Kassondra Krahn talked about the production of her beautiful stylized scene Dreamy Room created in Maya, ZBrush, Substance Designer, and UE4.
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Hi there! My name’s Kassondra Krahn and I work as an Environment Artist at Next Level Games in Vancouver, Canada. Hopefully, you’ve seen some of my other diorama scenes, or maybe my UE4 Rustic Kitchen! I love making stylized environments with lots of props and small details, and I’m really excited to talk to 80 Level again.
Dreamy Room: Start of the Project
My Dreamy Room scene started from a concept by artist TiNy Truc. I was actually working on my kitchen piece and needed a little break from it, so I started this small diorama scene on the side. I tend to work on multiple scenes at once to avoid art block and find it really helps to switch gears between different styles and environments. The concept was really clear and concise and looked like it would work well in 3D. I loved the simplistic pastel colour palette, and how much charm it had.
The first step was to gather up some simple references, which I always throw into a PureRef document. My images included ideas for stuffed animals, slippers, curtains, fabrics, bookshelves, plants, rugs, etc. I also included a few other dioramas in pastel tones to get further ideas. This reference board wasn't as involved as other pieces I’ve done, since the concept was pretty straightforward and included everything I needed.
Modeling the Environment
I always start an environment with a very basic blockout in Maya. This way I can manage the scale and proportion and place it into Unreal Engine as soon as possible. There’s no point in fiddling too much with models before the composition is nailed down, and this stage involves extensive back and forth between Maya and the Game Engine. Luckily, this is a simpler layout so it was pretty easy to finalize the blockin and place my camera angles as needed. Once that's complete I usually add some very basic lighting, so I can sort out where my focal points are. This scene is very open and everything is on display, but it still helps to figure out which areas to invest your time and budget in.
This environment was very modular, which always helps save time. The first thing I did was look at which objects repeated and would fill the room quickest. This included the bookshelves, pillows, books, frames, vases, stuffed animals, and gift boxes. I modeled these in Maya and created basic textures in Substance and Photoshop. To create variation I made a few different diffuse options for these objects, plus I used material instances in Unreal for further variety. I used ZBrush to sculpt the drapery detail into the models on the curtains and the carpet, however, I also made a fabric normal map in Designer to add on top of this modeling. The entire scene is actually using predominantly tiling textures and material instances, which is something I wanted to practice. My goal for the shaders was to create enough differentiation within the objects so it doesn't immediately look modular or repetitive.
The first texture I made in Substance was for the flooring. I created a really simple wood grain and then used a tile sampler to apply it to individual wood planks. I added a curvature node around the planks so I could UV them and achieve a soft fade at the edge of the models. With this texture, I wanted to create the appearance of a 0-1 bake while simply using a tiling texture to save myself time.
After the wood, I created the wallpaper, which evolved a lot during the production of this room. At first, I made the walls mostly flat with a very basic diffuse, but in the end, it felt too simplistic. I showed it to some friends and they suggested adding some kind of pattern detail to make it look more like wallpaper, so I added some small hearts with a simple roughness map. I adjusted the colour of these walls multiple times as well, but in the end, decided to try to stick close to the concept with a sort of pale yellow/pink hue. I’m so in love with this heart wallpaper, and it may be my favourite part of the room honestly!
The only other main tiling texture in the room is for the carpet and the fabrics, which were created with a tile sample and some warp nodes in Substance. I wanted to use normals to do most of the work for the folds you see in fabric and drapery, but I also modeled the geometry a bit.
Overall, I wanted the scene to feel really clean with a pastel colour palette, so the texturing is softer than I’ve done in the past. I don't do much hand painting so creating simple little images or patterns in Photoshop was a fun new direction for me, and I’m hoping to try more of this approach with future projects!
As I mentioned above I always grey block my entire room and light it simply before diving too deep into modeling. Once this sits well I start to pick the larger assets to dig into. In this case, this includes the shelves, bed, cupboards, and coffee table. The modeling is pretty simple, not too expensive poly wise, and came together quickly. Once these felt ok and had been adjusted as necessary, I started picking out bigger props to populate the room. These secondary details included the pillows, books, curtains, and picture frames. The final bits to add in were small details like the paper debris by the garbage, small succulent plants on the shelves, and bubble game jars. The concept has lots of great little pieces, which helped fill the scene out and feel lived in and realistic. Some rooms I’ve worked on are based on more painterly concepts, which are great but can be a little tricky to create in 3D. Obviously I took a few artistic liberties with this scene, but most of the props and objects are direct copies from the original painting.
My original grey block lighting was pretty simple, and as I continued to add more textures and detailed models the room was feeling really flat. I needed the lighting to become more dynamic, so I added a strong spotlight outside the window on the left-hand wall. This created a great silhouette of the window panes near the bed and added some dramatic shadows in the corners. I used a few point lights throughout the room to soften the darkest areas, and a low-intensity directional light to light the whole area in general. I wanted this diorama to be quite bright but not too blown out, so adding the stronger light source from the window helped create a focal point while keeping some pockets of shadow. The last touch was to add a couple of god rays by the window. I love the atmosphere they create, and I honestly can’t help myself and put them in almost every scene I make!
The modeling of this diorama came together quite quickly, but the texturing and aesthetic of the room took a while to hit. At first, I tried to use a toon shader/outline look, which I’ve done before with my Teapot House. As I used this technique, the pastel and airy nature of the concept was completely overwhelmed by the dark outlines, so I threw that idea away. Removing these meant completely readjusting most of my textures (luckily I used Designer which is simple to adjust!), as most of my shaders were too faded and hard to read. I’m glad I went a different direction from this because I think my final diorama did the concept more justice than that original idea.