Get Away: Lighting & Composition in Environment Art

Get Away: Lighting & Composition in Environment Art

Andreas Lohse did a breakdown of his recent UE4 environment Get Away made during the mentorship with Chris Radsby at Mentor Coalition

Introduction

My name is Andreas Lohse and I’m an Environment Artist based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Currently, I work as a 3D artist intern at Amunet Studio in Copenhagen, where I work on assets and materials. In my spare time, I work on my portfolio, spend time with my girlfriend, dog, and family as well as play games with my friends.

I got into 3D about 3 years ago when I was introduced to it during a course at my university. I was captivated by it immediately. From there, I created several hard-surface props to learn Maya, ZBrush, and Substance Painter.

About a year ago I decided to enroll in one of CGMA's courses, Vegetation and Plants for Games, which I came across when I wanted to try organic modeling.

From there I got very intrigued by environments and especially the amount of story you can convey through the environment alone. Creating the vegetation scene as a part of CGMA's course was what got me serious about creating Environment Art and I have been working hard to improve my skills in that field.

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Get Away: Starting the Project

I started the Get Away project alongside a mentorship with Chris Radsby at the Mentor Coalition. I wanted to have more focus on traditional art skills such as composition, color, and shape language, so I was recommended to take a mentorship with Chris as I was told he was very focused and strong in those areas.

We started the first meeting discussing what I wanted to get from the mentorship, what I could work on, and what I wanted to focus on for improving my current skill set. After our first meeting, I found some interesting concepts and images of alleyways and started writing up possible stories and scenarios to get an idea of what I wanted in the scene and how I could portray it.

My main inspiration was Asian alleys, especially alleys in Taiwan. I really like the materials in Asian alleys and how interesting the ground and gutters are. All the wear, worn stickers, and posters in the alleys gave some really interesting surface details. However, I wanted to make it a bit different from a normal Asian alley and took inspiration from brutalist architecture to introduce some interesting shapes in the scene. 

As I wanted to make a night scene I looked for night alley references for lighting. I really liked the colors and mood from Blade Runner and that was a huge inspiration for the choice of light colors.

After gathering references I started blocking out the initial shapes and structures for the scene.

The blockout quickly changed throughout the first week from a larger alley scene to something more narrow, which made it more manageable to work with.

Before this mentorship, I usually spent less than a week on blocking out a scene. Spending more time on it and really trying to make the blockout as interesting as possible did a lot for my scene in the end. It was a very refreshing way of working and is something I’m adopting for my next projects.

When I was completely done with the blockout I was feeling really good about the scene and now it was mostly creating props, materials, decals, and polishing lighting.

Story

I knew from the start that I wanted the story to involve a crime and it ended up revolving around a stabbing. The story had to be visible in the scene, so I worked with that in mind doing the set dressing and prop placements.

The scenery itself is a back entrance to a venue, where employees can go out the back door to load in beverages and take a quick break outside, therefore the scene had to reflect that in the props, materials, and decals.

At first, the hints at the story were very subtle. They mainly included knocked over chairs and beer boxes, however, that wasn’t very specific to the story I wanted to tell. I then added blood to the scene as well as the knife, along with some shattered glass from broken beer bottles where the beer boxes had been knocked over. As the knife is very essential to the story I wanted it to be close to the main focal point in the scene, which is why it was placed on the stepping plate by the entrance.

As a final touch, I decided to add the character fleeing from the scene in the background to highlight the theme even more.

Composition

The composition in the scene was something I was working on from the very beginning of the scene.

I went with a composition revolving around the Rule of Thirds. It’s a very powerful element that helps in creating a visually pleasing and interesting image. The intersections for the Rule of Thirds is where you want your main visual interest to be.

For my top-down shot, the main difference was the change of the point of view. By getting up high or down low, you are able to create a more interesting composition and it worked well for setting up the top-down shot.

The last image was focused around a centered composition. This works very well and is a powerful way to emphasize the main visual interest.

Framing and contrast also played a huge role in creating the composition for my scene.

I made sure to have elements in the foreground to frame the main visual interest and add more depth to the scene. This was also complemented by the lights in the scene.

By using different colors of light throughout the scene I achieved more depth by going from cold -> warm -> cold. Creating this kind of layering in the colors for the lights can be very tricky as it can easily look artificial.

Where the colors of the lights are good at creating depth, the intensity is good at directing the viewer's eyes.

I could use the intensity of the lights to direct the focus towards my main area of interest, which is why the light by the entrance has a higher intensity than the other lights in the scene. The further away the lights are from the main area of interest, the lower the intensity.

Lighting and Mood

The lighting and mood went over a lot of iterations throughout the process of making the scene. It started out with very saturated lighting so that I could get an idea of what type of color I wanted for the scene. The more I worked on it the more I realized I needed to desaturate the lights a lot to get realistic-looking lighting.

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I was very inspired by Blade Runner for my color scheme and I found the green/blue-tinted lighting really interesting, which is why I wanted to have it as my main focal point.

I also made sure to have a clear contrast in color between the lights. I went with a split complementary color scheme where the main light would have a green/blue color while the lamps in the alley would have a contrasting color, in this case, a softer orange tint.

A lot of what contributed to the mood was the volumetric fog in the scene. I wanted to show the majority of the fog with the help of the light sources and only had it slightly affected by the skylight. The Volumetric Scattering Intensity for the lights was set fairly high to get the desired result.

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I try to keep my post-production to a minimum for my scenes. For this scene, I got to a point where I was satisfied with my lighting setup and colors, so I gave the scene a bit of contrast, saturation, and gamma to make it pop more, but I didn’t make any major changes.

Techniques and Tools in UE4

Setting up my scene in Unreal was a lot of fun as I got to try out some new methods and tools.

One of the things that gave the scene a lot of character are the decals and they are something I got to use a lot in this scene.

I used decals for graffiti, posters, wall patches, dirt, and blood. The process of creating different decal materials was very similar. I created a master decal material for each category as they would all differ slightly.

One thing I wanted to make sure of was to set the decal blend mode to DBuffer to be able to get color, roughness, and normal information in my decals.

As an example, my poster decal used the decal blend mode DBuffer Color, Normal, Roughness. I used a crumpled paper normal to get some nice wrinkled normal information and set up a black and white mask to have the option to create torn versions of the posters. 

For the cables running across the two buildings, I used the cable actor for the first time. All it needs is a start and end point and then you can create dynamic cables in no time. 

You can attach the end point to a mesh instead of doing it manually. I made a small cube and could freely move that around, which made it easier to manage the cables.

You can adjust the length and segments as well. It’s a very handy tool to quickly get a lot of cables in your scene.

For the wires going across the walls, I used a spline-based blueprint system. It’s very simple to set up and really flexible, which made it easy to adjust and change cable appearance in the engine.

 All you need is some simple blueprints and a cable mesh from your 3D package. I found a great tutorial on this by Ryan Laley, which you can check out below:

At the start of the scene, I used the blueprint wire system for the drain pipes, but I changed the setup based on a suggestion I got from Sean Marino

I create a modular kit for the pipes and use sockets in Unreal to attach the modular pipes to each other. This gave me more freedom and variation for the drain pipes.

Final Note

Taking a mentorship with Chris Radsby has been an incredible learning experience. I have learned a lot about working with composition in mind and being flexible with how I build my scenes and use my assets in creative ways.

I can only recommend taking a mentorship as you have the potential to improve a lot in a short amount of time. It’s also a great way to try out something new as you have someone with a lot of experience who’s able to help you and guide you in the right direction.

Andreas Lohse, Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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    Get Away: Lighting & Composition in Environment Art