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Valentin Erbuke shared his first experience of creating an environment scene with Houdini, Maya and Quixel Megascans assets.
Hello, my name is Valentin Erbuke, and I am glad to make another article for 80.lv! Previously I talked about character texturing previously, but today’s interview is devoted to the environment production.
This piece started as an R&D. I was curious to learn Houdini and Redshift and try an environment for the first time. The Quixel team helped me get my hands on Megascans assets so I got really motivated to start working on a large scale environment.
Concept art by Lockheed Jun Mao:
Working on the Project in Houdini
I first spent a couple of weeks trying to get my way around Houdini: I did some node based animations, scattering, and even some poor VFX. It was a good way to approach some of the strengths of Houdini before tackling my environment. The main block-out was modeled in Maya, but I kept it extremely low poly, just basic shapes indicating where the cliffs stood in the world.
I then took it in Houdini and started playing with noises, mountain, HeightFields, erosions… everything node-based that was necessary to obtain the look I wanted. In the end, I didn’t have to sculpt anything that wasn’t the sculpture, even the UVs were done in Houdini. The node workflow is extremely convenient to keep the same desired look throughout multiple geo. Sometimes I just had to copy-paste the node tree and make a couple of adjustments and it was good to go!
Architecture in Maya
The architecture was approached entirely in Maya. For it, I modeled a couple of really generic shapes from gathered references and pasted them around trying to match the concept. It was mostly a kitbashing which I was also very curious about. They were also entirely textured from Megascans data, which sped up the process a lot.
As long as I could noodle around playing with geometry, everything came up together when I started using Quixel Megascans! After a quick UV pass on everything, I started scattering plant geometry and atlases on the rocks. The main difficulty was trying to make the scale look right, and also keeping the scale consistent throughout the main scene. If anything, I feel like it still needs work to get that perfectly dialed down. Megascans has great vegetations assets that are already textured. The assets also have LODs which is awesome to lighten the scene up with when the Houdini file starts slowing down a lot.
I like working with scan surfaces the most when it comes to rock and terrain. I control the shape as much as I want and then add the desired realism with Megascans Surfaces.
The process is very straightforward for most of the assets: I’d browse Quixel’s incredible library, find what corresponded the most to the type of the terrain I wanted, color corrected it a little bit to fit the mood I was trying to convey and voilà! For more complex assets I would paint RGB masks in Mari that would correspond to the shaders I wanted to apply to the asset. Megascans are extremely accurate which makes seams hard to pick up unless they are right in your face. The amount of the detail the surfaces offer helps a lot to cover up the seams. If something was too prominent, I would cover it up with vegetations or offset the texture a little bit. The shaders can become heavy with an RGB workflow so it is really important to stay organized!
The lighting is always the most important part of the piece for me. After all those technical decisions, the lighting is going to show and hide your previously done work so it is important not to fall in love with any technicalities previously made. I wanted to have a very natural and soft lighting to convey the mood I was going for, and then I glammed it up a little bit by adding a rim light in the vegetation. I spend a lot of time playing with the temperature and saturation of the entire scene before moving on to comp. Comping in Nuke helped me add depth to the image by light-wrapping the edges of the terrain, which brought everything together.
Overall this was a fun piece. It roughly took me 5 weeks after work to achieve this, excluding the first tests I made.
As a character artist, I always find it interesting to burst out of my comfort zone and tackle new challenges. I am pretty satisfied with Redshift, as its speed allowed to make multiple iterations and tests, which was so crucial to my learning process. Houdini is an incredible tool, I believe it is so versatile it can bring solutions to an entire 3D pipeline by itself!
To wrap up, a huge thanks to the Quixel team for letting me use their incredible library for this project and thanks to 80.lv!