Lessons in Environment Art Production
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Lessons in Environment Art Production
12 June, 2018
Environment Art
Environment Design
Interview

Dulce Isis Segarra presented her beautiful environment scenes made during Andres Rodriguez‘s course Intro to Environment Art.

You can check out the Intro to Environment Art over at CGMA.

Introduction

Hello everyone! My name is Dulce Isis Segarra and I am a Character Artist currently working at Traveller’s Tales in Knutsford, UK. I come from Elche (Spain) and there I started my studies in game development, more precisely, Multimedia Engineering Degree, University of Alicante.

I have always wanted to be a 3D artist and the degree I was studying was focused on the programming and project management side of video games. Apart from this degree, I decided to take a lot of courses about 3D Modeling and Drawing. Once I graduated I went to Madrid (Spain) to study a Videogames Concept and Graphics Master where I learned about anatomy in a traditional way and also about digital sculpting and drawing.

After completing the Master I was still lacking a lot of knowledge about the technical part of the game art, like UVs, retopology, materials, PBR, and that’s when I decided to enroll in a few CGMA courses, the first one was “Intro to Environment art” taught by Andres Rodriguez. There I learned a lot about materials and other techniques about environment art and created my project, Cambodian Temple. I also took UE4 Modular Environments course by Clinton Crumpler, where I could learn a more technical part of materials, lightning, and UE4. After this course, I was hired as a Junior Character Artist at Traveller’s Tales and I currently have one shipped game, LEGO Marvel Superheroes 2.  Even though I am focused on the Character art and currently working as a Character Artist, I have been always interested in props and environments as I think it is always good to know about other disciplines. 

References

The main theme of this project was nature and ruins. With this theme, I started researching about different cultures and trying to find which one I would find interesting to do. After looking for lots of places and references I found that the Cambodian ruins and nature were the most interesting to me. Once I decided what I was going to do, I kept searching for more references, looking for the regular types of plants and trees in Cambodian temples as well as interesting sculptures and patterns. My main goal in this project was to create something small to be able to finish it and learn as much as I could from start to finish, so that is why when sketching my environment I tried to keep it simple, but interesting in the main assets.

First Steps

With gathered references, I started drawing a few thumbnails to explore different possibilities. From the first and second thumbnail, I created a more detailed sketch that I would use along with my references to start building the environment. The assets I really wanted to get into were the top part of the arc and the broken head, as these ones were the most detailed and interesting parts of the scene.

The scene was started with creating all the basic shapes in Maya to have an idea of how it was going to look like. This basic setup also helps to see if the composition is working and know how many assets and how much variation is needed.

I started building the brick material for the wall in Substance Designer as for this asset sculpting wasn’t needed. 

Once I had the base material for the wall, looking at all the references I started tweaking it. Scaling the bricks, adding more damage and variation to the color and stains to make it more interesting.

To add the moss I first created a separate material. For this material, I used references, Substance Designer nodes (playing with them until I found something I liked) and a lot of help from the instructor. After the brick and moss materials were done, I combined them using masks to add to the top and the bottom of the wall and also to the gaps between the bricks.

Asset Creation

For each asset, I first modeled a basic shape in Maya, then sculpted all the fine detail in ZBrush, like damage, wear and also patterns for the columns and the head. Once I had all these assets I took each one of them and started to break them in Maya to create a set of assets and have more variety to fill the scene, without having to create new assets. I think this trick is one of the most useful things I learned.

For the textures, I used the base material made for the brick wall. I took both materials into Substance Painter and started playing with all the smart masks it provides to create the final textures for columns, extra bricks, arc and other assets.

Main Pieces

To create the broken head and the archway I followed a similar workflow applied to the columns creation. For these assets, I spent much more time sculpting and studying my references. I first took the meshes I used to make the initial blocking of the scene into ZBrush, and then for the details, I created a lot of stamps to project in the models. For this stamps, I used the references to draw a few patterns in Photoshop and also sculpted other patterns and details in ZBrush using the “Grab Doc” and “Make Alpha” option.

For the columns, I used the same wall, moss and a broken stone material, all of them done in Substance Designer. I took them into Substance Painter and added a few extra layers using smart masks to add additional edge damage and color variation, a few leak marks, and scratches.

Vegetation

For the vegetation, I gathered a lot of references as well.

The workflow for the vegetation is a bit different from the other assets. I will use vines as an example.

I first sculpted a leaf in Zbrush. I took this leaf into Maya and there along with a few modeled branches I created a few variations of the vines by duplicating the branches and the leaves and changing sizes and orientation. I also created a few groups of leaves to create an Id Map that you can use as a color mask to add variation to the color of the leaves.

Once I had all the variations I needed, I placed them in a way they would fit in a plane in order to bake them on it, get all the maps for importing to Substance Designer and create the final roughness and albedo maps.

With all the textures done, I went back to Maya and created different cards from the main plain. With these cards, a lot of different combinations were made. This is a really good way of creating vegetation as with only a few cards we can create a lot of variations. The same method was used for the grass, palms and the tree branches.

To create the tree trunk, I modeled it in Maya and then created a Bark Tree material in Substance Designer. Tree sculpting wasn’t needed.

Marmoset Setup

For the environment lightning and final setup, I used Marmoset Toolbag 3 and Maya. I first finished adding all the assets in Maya and the imported this in Marmoset. For all my materials I used the roughness, height, albedo, normal and AO textures I created in Substance Painter and Designer and tweaked a few values inside Marmoset to change those things I wasn’t happy with. To create the lights for the scene I used Sky Light with a background with similar colors to my environment. To make the scene interesting I added a directional string light hitting from the left side and a little bit from the back to get strong shadows.

Finally, I added post effects like bloom and grain and also tweaked the saturation of the scene to make it look more colorful.

This environment could be taken to Unreal or Unity as the assets and materials are ready to be used in-game, but the setup of the materials, as well as the lightning, would take a little bit more time to prepare and polish.

Challenges

I think everything in this scene was a challenge as it was my first environment. But the most challenging part of it was the vegetation. When creating vegetation, cards are used to create every leaf and plant, and if you are not careful it can look really rigid and plane. To solve this, when creating the base cards, you have to create at least a few different variations, deform and bend the cards to make them look natural. And look through a lot of references!

Conclusion

Before this course, I had no idea of how to start an environment, and this course made it easy. It provided a lot of resources, and the feedback from the instructor was always great and helpful as well as the Q&A sessions. Apart from learning a lot about material creation, I think what I will take from this experience is to try and reuse every asset and material I can and when that’s not possible anymore, then create new ones. This way you save a lot of time and the scene looks consistent.

When I have a chance I will definitely take more CGMA courses and continue improving and evolving as an artist!

You can check out the Intro to Environment Art over at CGMA.

Dulce Isis Segarra, Character Artist at Traveller’s Tales

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