? And what advice could you give to our readers, who are working on their own titles?
I use Maya as my main modeling tool so when I first started at Eidos Montreal I looked all over my desktop for a Maya icon only to find out that they used 3DS Max! So I needed to learn it and learn it quickly. Today, I’m extremely comfortable with it and for some things prefer it over Maya. I guess the advice I can give to people is not to be attached to any specific software. Use a variety of them and try new ones as there are many ways to achieve the end result you desire. Choose a tool that works well for you and the one you can be efficient with.