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The site is in Japanese, but the program was in English for me.
Nelly Apenkova, a young artist from Moscow, talked about the way she assembled her fairy forest in Unreal Engine 4.
My name is Nelly, I’m 25 years old and I’m from Moscow. I was trained as a PR-manager, but understood too fast that it’s not for me. I discovered 3d-production not so long ago – about 2 years ago. Since my childhood I’ve loved drawing, but I never wanted to make a profession out of it, I did not even know what profession would suit me. I drew for myself until one day my friend decided to create her own game. She started assemble a team and asked me to join them like a concept artist, digital sculptor and, possibly, a 3d-modeler. I had absolutely no idea how to work with all that software, but I was very interested by it, so I watched many tutorials trying to practice. Unfortunately, I realized that tutorials are not enough and it will take too long time until I’ll start to do my work for project as good as I wanted to. Therefore, I needed comprehensive knowledge and proper practice. I found Scream School in Moscow. It gives a full range of knowledge: concepts, modeling, sculpting, game engines etc.
My Forest Scene was my coursework in School. Our teachers just gave us the theme – Slavic theme – which we had to evolve by ourselves. We had to find refs, draw our own concepts, create assets (some of them we shared with each other) and finally create a level.
I began to think about atmosphere at the stage of concepts. I like dark games, so I wanted to do something oppressive. My initial concept was a large city that was looted, destroyed and abandoned by inhabitants. The city, where only a few people are still trying to survive.
The scheme was very simple: the character appears on the hill, crosses the river and goes through wide empty spaces to the narrow streets of the ruined city. And I really wanted to make a detached building somewhere on the rocks. At first, I planned to make a church, instead of a mill.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have so much time to realize this concept, because it was necessary to create a large number of assets to build a whole city, so the idea had to be revised. I left the main scheme – a river in the lowlands, buildings on a hill, a house by the river and a mill on a rock.
Since my large ruined city turned into a small forest settlement, the atmosphere also had to turn into something completely different. So the tense night turned into a quiet, untouched and mysterious night.
I started my work by creating the main landscape of the level inside the UE, using heightmaps for the mountains around the perimeter of the location. I didn’t use World Machine. Then, I put some gray boxes for an approximate arrangement of future buildings.
The buildings were the most difficult thing in creating this scene. Because the Slavic theme oblige to the appropriate style of architecture with its intricate carvings, patterns and shapes. But I didn’t want to make buildings too detailed, because the Slavic style isn’t close to me. In the end, I decided to choose a kind of cartoon form of the main houses, adding to them the Slavic carving, but to make the other houses (a house on stilts and a mill) quite simple. The idea to create a house on stilts came unexpectedly, but very opportunely. Among my search sketches, which I did before the main concept, was partially flooded forest due to the flood of the river. I really wanted to add this part somewhere, but I needed a main object for the composition so the house on stilts became this object.
Vegetation was the simplest thing. My main reference was Taiga with its inherent high firs, pines and wide crowns of trees. I placed them on the level.
In the daytime version, I added red trees, adding colors to the scene in that way. The combination of green and red makes a very winning accent.
I don’t have any contribution to the creation of trees and bushes – I used Nature Mega Pack. I just changed the color of a few textures.
The main things that help to achieve a fairy atmosphere are, of course, colors and lighting. The most interesting part of work for me.
In the night scene (it was the first) I didn’t want to make the lighting too contrast. I mean the moon light and the sharpness of the shadows. I wanted to keep the softness of the light, which actually helped to create a fairy atmosphere. At the same time, I really wanted to realize the idea of the sky, as I had on the concept: with dark clouds and a bright horizon, but because the atmosphere had to be fairy, I decided to add bright stars.
The main color of the scene is blue, with a quite strongly muted green channel in the post process settings, with a small addition of contrast. Fire at the level and light from the windows create an additional coziness, a friendly atmosphere, due to the warm color.
One of the most important things is fog. It is quite dense and that’s why it’s dividing the picture into plans, creating a depth of the scene. Also there are fog particles, lying over the water and in the lowlands, which proved to be priceless! Godrays with a moving texture create the impression of light coming through the fog. Well, and, of course, fireflies! A few moving glowing particles transformed the picture in a moment! It looks so cool and so easy to do))
The day scene is much brighter and more contrast. I increased the intensity of green color, added more contrast and, as I said, added the red color to the scene. It was easier to work with the day lighting than with the night.
The most difficult was the sunset! I spent many hours trying to find the best solution. And, to be honest, I’m still not sure that I found it. The main difficulty was the sun! Because its low angle always hid the light behind the mountains and completely made the level look ugly and too dark. In the end, after numerous attempts to find the ideal point, I returned to the very first version – the light goes from the same point as I did on the previous variations of the scene. I had to cheater a little: I raised the sun higher and gave the effect of sunset lighting with the colors of the sun, sky and clouds. I also made the sky pretty bright. But my problems didn’t end there. I really didn’t like the color of the foliage. In the sunset light, the green color (yes, I have a special relations with green) turns into brown and I don’t like it at all. Therefore, I had to set the intensity of green in the post process again. But at the same time my red trees became more red and it’s nice. To diversify the red-pink color of the scene, I decided to make the color of water bluer.
My favorite variation is the night version, because it was the long way of planning and realization. It started with the idea, concepts and then I brought it into life in the Unreal Engine.
It’s just a fire. 🙂 I think I even didn’t change the standard settings of Unreal. 🙂 Actually thanks to Tomb Raider for this idea: Lara has suchlike camps throughout the game. In addition, it creates an effect of presence – this place is inhabited.
If you are talking about that “kitchen” with the boiler, this part was also created, as a logical symbol of the habitability of the area. I remember when I did it, I was so excited – it was so in its place. It’s like a piece of the puzzle.