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Murilo Pena gave a little talk about his futuristic 3D scene Taxi Driver with The Fifth Element vibes made in UE4.
Hi, my name is Murilo Pena and I’m a freelance 3D game artist from Brazil. I joined the gaming industry when I started attending the digital game’s college here in Brazil. In six months I started working as a texture and concept artist in an independent gaming company and then migrated to merchandising games. I worked in this area at companies like Thrust Interactive, but all those jobs involved only 2D. Entering a traditional Art college and studying 3D allowed me to start working in 3D at an indie company. In the future, I hope to have more opportunities with my portfolio.
Taxi Driver: Reference
The scene started with a desire to make a piece in 3D for my portfolio. I already had a 3D robot turtle character and wanted to explore the construction of an entire landscape from beginning to end: concept, modeling, texture, material, and all related aspects. I know that portfolio experts always recommend being an expert in just one area like materials, modeling, etc, but I wanted to build my world, and this desire wouldn’t go away.
I always liked sci-fi and cyberpunk like many nowadays, and my living heroes of art are Ian McQue and Marek Denko. These two artists have fascinated me for a long time, each in his own way: Ian McQue is a genius who knows all about composition and shapes and Marek Denko is a true legend who always takes a 3D scene to another level. So the scene in one way or another was inspired by these two guys. The third element was my passion for the 70’s aesthetics, (shapes, colors, graffiti, the atmosphere in general). Below are some pictures I used for reference:
The Start of the Scene
In the beginning, before I started to conceptualize the scene, I knew that I wanted to recreate a day-to-day scene with someone doing something banal in a city. I always imagined an open city with no strategies to help reduce the work, a real open scene. My only thought was to make a concept that I find cool, apply no limits and also avoid creating a night scene with big neon billboards. I wanted a daylight scene – an image that perhaps is not the most visually shocking, but different. It was a risk, of course, but I was willing to take a risk trying to create something different.
My first idea was to create a tiny city made of trash, like everything made with milk cartons. Below is the concept that explains the idea better:
Later I left this idea and started the composition with Photobash and block out and did several tests until I found a line to move on. Then I started to conceptualize the corner that you see on the left side – that’s where it all started, it’s the heart of the image. After it, the rest of the world was made to continue the story to this part of the city.
After the block out phase, I began to model the corner and blocking out the background until I defined the final spot of the scene. I could not model the main part because there was nothing defined in relation to what the character would be doing and therefore it could be a waste of time. That’s why I started working on the background while deciding what to do in the front. The background was never a problem for me: everything is done in 3D, but 98% is created with very simple shapes with a bit of fog and a few lights.
For the facades, I used a combination of modular buildings, with 3 whole buildings that I built to break the repetition. More importantly, they were certainly modular as well and without them, the work would be much more costly. The billboards also helped a lot to hide the repetition.
The car was an essential part of the project. My first view was a car with much more futuristic lines, but over time I noticed that in the big cities the design of the taxis takes some time to update. NY is a good example: there are still taxis designed 15 years ago. Going from that point, I started to simplify shapes and I decided that the taxi would not have many cool futuristic lines but instead be a tangible taxi relevant to a reality of the world I was creating. I began working with a simple sketch and I did a lot of concept for the car. I think the final work is a good mix of everything. In some places, you will find aggressive lines, but in general, the shapes are rounded and the car looks functional and reminds of something designed by Caterpillar.
The modeling did not take much time, the whole car was modeled in the Maya. With the concept ready I drew the blueprints from the angles I needed, then I modeled the shape of the side, front and finally, the rear then joined everything. The final result was just what I wanted and even better than the concept which was a bit too futuristic for the scene. The texture was 2 maps of 2048×2048, one for the whole body and one for the rest. The body of the model has all the details because I knew that 2048 was a good resolution for all decals. As for the car shader, I started with something very sophisticated in UE4, but it reflected a lot and created a way new look, so I ended up with a standard shader in Substance Painter which worked very well in UE4. The cubemap resolution is 512×512, nothing expensive.
The lighting is pretty basic actually. I tested some options like the “light propagation volumes” but ended up getting dynamic lights. After setting the lighting I had a color problem: the direct light color unwantedly interfered in some textures, so I had to adjust the textures to save the 70’s color tones that I went for. With the Post Process Volume, you have enough freedom to realize your goal in the relation of light, it is quite sufficient if you understand Light and color. The SkyLight gives a very realistic backlight in my opinion, the shadows do not get so dark and with the Post Process Volume you can brighten them even more and add colors which will improve the illusion of refraction. The backlight of the car is a spotlight that serves as a simulation of light refraction on the metal plates and the sidewalk on the left. Generate Mesh Distance Fildes is also enabled which enhances the shadows in many ways.
It would be great to animate the scene, but I have no certain plans for it because when you finish a project you are already 50% in the next one. I think I’ll leave this project like this so I can dedicate all my free time to the next one. But it would be definitely awesome to see more life in the city!
The biggest challenge was the scale of the whole project, I think. It meant a lot of work for one guy, many fronts to think about, and many fragments to unify in one thing, I had never done a scene of this scale, and it was a great experience of starting and finishing something large alone, a chance to learn the whole process. Also, completing all of the parts of the scene without getting lost in the middle of the process is a big challenge. When you’re doing one thing, it is much easier. Staying organized and following a good workflow was the key to overcoming these difficulties.
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