Jacob Claussen tried out photogrammetry approach in his recent scene Swedish Forest and shared his thoughts about it.
Updates in Life
It feels like it been ages since I finished my first scene The Cushing Hotel but it only has gone one year and a half. Time flies, I guess. At the same time, after the last interview, I got the possibility to join Starbreeze Studios as an Environment Artist for Overkill‘s The Walking Dead. While learning a lot about the workflow in a bigger production I kept to my interest in 3D at home. Creating The Abbey Bookshop and joining the Beyond Human Artstation Challenge really gave me some new skills in telling stories and understanding environment art in a broader sense. I’ve also been doing 365 Days of Art where I did a painting every day to learn 2D. Soon, I will finish my second year of that. When it comes to my biggest improvements, I think, I got the understanding of how important fundamentals can be for environment artists. I picked that up during my 2D paintings. Now, I’m already working on my next project and soon will have a new adventure to embark on.
AAA Games Environments
I rarely get any time for games lately, so when there’s a game that really gets me hooked it’s an inspiring feeling. Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of such games. The first two weeks of playing RDR 2 was almost only roaming and diving into the scenery, and for me, that’s one of the most important parts of the games. I get very impressed by how Rockstar sell the world and focus on the detail that you will sometimes have to look closer at in order to catch. What Rockstar is really good at is making everything complement together visually, working with the broader strokes and putting the details that give the environment a really polished feel. After riding around in the forest for two weeks I felt a need to do a forest scene myself.
In a new scene, my aim is always to learn a new workflow. In this project, it was to find a nice way to do foliage, see how I can use photogrammetry and make it work with my style. For photogrammetry, my aim was to do a few assets in that way and see if my old workflow could merge nicely with it. Tree trunks and roots that are close to the camera plus half of the rocks were made with photogrammetry.
A Few Words about Photogrammetry
When I joined Starbreeze Studios, I was really impressed by what Daniel Lindblom had done with the vegetation in the game and when I saw how he and Sébastien Van Elverdinghe (now at Quixel) did with photogrammetry I knew I wanted to pick that up. Daniel was happy to bring me along on a walk and showing me how good camera settings influence photogrammetry. Now I can say that learning aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are quite important to get balanced photos for photogrammetry.
I also got some of the tips for photogrammetry from one of the 80.lv articles by Vlad Kuzmin where he shows how to use the Photoshop script CameraRAW to get the right balance. That whole article was a big help for me in understanding how to make a good scan. Also, something to remember is aiming for an overcast day where everything has a dry surface so you don’t get any strong shadows, highlights or reflections.
When it comes to making low polys, I simply use ZBrush‘s Decimeter master for quick results. Usually, it works really good if you don’t have to use the meshes for animation or get clean edge loops due to another reason. After that, I take the low polys into Maya and clean up and get rid of bad pinching. It’s important to be smart about time costs. If making a low poly takes me too much time, I find it worth putting that time into other areas.
Combining Photogrammetry with Personal Style
My style tends to have rather a stylized feeling and I think the reason is in colors. I like to have a saturation stronger that it would be in real life. At the same time, I keep the shapes kind of realistic so photogrammetry works well with that and I only need to work on the albedo texture to get the result closer to my style. I used ZBrush polypaint for the first texture pass and then I did the final version of it in Photoshop using the masks from bakes and textures.
Hand sculpture in ZBrush -> Polypaint texture pass -> Photoshop with layer masks for the final texture pass:
Is Photogrammetry Suitable for Game Environment Production?
I think there are cases when photogrammetry can really speed up the environment production for games, but you really need to be smart in planning to get the things you need.
Also, you are very dependent on the weather. I wanted to do this scene over three weekends and I almost did not succeed because of the bad weather during the first two weekends. However, it was a good exercise to find a way to do other stuff while waiting for good weather.