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Very impressive article Jake! You are very talented.
nice article! i love seeing the breakdowns.
Denis Rutkovsky did a beautiful breakdown of his amazing ‘Future Mine’ environment. He talked composition, modularity, details and production workflow.
Hi, I’m Denis and I love 3D!. Being serious, I’ve been working in the industry for over 10 years now. And even before that have been doing 3D as a hobby for few years as well. During my time in game companies I’ve participated on the projects such as Crysis 2, 3, S.T.A.L.K.E.R Call of Pripyat, Batman Arkham Knight and others. With that experience at some point me and my friend and colleague decided to found our own art production studio. Its called Artcore Studios and we are focused on art outsourcing for games. In short period of time we’ve managed to help with art production for projects like Recore, Robo Recall, Metro Exodus and some awesome projects undisclosed just yet. Also we developing our own game – Mars Journey VR. Its cinematic VR game where we want to make experience we would want to enjoy by ourselves – space traveling. Some screens and concepts on the project page – its based on Unreal Engine and we’ll share more details very soon.
In the studio me and Kirill Sibiriakov – my business partner share responsibilities in even way. Both of us doing art direction for projects, managing team, as well as making assets and content. So most of the day I’m working as 3D Artist and do management and business development stuff in the gaps.
I love industrial stuff. When I was younger and got my first digital camera I was taking pictures of abandoned plants and coal mines of my native town all the time. This coal mine environment is in some way a tribute to the places where I grew up. Half-Life 3 hehe as an inspiration its sounds good but I grew up in places that look pretty similar to some Half-Life locations – abandoned areas and factories that used to be powerful heavy industry long time ago. Few years back I also was fascinated by S.T.A.L.K.E.R. as it was a first game in my memory with locations pretty similar to the places I got use to see where I lived. So these were my inspiration back to that time and I paid tribute to it in a way.
To emphasize that it set in the near future I’ve added many cables and electric boxes.
Usually, I start with block out but not in this case. Here I decided to make a set of objects first then to build the level using them. In the end, I made more assets that I actually needed in the final level so I can’t say this approach very efficient for this particular level but I would say it helpful to build an asset library as I might use some models in the future scenes. Also, I published this as a pack in Unreal Marketplace so having more assets should be useful for people who want to build their own levels based on this one.
This level is pretty modular. All the walls, pipes, stairs are built as modules, but the other part – coal mine area is organic and not modular at all – I’ve been scaling and moving rock and stones there freely to achieve visual variety and more organic atmosphere of the area.
I have to say I don’t like to spend too much time on single asset. Not because I’m lazy, rather cause it distracts the focus from the level design and visuals. Its common in level art – sometimes assets that look amazing individually don’t work well as a part of the scene. That’s why I prefer quick asset building to test them on the level straight away. If all good – asset get all the texture love afterwards.
Also I would like to mention coal stones – I’ve built these assets pretty quickly with the help of Decimation Master in Zbrush. I did sculpts and then decimate them to make low poly meshes. It saved me a lot of time and made this approach made sense as assets are not animated and topology doesn’t really matter for them. They just had to be optimized. I did the same for fabric elements, but here I’ve generated them in Marvelous Designer first.
I’m not huge fan of complex materials preferring traditional PBR approach when all the material parameters are inside the texture maps itself. I start my levels usually with creating base material for assets that looks extremely simple and contains just linked base maps (like color, roughness, normal). Personally roughness map is my favourite. I put extra attention to roughness adding leaking effects and contrast between wet and dry areas. All textures are created in Substance Painter. The process was pretty standard with few interesting findings. For instance when I was working on Coal structures I wanted to show that crystalizing effect and I did it by adding noise to metalness map.
As the level is split between two areas I wanted to make warm/cold lighting contrast between them. Elevator and corridor is bright yellow-ish area while coal mine itself has a bit darker and colder lighting.
I didn’t use special tricks for lighting in the scene. Sure there were some places with key lights like the end of the mine tunnel – there I placed really bright light source (to show the light in the end of the tunnel, while the rest of the lights much less bright so that worked really well to show reflections of the coal.
To avoid completely black areas I added skylight – it also adds some more reflections and brings a little light to very dark places. It helps to balance scene lighting as well.
Another thing that’s really important for good level visuals is fog. It adds a lot to the scene depth and plays huge role in level lighting. I used exponential height fog in this case.
From the beginning, I had some image in my mind. So here it’s based on the pipes mainly. Sounds a bit weird but I wanted to exploit the idea of industrial areas filled with pipes and interesting ways they connect and intersect each other. I started test level design with a simple wall and constructed piping structure next to it to see how it works. You can see it on the screen below. for the mine area, I just found pretty cool ref with lights glowing from far point of the tunnel. I liked the way coal shined with this lights so wanted to make something similar. After making few coal stones I did quick level design and put simple lights in there to make it look similar to ref image. It was enough to get the idea of composition and all I needed to do is to fill the rest of the level with assets and textures.
In general, I always try to put more focus on the specific area of the level first. Once I do few steps there and if I see that the area works well It gives me believe and inspiration to finish the level. So the advice is simple is to get some good reference and build a small part of the level with good details and then it will much easier to get the rest to the final.
If you like the stuff that I’m doing, interested in collaboration or just like sci-fi and game art you can check out our company website.
And some details about our upcoming VR project is on the page here.