Getting Macro-Environment Right with Simon Barle
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Wow, the YouTube video was released in November. How have I never seen it before? I've probably watched it three times in the past hour. It's an absolutely amazing production. What was the budget for this?

Getting Macro-Environment Right with Simon Barle
28 August, 2015

EA DICE environment artist Simon Barle have recently released some new images of his most recent work in progress Redwood Forest scene. The images look as pretty, as you should expect from such an accomplished artist. Every little thing is handmade. Simon usually doesn’t use any procedural tools and tries to put every object on its place on his own. Here’s some of his comments about this scene.

  • Simon Barle, Unreal Enigne 4, UE4, EA DICE, macro environments, meshes, gamedev, environment design, indiedev,
  • Simon Barle, Unreal Enigne 4, UE4, EA DICE, macro environments, meshes, gamedev, environment design, indiedev,
  • Simon Barle, Unreal Enigne 4, UE4, EA DICE, macro environments, meshes, gamedev, environment design, indiedev,
  • Simon Barle, Unreal Enigne 4, UE4, EA DICE, macro environments, meshes, gamedev, environment design, indiedev,

Creating a Scene

I created all the assets myself using Maya, Zbrush, Photoshop, Ndo and Xnormal. The foliage textures are highpoly modeled in Maya and using photo-details on the highpoly that then bakes down to a final texture.

The foliage textures are then mapped onto planes with some shape to them, then placed on a few larger branches which then gets copied all over the tree until I have achieved the desired shape and silhouette.

The trunks have a sculpted tiling bark texture which is mixed with some photo-details as well. I am currently in the process of sculpting the bottom of the trunks for more details and shape.

I work a lot with material instances that have the basics tweakable, so I can change color, translucency, spec and roughness controls and if needed, a switch to flip the normals. I do however try to make my maps as correct as possible to begin with but it’s always nice to be able to change things on the fly.

I also boosted the shadow resolution in the Engine Scalability file and upped the number of cascades so the shadows can draw further and have more detail up close, this drains performance however but for just showcasing, its fine.


The land is all hand sculpted, pretty rough and simple really. I’m going to have a few different terrain materials which I will just paint in-engine. Right now there are only the initial dirt and mulch materials in there, I will add materials like pebbles, moss, another dirt/ path material.

It’s important not to over-scope the material count since there is a cap of how many texture samples you can have inside the material, there is probably a work around for this, but I find that you usually don’t need that many anyway.

All you need is a good mixmap with different masks in each channel to blend the textures in interesting ways, that way you can achieve more with less.

Macro Environemnts


Simon Barle Work in Progress Redwood Forest Scene

Well for me at least, the key to such environments is to break down the main assets that will build up the scene. For this case it was, a big tree, some ground vegetation, clovers, ferns and in between some mid level vegetation like redwood sprouts and rowan trees that will give a nice shape and color contrast to the pine trees.

There is quite some work left until it is finished, more terrain work and a few more assets that will help blend it all together. There are still no effects in the scene but I will add some pollen, maybe some bugs and some ambient effects in general.

Development Time

The whole development of this scene did not take that long actually. I have been working on it a few evenings every now and then, so maybe a week or two if I had worked 8 hours a day. I also re-used some rocks and dirt textures from a previous project to speed things up. I will keep working on it and hopefully it will be done in the near future!


Simon Barle, Environment Designer

The whole thing is rendered in Unreal Engine 4. An incredible demonstration of what this engine can actually do. We’ve actually had an interview with Simon a couple of month ago. He was kind enough to talk about his production process and the way he builds levels. Go check it out!

Simon Barle Interview

Source: Simon Barle Facebook Page


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[…] you could literally spend hours studying the environment. You can definitely see some touches of Simon Barle and his vegetation magic (he’s actually working on a new scene – so keep your eyes […]