3d artist Connor Stanley talked about his recent environment, sharing his pipeline and some tips of the scene production.
3d artist Connor Stanley gave a little talk about the most recent ‘Forgotten Warrior’ environment. He gives us the full breakdown and shares some hints on the production of meshes, the use of UE4 and the production of materials.
Hey everyone, I’m Connor Stanley from Manchester, UK and I’m recent graduate (class of 2016) from Futureworks school of media. I’m currently working full time at Trapped Nerve working on Q.U.B.E 2 as the 3D environment artist. Previously I have worked on a few student based projects that reached the finals of competitions such as Dare To Be Digital and recently won UK Games Talent’s Tranzfuser program.
The main things I wanted to learn whilst creating this scene was: foliage production, lighting and enhancing my material shader skills in engine. I also used this project as a great excuse to finally learn SpeedTree, which is a fantastic piece of software and can be incorporated really easily into any artists workflow.
The main challenges I wanted to learn from were creating good looking game ready foliage as well as approaching environmental storytelling with subtlety. So many projects in the games industry rely on narrative design and effective level design, so it’s important for the environment artist to be able to enhance stories with subtle elements such as lighting and colour.
How I came about making the scene is pretty crazy actually. I’ve been a big fan of a 3D artist called Koola and rewatched one of his projects called Field and I found the contrast between his organic and hard surface assets compositionally outstanding, as well as his overall technical ability within Unreal Engine. It inspired me to take a shot at something similar which is when I stumbled upon Simon Stalenhags awesome concept art, еhis is when I decided to jump straight in.
The first thing I started to do was to grab A LOT of reference. Below is a tiny portion.
Reference is always important because you examine it more than you normally would as you try to replicate it. Working with an organic scene it’s even more important, as you have to know; what plants grow here? How do they grow, what’s the ground surface made up of? And so on. One thing I learned is when you get into the small areas you’ll be surprised what you will see.
My typical workflow is usually: Maya > Zbrush > Substance Painter > UE4. However, for this scene, I implemented SpeedTree and used Allegorithmic’s B2M for quick clean tileables from stock images which I used for the tree bark and moss. I have been learning Photogrammetry on the side which would be awesome for this project however, I wouldn’t say I’m at a level anywhere near engine implementation yet!
In regards to meshes, the initial concept was very rough around the edges! I experimented with landscape painting, basic foliage creation and lighting. My main goal at this point was to see if I could get copious amounts of foliage running well and of course looking good, but it didn’t go amazingly at first! It’s really important to learn from your work understand what works and what doesn’t and expand upon it. Critique from the community has helped me so much build on my weaknesses. Don’t be afraid! We’re here to help!
I found breaking down the scene pretty simple, I used a layer system:
- Hero Asset
- Decorative Assets
- Lighting/Post Process
For the ground I used Unreal’s Landscape creator and sculpted some minor bumps to give some subtle height variation and then made a basic landscape material that I could paint with.
Using SpeedTree I created a few grass clumps and trees.
I sculpted one rock in Zbrush, retopologized and then textured in Substance Painter. In engine I just modified its sizes and stacked it up to give a familiar yet uneven flow.
Once I had a decent base for all my layers I started setting up my scene properly in terms of asset placement, lighting and some post effects it didn’t look amazing but it did the job!
First thing that initially hit me is how bland the scene looked at this stage. It doesn’t get the idea across of damage or age. I created a basic modular wire that I could use in engine using a spline system. Having a spline system for wires/pipes is extremely time saving.
The spline system is really easy to set up with a modular mesh just make sure you have enough edge loops for it to bend smoothly.
However, after the wire implementation I knew I had to take a step back and analyze what was wrong. I rearranged the initial ground layout which immediately made it look more interesting, as well as rotating and tweaking other assets to get the right silhouettes and focal points. As well as some vertex painting to increase the believability of the asset which I’ll explain later. To get to the stage where the scene is at currently took a lot of iteration. I kept pushing myself to enhance something that was currently lacking and with each step, the environment improved.
When I was planning this asset I looked at a lot of mech reference, and decided to go for a smooth look. My main intention for this was because I wanted the light to softly roll over it.
I started in ZBrush kit bashing shaped together using a man’s arm as a solid reference for anatomy and then used basic alphas to inflate shapes in and out to get those clean details and some paneling.
I then did a high end Zremesh and retopologized in Maya using quad draw. My main reason for the Zremesh was for me to easier understand the edge flow. The low poly ended up at around 17k Tris
With Substance Painter being my primary texturing software, I had a blast with this asset but I couldn’t decide on a colour scheme so I made a few variants and let the community decide.
It was safe to say orange black and white was the clear winner. The main thing that kept me pushing this scene was enhancing my ability in all areas of environment art whilst still keeping the scene quite minimal. Every time I iterated I learnt something and that’s what was great about this project.
Most of the textures are from photographs with the exception of the landscape materials they come from the Quixel Megascans library. Once I had taken a photo or acquired a stock image I used either Quixel’s NDO to generate the maps or if it needed to be tileable I use B2M. The downside to using photos however is they aren’t always the easiest to work with. This is where photoshop normally comes in to remove shadows or highlights.
I think the biggest difficulty for anyone is not knowing where to start with a good shader. It just comes from practice and experience on what gives off the best result.
Most assets have a dedicated texture for themselves however I am looking into incorporating tileables in another iteration. I made a Iridescent shader which I was going to use to give the impression of leaking oil however I realised it may not still exist in the world after that considerable amount of time.
With the arm I used the tileable moss material I made in B2M as a vertex paint layer. This way I can have my pre-made texture via Substance as well as paint on moss wherever I feel is best for the scene. Vertex painting is a solid workflow that all environment artists should look at incorporating into their art to break their scenes up and make them more interesting. The setup is really easy.
UE4 has a two sided shader preset in the material editor which is great for foliage. This allows you to have a subsurface colour. I tend to create some parameters and then tweak realtime in engine via the materials instance. The subsurface effect you can get from the light can be mind-blowing.
The lighting is created using a single directional light with a skylight with a lot of minor tweaks and reflection captures. A cool thing that I learnt during lighting this scene is how useful temperature in lighting can be.
The light shafts are a combination of a tickbox and some values in your directional light settings and a full post process pass which I will provide a breakdown of mine.
The foliage shaders help enforce good lighting with the subsurface effect.
Here’s a post process break down, I didn’t alter much by a large amount just small tweaks here and there should help elements of your scene pop. I try to limit the bloom and lens flares effects dues to the light shaft bloom from the directional Light.
The exposure category in the post process is a great way to make your lighting really pop, allowing you to make sources of light appear brighter as well as the shadow fall off smoother.
I do tend to bump up saturation and contrast just a tiny bit in most of my scenes just as an extra flare.
Trees and Flowers
The trees were the first asset I made in SpeedTree in which I used a base provided by the software. I then altered branch, trunk and leaves values to get the desired shape for the scene. I then used the tileable bark material from B2M as well as some photos of leaves.
All of the foliage and assets are made by myself except from the landscape materials from the Megascans library and the red flower texture is also from the Megascans library however I will be looking into implementing my own photogrammetry in the next project!