Niclas Nettelbladt did a little breakdown of his soothing environment Field with Sheep made with UE4, ZBrush and Maya.
My name is Niclas Nettelbladt and I am a 3D artist living in Stockholm, Sweden. I graduated from the game art school Future Games a year ago and has since worked at Zoink Games on the game Flipping Death before moving back to Stockholm looking for new opportunities.
I started out going to traditional art schools, where I came into contact with clay and sculpting, which I used to make art tests to get into my first game art school.
For me, one of the most important parts of making an environment is to look at the whole environment. It is easy to focus on the props making them very detailed, but when you put them together they don’t fit with each other. I start with doing a blockout from roughly where I want the final screenshot to be and gradually replace the blockouts with props.
In a scene like this, with quite a lot of depth, it is also important to use LODs in order not to make it too heavy to run in the end.
The terrain is made with Unreal Engine‘s landscape tool. It is a good way to get large areas of terrain done. You start with a plane and you paint hills and valleys. This makes it easier to iterate and get the result you want in the end than making a mesh terrain in your 3D software for example. The only mesh I use in my terrain is the road, and the reason for that was to get straight UVs to make the texture follow the bend nicely.
To make a few assets that would work in many places I tried to make them look good from any direction when sculpting. I have one tree, two rocks and two types of grass meshes in this scene. In Unreal Engine, I created material instances for the tree, which let me change the color of the trunk. The leaves have three different material instances on them with different color variations. For both the tree trunks and the rocks I vertex painted on a moss material, which further helped the illusion of difference in the objects.
I started by sculpting the tree in ZBrush. I made a ZRemesher to get the first iteration to put in the scene and figure out how to place them. I then made a new low poly for the trunk and bottom branches that needed extra detailing and merged them with the ZRemeshed low poly of the upper branches. This saved me a lot of time. I UV mapped the tree in three steps, with lower details higher up in the trees, to allow more detail on the visible part of the trunk and lower branches. Lastly, I made a copy and removed edges to create a mesh for LOD. In Unreal I blended the normal map from the sculpt with a bark material and added the moss material for vertex painting.
The grass is quite straightforward. I created a straw of grass in Maya and put a bunch of them together to make a patch of grass that I’d use in Unreal’s foliage tool. I created a patch of longer grass as well and LODs for both of them. In Unreal I made a material instance with a darker grass to get some variations. Later, I felt there still was not enough variation in the foreground so I made some flowers and a piece of longer grass.
The way I approached lighting in this scene was very much experimenting. There have been many different settings and moods throughout the project, and it was just at the end when I felt I finally found the lighting I wanted.
What I ended up with for the screenshot was a directional light with a hint of yellow for sunlight and a dim blue skylight to brighten up the shadows a bit. I also added a few point lights in the foreground to bring out a few details and in the woods to dispel some of the darkness.
I needed some details to make the picture more interesting, and even though the flowers already were a kind of detail to draw the gaze, I felt I needed more things to see. I added the butterflies, which are two planes for the wings and two crossing planes for the body. I wanted them to work on closer inspection, plus this way it would be easy to make the wings flap if I wanted to. The birds were the absolute last thing I added to the scene. They are simple planes, but if this was a moving scene I would maybe make them as flipbook VFX instead.
The project took about ten weeks from start to finish, but that included a two week holiday. So about 2 months of work in total. There was a lot of going backward and forward to find the right lighting and positions for everything. Although I was fairly sure I would be adding sheep to the field, I made a few paintovers of different things and consulted friends to see what they thought, and they made some paintovers as well.