Ksenia Rezepova walked us through the Autumn Explorer's Enchanted Town Hall project and shared a breakdown of how she created the assets and textures for her stylized environment.
Hi, my name is Ksenia Rezepova, I am a 3D Environment Artist from Moscow. I took up painting at school when I was creating various projects with my friends. Also, I like video games very much and decided to combine these two hobbies with my future profession. Later, I entered the Faculty of Fine Arts at Moscow University where, among many other things, I studied the basics of 3D modeling. At university, I took part in various projects related to the game creation. For example, my graduation project was the creation of locations for a video game based on the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales. Since then, I have continued to develop in this direction.
Autumn Explorer's Enchanted Town Hall
My interest in creativity and the desire to apply my skills to a large project became the reason I started my work. However, this specific idea came to my mind when I was walking around the city in autumn and noticed how cozy the houses looked surrounded by trees with colorful foliage. This idea became the starting point. Then, I found this wonderful concept. Its unique style and special atmosphere amazed me. This is how the final concept of the project, based on the idea of harmony with nature, was born.
I wanted the atmosphere to be as natural and authentic as possible. For this purpose, for example, I was looking through a lot of photos of autumn forests and cities. This helped me better understand what colors and textures to use in my work.
Planning the Initial Composition
When planning the composition of the forest and the building, several factors have to be taken into account. First, it is required to determine the composition center and to position the building in such a way that it can be seen from any point. So, I decided to place it on a hill.
Trees also play an important role in the composition. They help to create shady areas that emphasize the lighter clearing and the building. It was important to build the composition in such a way as to convey the feeling of a real forest that is dense and impenetrable.
The building in the concept was already worked out in detail, so I almost didn't change it, except for some very small details. The main task here was the correct scale and proportions.
Overall, my strategy was to use natural forms and eventually create a harmonious and beautiful composition.
My workflow of 3D modeling starts with analyzing the concept of objects and creating a work plan. For example, in order to understand the amount of work in terms of details and materials, I divided the building into areas, such as wood, tiles, stone, etc.
I used Maya to model most of the objects. I usually start with creating the basic shape of the object and then I add details. Once I made sure the object's shape was the right one, I began working on a high-poly version of them in ZBrush to give a unique look to each one.
Trees were an exception. A tree trunk with all its branches is one solid mesh. It turned out to be much easier and more convenient to implement such a topology in Blender. Then, using ZBrush, I gave the trees plasticity and texture and added a crown.
I used Maya when working with the colors as well. It was necessary to pay attention to the natural plasticity of plants. Each part of the plant is independent, and this fact allowed me to make bouquets of flowers quickly, which turned out to be pretty exciting.
I tried to optimize the modeling process using various plugins, as well as reuse already created objects.
Different textures were made in different ways and different programs. Each of the programs has its own specs, so I wanted to try their unique features and use the best options. Since this is a stylized project, it was important to keep balance and not to fall into realism.
Thus, stone, wood, metal, and plaster textures were made in Substance 3D Painter. It was convenient to create a seamless texture and see how it looks on the model right away.
More complex seamless textures, such as tiles, bricks, and wood planks were first sketched in Maya. Then, the shape was detailed in ZBrush, where texture, some bumpy areas, and cracks were added. After that, they were finalized in Substance 3D Painter where color, dirt, and minor damage were added.
In order to make the details more individual, I used RGB masks. With their help, it was convenient to adjust the parameters of objects, for example, to change the level of dirt or dust, to change the color.
The flower texture was made in Adobe Illustrator – I simply drew it manually.
As well as foliage for trees. There were several types of leaves made in different shapes and sizes.
Since trees are one of the most important components of the project, a shader was created to control a variety of parameters. By using a gradient, it was possible to change the color of the leaves and make them more interesting.
You can also adjust the size of the leaves. This way you can make a tree with a denser crown of leaves.
The rest of the textures were made in Substance 3D Designer: one is tree bark with moss and the second is ground with small stones. Since they consist of two components, it turned out to be easier to make them in that program.
Decals have been added to diversify the appearance of the wall and roof. They were made in Substance 3D Painter.
To prevent the roof from being uniform, I used vertex paint. This made it possible to change the color of the roof from light to darker.
Assembling the Final Scene & Approaching the Composition
When creating the final scene of the autumn forest and house, I wanted the composition to look like all the elements interact with each other and convey the atmosphere of autumn.
The building is the main focus of the composition. The tree crowns fill the space around it, they seem to converge above our heads. It was important to achieve the feeling of the dense autumn forest. The sky in the background is light, but not bright and cloudy, and it additionally makes the building stand out from the general background. The path also visually leads us to the building. This movement is highlighted by a wooden fence. The foreground is visually diluted by a tree and a log. Flowers that grow in the clearing in front of the building create a feeling of organic and living nature.
Some effects have been added to liven up the atmosphere. So the wind is slightly blowing the grass, flowers, and tree crowns, and the leaves are falling slowly to the ground.
With the help of wind strength, different moods can be conveyed. A gentle breeze gives a sense of a quiet and calm day, while a strong wind can create a feeling of anxiety and an approaching storm.
The falling leaves were made using the Cascade particle system.
I also paid attention to the color scheme and lighting so that all elements looked natural and balanced. It was important not to overload the scene and keep it comprehensible.
The Final Lighting & Rendering Setup
The final lighting and rendering setup was done with the help of Unreal Engine 5. It was very important to work thoroughly with light to create a cozy and warm autumn mood and atmosphere. Finding the perfect lighting for the right mood was not an easy task. I used various techniques, such as scaling the light level, adjusting the shadows, and changing the color of the light. I also added some effects like fog to add depth to the space. In post-production, contrast and brightness settings were of great importance, as well as blur and grain effects.
It turned out to be a slightly cloudy, but lovely and warm day at the very beginning of autumn with beautiful multi-colored yellow, red, and green leaves. I tried to create an atmosphere where the viewer could feel like a part of this beautiful autumn nature. All the details, from the building to the falling leaves, served one purpose – to evoke emotions and take the viewer into the world of autumn nature.
One of the main challenges when working on the project was creating the right composition and lighting so that all elements of the project looked natural and harmonious. It took a long time to work with the lighting, and I had to study a lot of information on this aspect.
One of the lessons I learned from this experience is that working on complex projects requires patience, persistence, and time management. It is also important not to be afraid to experiment and use new methods and techniques.
My piece of advice to fellow artists is to be prepared for the fact that working on a complex project can take a lot of time and effort. It is important to be able to analyze, search for new information, and constantly improve your skills.
Creating the Autumn Explorer's Enchanted Town Hall project became a new challenge and opportunity for me to show my creativity. Also, thanks to my friend Maxim for his help and support. I am so glad that I was able to bring my idea to life and create such a beautiful project!
I am very grateful for your attention and interest in my creative project. I hope that the viewers could feel all the beauty and warmth of autumn that I tried to convey through my works. I will continue to try and create new projects that I hope will be no less interesting.
Kseniia Rezepova, 3D Environment Artist
Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie
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