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Sergey Tabakov did a little talk about his recent project, where he builds large open levels in Unreal Engine.v
It all began when I was in the 5th grade and went to an art school (it took me 6 years to finish it).
Then I wanted to work as a designer and went on a course in Photoshop, where they suggested me to learn such a program as 3ds Max. After the training I began working to improve my skills, at school we had extracurricular activities, where we would meet students who was already working at companies. They would show us their works and tell what they did and how worked, eventuall, I was invited to teach a course on ZBrush but we couldn’t get enough people. Then I tried to get employed to many Moscow companies but I lacked experience. A friend suggested me to go and study at their school, Screamshool, where they had just created a coursein-gamee graphics. I studied a year there and got a job at Playflock company. From there on everything went smoothly, and I ended up working as a head of the department of 3D graphics at VNIIAES company. I always wanted to work at world-class companies and with well-known artists. I took a look at my works and realized that they were not beautifully finalized the way foreign companies liked them to be, and I only had grey renders! So, I styled them, looking at the example of my oversees colleagues and uploaded to ArtStation.
The first of the large companies to hire me was Leatherneck Simulations, a developer of aircraft simulators.
Since I mostly worked in Unreal Engine and showed my skills on forums, I was invited to Epic Games to test their new game engine, UE4.
When my experience had reached the level of my colleagues from other countries, I was hired by Bluehole, where I’ve been working as a Props Artist since May, 2017 on PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
It was an experiment of sorts, to design the large scene I mostly focused on painting the landscape in a way, which would take as little time and effort as possible and give me a realistic result in the end.
My original idea was to create a plain surrounded by mountains, I was inspired by Swiss landscapes. And I wanted it to be large enough. I began with setting up the size, for this map I chose 10 km2. I drafted an outline for the future landscape right in WM. Layout Generator is a good tool for it, you can use it to quickly paint future layers and define where to place a bank, mountains, rivers, etc.
Then, with the help of layers, I could use various tools to create the heights I needed.
Next, I applied different erosion effects to the resulting landscape, also with the use of various layers as masks in Layout Generator to separate the levels of landscape. And in the end, I applied Blur and Snow, combined, they work well to make the landscape smoother. If you don’t use smoothing, as a result, in UE4 you will see steps on the heels, like cubes in Minecraft, and strange angular humps on plains. That’s why I always use high intensity smoothing.
Next, to working with textures. They can be applied right in UE4, but it will take much time, that’s why I paint all textures from the start, in WM, generating them from Erosion masks. You need it to see the future result, and once the result suits you, you can proceed with creating masks of layers. Basic Coverage macros works well here. This macros can be used to create 4 different layers of masks from one channel.
In UE4 there are tools to generate grass, rocks and other elements for a landscape out of materials. In other words, when you apply a material to the landscape, grass and stones will be generated, but if you use a different material with another configuration, with no grass, only stones will be generated. If you need to fill large spaces, it makes development much easier, especially if materials on the landscape are arranged through masks. In certain cases, this method doesn’t work, and houses, roads, fences and other rare props must be placed on the map manually, because in this case these objects need to be put into the right places. But for roads, fences and so on there is a convenient spline system in UE4, which allows you to simply draw a line where you want the road to be, and the engine will generate it.
There is a Foliage tool in UE4. It lets you arrange any objects on the map very quickly and conveniently, in a short period of time. It has all required parameters to set up the placed objects and arrange large numbers of different meshes on the map in a short time span.
In my work, most objects were arranged using this function of the engine. The vegetation took a lot of time to be designed and was a pleasure to work on. The grass on the ground was generated by the engine itself, according to landscape materials.
UE4 is very versatile in terms of working with lightning. And you can get the result you need rather quickly. Lightning in UE4 can be static and movable, static lighting can give astonishing results if the Light Map UV are properly made. However, it takes a lot of computation power to bake static light, but the result will be more optimized compared to movable light. Yet static light causes limitations when you create a dynamic open world with changing day and night. That’s why in open locations with alternation of day and night, or indoors where light may change its intensity, movable light is used. With this source of light, it is harder to get a good result but standard visual effects let you create very beautiful lighting.
In my work I used the “Ultra Dynamic Sky” preset. It creates very beautiful lighting, especially in morning and evening conditions.
Such projects surely require a lot of time, especially if high quality is required. The most time-consuming process is detailed elaboration of the whole game world. It could be done quickly, through generation alone, but then the world will be empty and people, who spend their time there, will soon get bored. For this reason, many elements require manual building to create a unique and dynamic world with locations different from each other.