Lukas Kays: Modular Space Corridor
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Lukas Kays: Modular Space Corridor
24 June, 2016
Interview

Aspiring 3d artist Lukas Kays talked about the production of his simple and pretty environment. In this article he shows how a couple of textures can help you build some amazing environments.

Introduction

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My name is Lukas Kays, I’m 22 years old 3D Environment Artist from Germany. I studied Game Art & Interactive Animation at SAE Institute Cologne and finished my Bachelor of Arts in 2015. I’ve worked on a unreleased racing game for Looterkings GmbH in Cologne for a few months. Since then I’ve mostly worked on my portfolio while simultaneously working as a student supervisor at SAE Institute.

Prior to my studies I’ve never worked in 3D or anything similar but as an avid gamer it quickly became a dream of mine to develop those games I enjoy playing. I aspire to one-day work at Naughty Dog or a similar AAA studio as games like Uncharted 2 or Mass Effect were probably my main inspiration that drove me to get into game and especially environment art.

Space Corridor

I really wanted to do a Sci-fi scene as my portfolio didn’t include one so far. And there are some gorgeous looking Sci-fi games like Star Citizen in development which inspired me to do so.

Originally I didn’t want to do a corridor as they are created really often so I decided to go for more of a command center project. The project soon became larger and more complex so for the sake of my portfolio I decided to take a step back and focus on a smaller part of the whole scene. This way I tried to get more of a feeling how the scene should look and had a small secluded part which I could directly upload on my portfolio.

As this is only my second environment the goal of this scene was mostly to improve the way I tackle larger environments, working with modular assets, planning the layout etc.

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Modular Elements

All of the modular elements of the level are modeled in 3ds Max. At the moment there are quite a few ways to add a lot of detail to your models without a highpoly and baking but to improve my baking process I’ve decided to create my normal maps baking highpolys.

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I always start modeling by creating a midpoly version of the module with most of the details I want to bake into the lowpoly later on. Then I create a copy of it to use as a highpoly and bake those details onto the UV-mapped midpoly version. The additional edges and faces really help to create smoother and cleaner normal maps during the baking process. After finishing the bakes I duplicate the midpoly again and optimize it by reducing the vertexcount as much as possible.

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Materials

My goal was to create a clean look for the environment as I’ve mostly done more dirty and worn down assets until then. The tricky part was to get a clean look but still enough detail and wear and tear so that it does not look too sterile. Especially the floor was a tough challenge. I’ve added a large amount of light scratches and some dirt to make it still look clean while obviously being used.

Most of these details were added into the Roughness Map to achieve the used effects without having a really dirty and worn out corridor.

The materials were build in Substance Painter. I could’ve used Substance Designer as well to craft the materials I needed in Painter but I had the feeling that the base materials were enough.

To get the final look I’ve created a more advanced Smart Material by combining several base materials, generators and masks to reuse on every module. After I had the base material I only needed to adjust the masking of each module and maybe tweak some of the generators or add some new ones to change up the wear & tear. Substance Painter and also Designer are great tools for a quick workflow and make it really easy to get a consistent look across the whole scene.

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The materials in your scene also have a bunch of various graphical elements in them, including text, nice pieces of metal conjunctions and so on. Could you talk a little more about these elements? How did you add all that detail into the texture?

To break up the repetitiveness of the modular environment I’ve used Photoshop to create a variety of decals. Unreal Material Instancing allows me to quickly customize these Decals which allowed me to reuse a decal several times with different colors. Using Substance Painter made it possible for me to add a lot of detail into the texture, mostly playing around with the Roughness and Normal Map. With the help of Painters own generators and Jonas Ronnegards awesome hard surface alphas I could quickly add those details without baking them in 3ds Max.

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Lighting

I always start off lighting my scene without a single light. In my opinion it’s easier to start with kind of a blank canvas. For this scene I created a Blueprint for each segment of the corridor as they all have the same lamps and emissive. This saved me quite some time as I only needed to work on one Blueprint to change the lighting of the whole corridor. To start of the lighting I added a spot light in the middle of each segment which were used to light up the whole scene. Then I put point light on the sides to simulate the artificial lights coming from the pipes etc. The Emissive Map supported this effect in the Static Lighting. All the lights started off with a really high intensity. After each light bake I’ve continiously lowered the intensity and radius until I’ve got the desired result.

To light even the smaller corners of the scene I’ve used the Lightmass Settings to increase the light bounces as the light would bounce a lot on these smooth and quite reflective materials.

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Palette

The basic blue and white color palette of the scene is inspired by the Sci-fi movie “Moon” as the movie has a very clean design, something I wanted to achieve with my scene. To break up the repetition I wanted to add some different colored highlights. I felt that the bright and warm orange would work well with the colder white and blue. I refrained from adding even more colors as I had the feeling that it would take away from the scene as it is and make it more unpleasing for the viewer.

Most importantly could you talk about the way you are re-using the assets in the production? how do you manage to cut the production time and use the same textures in various ways in the environment?

The modular walls, floors and roofs could possibly be reused in further parts of the scene although they are limited to the use in smaller corridors rather than wide and open spaces. With the Substance Tools it is really easy to cut some production time as I can use a base material for every new asset and only have to change a few things to individualize it for each. I would really recommend environment artists to pick up the Substance Tool as it creates amazing results while saving a lot of time in the development process. To break up some more of the repetition of the scene I will have to add a lot of props later in development.

The next step will be to continue building all the different wall, floor and roof modules to fill the whole scene before adding all the props which will make the command center feel alive. It is quite an ambitious project but I already had fun with the corridor and will continue chipping away on this project.

Lukas Kays, 3D Environment Artist / Prop Artist

INTERESTING LINKS

SIMPLE AND RICH LANDSCAPE BUILDING IN UE4

MOODY SCI-FI ENVIRONMENT CREATION

BE VISIBLE: HOW TO GET A JOB IN GAME INDUSTRY?

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