Using Light in 3D Environments
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Using Light in 3D Environments
7 October, 2016
Interview

A little talk with Eric Kimberly about the creation of stylized visuals and the use of light in 3d environments.

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Introduction

I did a couple years of computer science at a local community college before attending Rochester Institute of Technology in Upstate NY for 3D Digital Design. After graduating I started working at an experience design studio in San Francisco called Helios Interactive. They create interactive experiences for brand marketing using latest technologies in VR, AR and touchscreen displays. Within the same company I also worked with Livid Interactive as an Environment artist, a subsidiary indie company working on their first title called Shattered Might. Most recently I’ll be transitioning over to Sledgehammer Games to start working as an Associate Environment Artist. I feel very fortunate to have worked with some really smart people in the Bay Area and I’m very excited for the future of games and just real time rendering in general.

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Lighting

I think the best explanation I’ve heard for thinking about lighting was back in school from a presentation by Christos Tzeremes, a Lighting TD at Blue Sky studios. He said to think of lighting your scene/subject as “light shaping” which to me simply meant using light and dark to describe your form.

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The same idea also applies to other elements that help “shape” an image such as space, value, and color. And how these are all balanced together can largely define a composition and mood.When it comes to defining a composition I usually try to think back to fundamental design theory and how to apply it to what I’m working on.

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What I’ve found helpful is studying and understanding 2d abstract compositions and then trying to apply those same concepts to my 3d images. It helps to think about abstracting a realistic image in order to simplify the design. The good news is, there are tons of examples interesting design in the world and you can start looking and learning almost anywhere, anytime.

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Unity Geomerics Scene Contest

As soon as I saw it was allowed in the contest rules, I wanted to change the materials since I felt it could significantly alter the scene from the original. This meant creating a custom material with a tiling trim texture that I could reuse throughout the scene.

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The main workflow was exporting out the geometry piece by piece into maya to adjust the uvs to the new texture, reimport into Unity and many iterations of tweaking the material and lighting until I called it done.

Geometry

I thought the provided scene by Alex Lovett was a very well executed. He provided some balanced forms and space to work with and I could really see the arch vis influence coming through.

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Since we couldn’t alter the existing geo, most of the changes I made were trying to describe those forms in an interesting way through the real time GI and custom material. Additionally, the curved surfaces help to bend the reflections in some interesting ways.

The only edits that were allowed to the geometry were making cuts so as to fit a texture to it, but didn’t alter the larger form at all. For that, I was exporting into Maya, made cuts and basically redid the UVs to fit my authored sci-fi looking texture.

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Materials

The standard unity shaders weren’t cutting it for me so I used shaderforge to build a custom material. It wasn’t anything too complex, I used a standard PBR setup and added some controls to control the strength of the surface roughness.

Then I made a tiling trim sheet that I wanted to reuse throughout the scene. I really wanted to make some cool looking sci-fi panels inspired by my favorite movies.I also looked at some more retro designs and eventually looked at an old typewriter and adapted some of its lines and shapes into some panels. If you look hard enough you can see some of the influence

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Eventually I did a few sketches before modeling it to a plane in maya and took a top down render for the normal map.

I’m very interested in how you’ve used the lighting in this particular scene? It does change the whole scene completely. How does it all work here? Could you give some advice on how to build this kind of Halo-inspired lighting in Unity 5?

Its funny that you should mention Halo, because that’s one of my favorite games to play. I always enjoyed the blend of nature with the sci-fi designed structures. The scene had similar subject matter and adding a sleek material that looks somewhat alien constructed with a sci-fi influenced texture probably pushed it to look more Halo inspired.

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The post process scripts on the camera also contributed to the final look. Since all we needed were still screen captures, I spared no expense on the post processing and added anti aliasing, screenspace AO, hdr bloom, a threshold curve to manage the value range, and some color adjustments from the the Colorful asset pack on the Unity asset store.

I also used a more accurate solution for capturing reflections by attaching a reflection probe to the camera so wherever I took a screenshot, it drew the reflections based on the position on the camera. It looked nice because the reflections were more accurate, but this did impact performance significantly.

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Stylization in 3D

I would say I err on the side of realism, but not necessarily an exact copy of real life. I definitely like utilize real world designs as inspirations and render something only enough to effectively communicate an idea or intention.

Stylization in 3D, to me, is taking the concept of abstraction and pushing it further than a more realistic approach. It focuses on emphasizing only the most important elements to communicate what it needs to, while the same principles of design (balanced color, proportion, etc) still apply.

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Image converted using ifftoany

 
 
 

 

An important technique for environments that I picked up is knowing how to fully utilize your tiling textures. Its easy enough to take a tiling brick and place it on along a wall, but the eye very quickly picks up the repetition. Utilizing blending of different materials, varying surface roughness, etc adds a randomness that makes something look more natural and less man made in 3D.

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A good exercise is trying to texture a scene using one or two tiling textures to begin to realize how much you can reuse them, or just firing up your favorite game and trying to decipher how they’ve pieced their environments together and then trying it on your own stuff.

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I think its important to point out that these are things I’ve learned up till this point. I hope to always be learning more as I go along and while I do find that having an understanding of the basics of design helps, there is almost always more than one solution to any given visual problem.

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I’m very happy that I could share my thoughts and process, as there are many great artists out there I have learned from who have done the same, so I’m happy to be able to give back in some way. Thanks!

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