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How to build a realistic 'The Mummy Tomb'?
6 December, 2016
3d artist Alexander Samuelsson talked about his astonishing work with ‘The Mummy Tomb‘ environment in Unreal Engine. With some clever tricks, he managed to achieve incredible photo-realism and work out the perfect set of materials, assets and post-effects.
My name is Alexander Samuelsson and I am from Sweden. My art background is in traditional painting (mostly watercolor), faux painting and concept art. I am currently a second year Game Art student at The Game Assembly in Malmö.
The Mummy Tomb
It was for a school assignment where I took a subject which has intrigued me for a long time. Ever since I first saw the movie The Mummy from 1999 I fell in love with art and gods of that period, so I wanted to recreate that mood during this project.
My primary goal was to have 2-3 camera shots that I could send as a concept and mood images to potentially pitch as a level for Tomb Raider.
So after taking some screenshots from the film and researching egyptian tombs/ caves I started to block out the base concept in Maya.
Maya is a great tool to start in. The most important thing for me was to create a space that felt cramped, claustrophobic and atmospheric.
I knew that this would be a very important element for the whole scene to work. I feel that a good way to make something feel narrow is to have something to compare to, So I wanted to break the scene up with a high ceiling area to contrast that and have light coming down from that area as well.
For a fast workflow scale is key for me. So I blocked out a human cube ( 180cm in height) and based all proportions on that. Based on this I could answer questions like “How high is the ceiling?”, “How low is a bench?,” “How long is a step on the stairs?” and so on. Based on those measurements I started to block out the whole scene.
This was done very quick then select everything, export to Unreal Engine as soon as possible.
I used Rise of the Tomb Raider as a game reference so I used Unreal’s 3 person template to run around and feel out the scene.
Then I took a screenshot of that and then painted over to find colors and light that would fit the scene.
Top right is the Unreal blackout, and the bottom right shows the final concept
I used a total of 11 assets and 6 planes that I replaced all the blockout pieces with.
Because my workflow is very conceptual I want to be able to scrap and redo assets very fast and very often, so knowing that the scale in Maya and in Unreal Engine is the same is super important for me.
It’s the same when I do my high polys in Zbrush, knowing that it’s the right scales and that the pivot points are placed on the low polys makes the work go smoothly and I can easily replace all assets I have blocked out in the scene.
I was constantly testing different lightings as well to narrow down the composition and feel.
Starting with the big shapes and fill the scene with them to not get stuck in details helpt a lot the keep the project going forward.
After the second week I had baked the majority of the high polys down and imported it to Unreal Engine to see if it read as I wanted. The rest of the material parameters was in the Unreal material.
Also having a fast way to export a lot of assets and knowing the export settings are right is very helpful. I have been learning Python and created a script in Maya exporting everything that is selected as separate fbx files. Just run the script choose where to save it and click save.
So just re-exporting everything keeping the same names and overwriting them made it really fast to change things.
Here you can copy paste it and test for yourself:
import maya.cmds as cmds
shapeName = cmds.ls (sl = True)
listSize = len(shapeName)
outputDir = cmds.fileDialog2(fileMode=2, caption=”File location”)
for i in range(listSize):
path = os.path.join(outputDir, str(shapeName[i]) + ‘.fbx’)
cmds.file(path,exportSelected = True,typ=”FBX export”)
Script editor. New tab, python. paste it.Select your meshes then ctrl + a then ctrl + enter or drag it to self and click the icon.
Here is a fast way to make it export Obj instead of Fbx.
I decided to use few fairly low-poly assets and instance them a lot to keep the performance high, but this project was more a pitch/conceptual level to get an OK from a potential art director or studio to make it into the game.
I made a smart material in Substance Painter for most assets in the scene so it would feel like they were made within the same place. Using projection I did the hieroglyphs on a black mask so I could paint away parts of it and make it look worn. This also gave me control of the fill layer where I can change the color of the metal and how deep it goes.
Then a sand material that I used on the floor was made in Substance Designer and I did a up vector shader for some of the more noticeable assets. This is to tie the whole scene together with colors and transitions between things.
Most of the lighting is using point lights placed around the scene and a directional light mimicking moon light.
The spider web and dust particles is done with planes using alpha. I have 3 different spider webs and 3 different dust particles. Scaling these and rotating was really useful and they blended nice with the overall lighting of the scene.
The colors were mainly set with the light sources using a lot of cool colors like blues and greens. This to break up all the warm colors in the assets.
I had a hard time getting the correct lighting and exposure in Unreal. I am quite new to the software so I used Photoshop to change the exposure and added some smoke to get some more edge interest in the image. If I had more than 3 weeks of half time work (4h a day , 15 days) I would like learn how to polish a level to get that running in real time. And learning more about lighting and post effects since that is something I barely scratched the surface on.
- Keeping consistent scale, black out the shapes and light early, lockdown cameras (if you are aiming to sell a specific shot) and then model around that composition to get what you like.
- Have a focal point in mind when construction your shapes in the blockout.
- Make some overprints on your blockout to get a clearer vision of where you are heading.
- Replace all your blockout meshes with finals one at a time to keep motivation up and being able to redo or scrap things that doesn’t work early on.
- Texel Density is still important even if it’s a fast environment, I need to work harder on that next time. Because I feel it can be improved in this one.
I want to thank Esbjörn, Adam, Oscar, Fröken, Nate and Polycount for the feedback!