Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Our frequent guest and contributor Tobias Koepp has recently finished a special scene ‘Kraken Attack‘ for Sketchfab. In this project, the environment artist tried to experiment with PBR-materials in a stylized environment. In this post, he described his approach to modeling of the assets, the creation of materials and lighting.
I was contacted by Sketchfab to join their “Artist in Residence” programme. It features one artist for about a months time who documents his or her workflow and shares it with the community. The only requirements they gave me was to implement the Sketchfab viewer into my workflow (sharing work in progress, finished models and finished scene) and to create an entire environment that will be interesting to look at using their new VR features. The rest was entirely up to me.
For me personally, I wanted to showcase a stylized approach to pbysically based rendering (PBR). With the deadline of 1 month I decided to create a diorama piece, because these are quite manageable to do and still tell a little story. I’m very happy that I could pick the topic of the scene myself, because I always wanted to create a pirate environment but never had the time to do it and now I could combine it with the job. I was very inspired by “Sea of Thieves” (the upcoming Rare game) and really fell in love with the art style the first time I saw the announce trailer. 2) The whole scene developed while I was working on it. I had a rough idea in my head what I wanted to do but just started right out of the gate. I always iterate a lot on my work, when I have the freedom to do so. This time I knew I would be interacting with the community and they would give feedback and suggestions/ideas, so I also wanted to hear what they think and find solutions together.
I knew from the start that I wanted to have a kraken attack the scene and kept that in mind during my time working on that scene. I also went from a completely shut off indoor environment to a more open diorama like environment which is a lot more interesting to look at in a 3D viewer for those who have no access to a VR headset.
From there I kept on iterating on the shape of the room and the assets that I wanted to place but I had more freedom on implementing the tentacles at a later point.
To build the models I usually use Maya for the low poly and Zbrush to add the detail. Most of my non organic models only need some extra surface details which can be baked down onto the textures. For anything organic, like the tentacles in this case I usually start in Zbrush.
For the tentacles I used my finished scene as a guide to place them correctly and create a nice composition and added detail later.
Most of the environment is quite modular and I broke it down into some wooden beams and a tiling texture for the wall to save on time and performance.
For this scene I created 2 or 3 hero assets: The chest, the cannon and the tentacles. They have to visually fit together to create a story. The Kraken wants its treasure back and the cannons try to defend it. It’s quite simple but that’s all a scene needs sometimes. To make sure the chest visually belongs to a Kraken I had to come up with an original design.
So I created quite a massive chest (almost as big as a human) so that there would be no doubt that whoever it belongs to is a little larger. To be absolutely convincing I designed the key lock to look like the face of a Kraken and the hinges and feet of the chest to look like tentacles. This was probably the most fun asset to make.
The cannon was a little more straight forward. I looked at a lot of reference and tried to match the style and materials of the chest but keep it more human sized.
This time I wanted to go fully PBR and making use of all the textures that come with it including metalness and roughness. I have worked with PBR before but haven’t quite made the transition yet for my personal work. For this project I used the smart Materials from 3d Coat with additional hand painting from my side to achieve the stylized look I was going for. I still painted some of the light information into my textures to get them stand out a little more and add some more personality to them.
I always liked a more cartoony or stylized look. For work this isn’t always possible so whenever an opportunity like this comes up I am trying to get a little better and learn something new with this kind of style to do be able to do this full time one day. I always look at games and art styles I like and try to find out as much of the workflow as I can to add it to my own skills. For this environment in particular I really was inspired by the upcoming “Sea of Thieves” and I have studied their art style and tried to come close but I also had a look at a lot of other artist’s work. It’s always good to mix it up a little I think. It keeps it interesting.
What I generally do is use large shapes, leave out unnecessary detail and have a strong and exaggerated silhouette.
Skyboxes and Lighting
I didn’t have to worry about skyboxes in this case, because the Sketchfab and Marmoset viewers both have skyboxes to choose from and light setups that can be tweaked. For the Sketchfab scene I used 3 directional lights and the HDRI sky.