Long life to Embark studio and its fabulous procedural artists dream team !
We’ve talked with David Ramos about his recent work, where he tried to recreate the lighting setup, which was produced by the amazing Boon Cotter for Uncharted 4.
The project was produced under the guidance of Clinton Crumpler. You can get some of his courses over at CGMA.
My name is David Ramos, and I have been in the game industry since 2000. At the time, I was completing my Computer Engineering degree in Epitech, Paris. I got several opportunities to work at the same time as I was studying. So starting the 2nd year, out of my 5 year degree, I worked part-time for various game development companies, and ended up shipping 4 games. I started as a tool programmer, then moved to physics, AI/gameplay and finally team lead. So long story short, I have now been involved in game development for over 16 years. I most notably worked on the Prince of Persia franchise for Ubisoft Montreal but also for studios such as Ubisoft Paris, Montpellier and Virtuos Shanghai.
To sum it up, I’ll say that as soon as I started working in games I became more interested in making games rather than playing games. I find that game dev is so interesting because of the multiple disciplines it borrows from. It’s like looking at the world through a multitude of lenses as diverse as design, psychology, graphics, physics or cinematography. And that’s the part I always found deeply fascinating. From there, my interests have been unfolding in directions I couldn’t initially imagine.
So here I am, doing 3d art! I always loved pretty things but I honestly thought I had missed the train. I had my share of limiting beliefs as well such as “you should know how to draw to do 3d” etc. As if cinematographers and photographers had to know how to draw before making pretty pictures. So I finally ended up trying 3d art. It was 2 years ago, and I’m now 36 years old.
I’m living in the Philippines and work as a game consultant and teacher for the Game Design and Development program of DLSU – College of Saint-Benilde. It’s been more than 5 years now, and I absolutely love the job! Big shout-out to all my amazing colleagues and students!
I was initially shared between replicating the original environment from Uncharted 4, or adding my own twist to it. I was excited to go for a 1-to-1 replica, and there are certainly many challenges in achieving that. But then when I mentioned this thought to Clinton Crumpler, he suggested that I might get more satisfaction as an artist by actually making my own version of the scene right off the bat. So I quickly decided to go with that. From there, I had two ideas in mind: either making a scene with elements from my own childhood, or imagining how my twin babies bedroom might look like when they turn teenagers (they are 3 years old now!). The latter could have definitely been cool, but I finally ended up going for the former.
Overall, I had two main objectives in mind for this project: the first one was to get as good a lighting as I could, cause this is the main thing that attracted me in the uncharted scene. The work done by Boon Cotter and co. was astonishing. Second objective, incorporating as much personal storytelling as I could in about 2-3 months of work, knowing that I will spend more or less a day or two on the project every week.
The big challenge was then to keep a good ratio of effort/satisfaction. After all this is a hobby scene, I make it primarily for my own pleasure, and hopefully for the pleasure of people watching it. And there are lots of assets in this scene (over 100), even though most of them are pretty basic. I had to be strategic in order to finish.
So after a quick initial blockout, I started with the lighting. It was pretty early but I knew it was the main thing fueling my project/motivation. If I couldn’t get something working lighting-wise, the rest just wouldn’t follow. So after 3 weeks, I pretty much had something I liked in that regard, and it motivated me to push the scene further.
I had tons of fun adding all those little Easter Eggs in the scene: stickers of some of my favorite games such as Day of the Tentacle, Monkey Island, various cds, pictures of my sister Emmanuelle and my brother Sebastien, my wonderful wife Uti (check!) and my kids, Andres and Lucas. Some items might make more sense if you are French or were living in France in the 90s, things like the Console+ or Generation 4 magazines for example. Also the Super Nes games are the PAL versions even if I had to use the stickers from the American version for a few of them.
Also something to note is that those magazines are the exact issues I had when I was a teen, opened to the exact page I read over a thousand times when I was 13 or 14. The net is awesome in that regard because of the way it serves as a gigantic archive. And this was a nice trip down memory lane for sure.
I’m quite happy with how the scene turned out to be. Often times we tend to offer the same fantasy/sci-fi/AnimeGirl type of art. More seldom maybe is the use of autobiographical elements in any given scene.
All in all, the project took over 2 months and a half to complete.
Figuring out the scale usually involved comparing my scene with the original scene from Uncharted 4, and so browsing the net to collect relevant screenshots and videos whenever possible. I also followed Clinton’s advice on using amazon.com to check on dimensions for particular items such as the bed, the alarm clock, pillows etc. Now that said, there is still room for improvement in the scene as some assets don’t necessarily have the right proportion in respect to others as noticed by Jack McKelvie.
The walls, door frames, window frames, closet, roof tiles are built from modular pieces. Also several objects have been reused in different places. So you’ll find the same books, magazines or clothes rotated, rescaled and placed somewhere else with a different texture. The scene heavily uses tileable textures, and I end up having very little unique textures. That was part of the strategy if I might say, as I didn’t want to spend too long on any single object knowing that I had so many to produce. The focus was then global, and not local in that sense, as I went for the big picture. I had an initial list of assets but then I also started adding objects on the go without necessarily going back to the list. It’s like if the project was having a life of its own, evolving in ways I didn’t necessarily think of.
As for the arrangement of objects, I looked closely at the way the original scene was made, and tried to see what I could understand from it. I noticed the way they had of clumping objects together, layering them on top of each other etc. So I tried to emulate that, for example with the posters and objects above the bed frame.
My main interest was to create a nice lighting for this scene but also a little piece of autobiography in some ways. Given the number of objects in the scene, I didn’t want to get bogged down with modeling and texturing. I have about 120 assets in the room, and several assets are reused here and there, such as books, frames and clothes etc.
For example, all the picture frames come from the same asset, and you can easily tell because of the stretching happening at the top and bottom of those. Also, the cardboard boxes are reused above the bed, on top and inside of one of the shelves etc. I ended up repeating many assets in different locations as it is surprisingly easy to make a scene -still- feel empty despite all your efforts. So I went ahead and just added, slightly changed the color, the scale, showing a different angle maybe, trying to avoid having the same exact detail visible from the same angle etc. So yeah, creating a mess is way easier in real life.
Working on fabrics
Marvelous Designer allows you to import fbx files (among other formats), which gives you the opportunity to create your clothing directly within the context of your real scene.
For example, the beams below were merged together then exported from Unreal as an fbx file, then imported inside of MD.
The spacing and dimensions are exactly the ones from my Unreal scene, so I can go ahead and create the pattern for my piece of cloth, pin it to the beams, then run the physics simulation in order to produce the hanging clothing I was looking for. After a few iterations of changing the length of my cloth and the density of it (to avoid penetration with the beams), I was pretty much done. The process is as you can imagine fairly straightforward, and incredibly fast.
From there, I only needed to export these clothes, retopologize/bake and import back into unreal, and voila!
A few assets were textured with Substance Painter such as the shelves, but for most of the scene, only tileables were used. Those were gathered from various sources such as Textures.com, poliigon.com, free Substance Source assets or just plain google images. I will then sometimes use bitmap2material to quickly convert my albedo to normal map, roughness etc. I’ve also got a nice bunch of masks from poliigon.com, for things like fingerprints or smudges. Those maps have been reused on many objects in the scene to add a much-needed roughness variation.
Having a master material in place, it was easy and fast to just add some color/roughness variation, scale/translate UVs to transform the look of some assets. Because of the number of posters, stickers and images, but also with the different material types required, I end up with a library of over 260 material instances to choose from.
So lots of reuse in the texture department.
I can describe the lighting setup I used for this scene.
I basically have 2 very strong spotlights (1 million lumens for intensity with inverse squared falloff ‘on’), one behind each window on the outside and coming at an angle to give a sense of directionality. Each of them is set to static with a source radius of 60 and source length of 40. The idea here is to flood the room with a nice soft light, but not so soft that I completely lose my shadows. Basically to get more diffused lighting and soft shadows, increase the source radius/length; to get sharper shadows, lower it.
Other than that, I have a directional light (intensity 20) that I use to get the sharp light you can see on the floor near the closet and the bed, and increase the blown out effect on the window glass and blinds. I set it to moveable so that I’m sure I don’t add any contribution in terms of indirect lighting.
I also have a weak moveable spot light near the bed to rim the purple blanket and reveal more of the shape, as I was losing too much of the silhouette in the shadows.
The skylight is default and doesn’t have much of a contribution in terms of overall mood, but helps tons with reflections on the posters, desk etc.
As for the lightmass settings, Static Lighting Level Scale is set to 1.0, 10 for Indirect Bounces, 6.0 for lighting quality, .75 for smoothness (helps to get sharper shadows).
Finally, in terms of post-processing, I keep it pretty much default for my scene. I slightly push the Shoulder in the Tonemapper to accentuate the washed out white on the windows, push my gamma on the shadows not to get too dark, and desaturate them a bit as well.
Hopefully, you got tidbits of information that will be useful to you.
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Thanks for reading!