Jacob Norris from PurePolygons explains how the newest 3d scan library from Quixel can help you in environment design.
3d aritst Jacob Norris (PurePolygons) talked about the way he combines Megascans with Unreal Engine 4. This combo can bring some very interesting results for environment artists.
Megascans is actually something I’ve been anticipating for some time now. I remember seeing videos and advertisements for it years ago. There were times when I was wondering if it would ever come out, kinda like Half-Life 3 haha, but I understand that the process of refining Megascans takes time to make it just right. I would say it was worth the wait. Just before its official release, I had the opportunity to check out the иeta and see what they were working on a bit closer. Personally, I believe that without a doubt there is a place in the industry for something like Megascans right now. Quixel saw this trend of photogrammetry and scanning and jumped on the train very early. I believe it will be very difficult for other companies to catch up at this point, but it’s an exciting time right now either way.
The first and most obvious function is the massive time saver that Megascans Studio is. Especially as the company is streamlining their service with the “Bridge” application to easily import the scans into many of the major 3D software’s/Engines out there right now. As more biomes become available on Megascans, creating an environment will be as easy as selecting some assets that I want in my scene, importing them with the bridge software, and building the environment as quick as my internet connection can get. Expanding this to video game creation as a whole saves costs for outsourcing all of this artwork, or having someone create it in-house, or going out there yourself to scan these things.
There is the danger of it becoming overused so that some video games could start losing their “own style.” Perhaps seeing repetitive assets across multiple games and platforms, but that all depends, of course, on how people will apply Megascans to their games and how big the Megascans library may eventually become.
In these cases, I have even been trying out some of my own scans and photogrammetry. There might be a situation when something ins’t available already in libraries like Megascans or Turbo Squid, or perhaps you just want to experiment with the photogrammetry process and sourcing textures from real life. It’s a great skill to have. If your entire game is made up of Megascans or assets sourced from the real world, it can be difficult to create assets that will hold up next to these literally perfect assets since they ARE the Real World by hand. Feel free to checko ut some of the Photopacks I’ve released so far on my Gumroad.
I will soon be working on some tutorials for photogrammetry, and texture creation because it is definitely another hot topic right now. Get on this stuff early before the train leaves you behind! Photogrammetry, Megascans, and assets sourced from the real world aren’t going anywhere anytime soon and the technology will only be getting better and better at capturing this stuff.
Jacob, you’ve personally done some outstanding work with sculpting of these macro environments, where you can see every stone, moss and drop of liquid. I’m wondering how do you feel about Megascans in this regard. I mean, it’s the kind of tool that basically does a lot of the things you did, and in that regard, do you feel that it presents a little threat to your job?
This is a very tricky question and I think it’s also a topic of very hot debate right now. One thing is for sure, stylized artwork for games won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. At least until programmers will create algorithms that solve this problem. Which apparently is already happening and some robots can paint! That’s a bit scary. Back to the question though.
No, I don’t believe it is a threat to the job of an environment artist. Not yet at least, as I said hahaha. This is one of those times, where people need to learn to embrace change. Don’t stop being an artist or creating textures/environments/awesome artwork. All it means is that the game has changed a bit and for certain things, perhaps Megascans will work better and we should use them to our advantage. To speed up workflow, to decrease costs, or in some cases to just give us a base for our artwork to start at. These assets don’t need to be used “as is” when you download them. Even in the quick desert scene test that I created inside of UE4 with the free Megascans assets, I made alterations to what was originally downloaded.
On the rock asset, I removed large areas of moss and leaves by making some adjustments inside of Photoshop to the original textures. It makes my Megascan rock slightly “unique” and still allows me to re-purpose Megascans for something else. This still requires the artists to touch things. Also, using the Megascans Studio, I altered the mud/dirt landscape texture to suit the needs of the environment I was creating here. As well as the grass assets, which I slightly desaturated and adjusted the hue/value to better suit a more dead environment like a desert or dried up riverbed. When you download the grass, it’s simply a texture, so you still need to create the foliage assets and apply the texture to planes for this. It would be awesome if Megascans eventually would provide some pre-made foliage and alpha cards for us, but for now this is only a minor inconvenience.
Then of course it still takes an artist to lay out the assets, compose the scene, create the lighting, post fx, and everything else that actually turns these Megascans into artwork. Without an artist these are nothing more than very pretty 3d models/textures, but it still takes people to turn them into a final product. So while it may affect some aspects of the job of an environment artist, we are still necessary to make Megascans work for specific needs, as well as needs that the scans have yet to satisfy. We will just have to continue to see how this unfolds for now, but don’t run away from Megascans or Photogrammetry. Just think of them as tools to make your artwork even better.
Could you talk about what kind of content from the library do you consider to be most interesting? How do you integrate these into your work? What elements do you find most useful?
Personally, right now I feel like the surfaces and the very small assets, like tiny rocks, twigs, and leaves are the most interesting to me. A lot of the bigger scans will be difficult to repurpose for your own needs, but all of these tiny things and surfaces have so many possibilities! Say you still wanted to make your own tiling landscape texture or make some nice foliage assets to populate your scene with, you can grab a bunch of these tiny assets and scatter them across a plane in ZBrush to make a brand new texture of your own design. Or use these as assets inside of the engine to add an insane amount of detail around every corner.
Megascans studio is great too to blend and merge all of these surfaces together however you want. There would still be some more features I would like to see added to it, to get just a bit more control over how the textures blend together, but considering how much variety you can already get right out of the box, the software is great!
I’m wondering if you could share some thoughts on using Megascans with UE4. How to work with Megascans, how to use them with various materials, how to add them into your scene? How to use them with the right lighting? If i were to use them to build a scene, what would be the perfect conditions to do so?
Luckily it was actually really simple to use Megascans with UE4. The only issue I ran into so far, but it may be fixed now in the latest bug updates with Bridge, is just be careful of the Normal maps. Mine were exported from bridge as OpenGL and the Unreal Engine uses the Direct X Normal format. So if your normal maps look a little funny, open the texture in UE4 and there is a checkbox for “Flip Green Channel” and this will solve your issue. As I mentioned though, I believe this may already be fixed or update will be out soon. So perhaps this is already old news.
Otherwise for the material setups inside of the Engine. All of them simply plugged the textures into the proper nodes on the default materials. Albedo – Albedo, Normal – Normal, etc. etc. with nothing really special. Perhaps the only shader that required some work was the Foliage shader. But even then, Megascans provided the Translucency map to go along with the grass/bush assets.
For the foliage shader, under the Details panel on the left hand side, these are my settings.
- “Blend Mode – Masked,”
- “Shading Model – Two Sided”
- And check the box for “Two Sided”
And that’s it! Then I simply plugged the textures into their corresponding nodes in the Material Editor and BAM, I’m done.
As for the lighting, I wouldn’t say there is any “perfect condition” for the Megascans assets. The way that they are scanned includes Roughness Maps, Metalness (if used), Albedo Maps without shadows, AO, Displacement, Normal, everything you need to make the assets work in any lighting conditions that you place them in. In this sense, just do your best to make the lighting look realistic and the Textures/Megascans will do the rest.
If you get a chance, start up the Unreal Engine and check out the “Starter Content” that you can add to any new project. Inside of here there is a level already set up called “Advanced Lighting” and this is a great place to start with your lighting. Then tweak it from there. You can see in my scene that I am using a simple Directional Light, a Sphere Reflection Capture Probe, a Lightmass Importance Volume to reduce bake times, and a Post Process Volume for the Depth of Field. Then I have created a camera in the scene so I can always check my composition of assets for my final renders.
If we zoom out in this scene, we can see that it actually only looks good from the camera angle that I originally set. And that is ok. You don’t ALWAYS have to make a full scene that a player can run around in when you are doing pieces for your portfolio. Just work on what you want people to look at and see. Then for other personal projects, or when you have more time, you can make full environments that look good from any angle. When you are just having fun though, put your time and effort into what really matters. And that’s the final images that you want to share with others.
How open are the Megascans materials for tweaking and altering? Do you think they can give you enough freedom to build some more artistic looking scene? Do you see artists using Megascans more in games, especially, when they are really constrained by time?
As I mentioned in some of the previous questions, there is definitely room for adjustments to the Megascans. You won’t be able to turn a rock into a tree anytime soon, but if you need to make adjustments to colors, textures, values, and even simple shapes in ZBrush then it’s possible for sure. It will be interesting to see how people use these in games and even if we can spot them in games after any alterations that they might make to the assets.
I think people are very creative and we will definitely see some artistic environments with these Megascans, perhaps even stylized. I’m excited to see what happens.
And as for using Megascans when constrained by time, 100% yes. I am positive that will be happening. I believe that some companies may even experiment on other projects with smaller teams using things like Megascans and other resources to speed up the process. It’s exciting and scary times for sure. So just embrace this new wave of technology and use all of it to your advantage. Don’t be stubborn, roll with the punches, and find ways to still use these tools while making things in your own way. And never stop making art that you enjoy!
Jacob Norris, PurePolygons
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.