Tony Kelly has shared the working process behind the Corner in Japan project, spoke about creating rain and puddles, and explained how Vertex School's mentors helped him to make the environment.
My name is Tony Kelly, originally born in Kentucky, now residing in Indiana. I started off gaining interest in 3D like most of us do from my favorite video games. I didn't have access to a solid enough computer back then to do any 3D modeling, so I would often just draw my favorite characters. Barret and Red XIII from Final Fantasy often being a favorite subject.
I originally went to school for Graphic Design, where I learned UX/UI design. All of my clients back then wanted their designs to "do something", so I then got into web development, which led to mobile app development for startups and eventually me becoming a senior developer for a large Financial technologies company and then a consultant for one of the "Big 4" financial firms.
Before creating the Corner In Japan scene, I have not contributed to any Unreal Engine-powered projects other than the starter projects we are given in Term 1 when joining Vertex School.
I decided to join Vertex when my company began looking into the value game engines could possibly provide clients. As this is a group of software developers, I noticed that when it came to the development side of things, this team was fearless. But when it came to meshes and textures and the art side, there was obvious hesitation. I, on the other hand, previously a designer who just had all creativity sucked out of my soul by the financial sector, was dying for a reason to be creative.
So I decided to learn all I could about meshes and textures to become the Technical Artist for my company while gaining valuable skills for myself. What sold me on Vertex was after looking up Ryan, I saw that he had done work as a developer for ZBrush, so I thought I may be able to catch a conversation or two that would also improve my dev skills when it comes to computer graphics. The main reason was the interview with his staff. Before they even accepted my money, they wanted to make sure I knew what to expect and was in it for the right reasons. It wasn't just "Give me your money. Now watch these videos if you want."
The Corner in Japan Project
I got started with the Corner in Japan project just by looking for a capstone project to do. The style I would like to try to achieve is the ultra-realistic style with a little bit of fantasy aspect thrown in. With this being my first scene, I decided to just focus on realistic part scenes, so I went for a modern city, something I could find a lot of references for.
In doing Google searches for cities I ran across this photo taken by Davide Sasso. I loved the realistic with the almost cyberpunk colors he was able to capture so I decided to go for that look as well. The photo was taken shortly after the rain, so I decided to set my scene during that rain.
Planning the Composition
The planning of the composition was pretty much done for me through the reference so I decided to begin the block out with the streets and sidewalks as simple planes and flat cubes then focused on the angle of the main building and set up the camera to capture that angle. From there it was simply adding cylinders for the street poles and blocks for the rest of the street props and signs.
The Modeling Workflow
All of my building assets are simply planes. I set the origin to the bottom right corner so they would snap together nicely. Instead of creating whole buildings, I went with sections because I knew a majority of the buildings were not going to be seen. And if I decided to show them, I could always easily snap together and build what I needed to. In this scene, the only ready-made asset I used was the foliage. I also use decals from Quixel Bridge to represent the ventilation in the walls. Everything else was created by me.
One of the challenges I had was in creating the texture for the truncated domes (sidewalk bumps) I ran into trouble bouncing from Substance 3D Designer to Unreal Engine trying to get them sized correctly. Although they are there in the sidewalk model, I covered them up with a decal because I was unhappy with how they looked.
My textures were mainly created in Substance 3D Designer. No reason in particular other than that I wanted to learn the software. I would then take that texture in UE and add the rain/wetness nodes I created to that texture to give it a wet look of being wet in the rain. I used vertex painting to create the puddles in the road and blended that with ripple animations for the falling rain. I used a Temporal Offset Mask to stagger the start of the animations so they don’t start all at the same time.
Using world position, I created rain streaks that would run down the sides of objects and windows only. I created puddles to sit on top of objects. I also created a panning/scrolling water texture to represent the wind blowing the top of the water. Simple multiplying was used to show the wetness of an object as they get darker when wet. I did not pack the texture maps in this project, as I did not quite understand how to pack and unpack as well as I do now.
The Composition of the scene again was done for me based on the stunning photo I was using as a reference, I simply did what I could to reproduce as close as possible to what I was seeing.
Setting Up Lighting
I again followed closely with the lighting in the photo but decided to tone the colors down a bit to give a more realistic look using the natural light sources in the reference like light poles and glowing signs as much as possible. I also added fog to give that rainy cloudy feeling.
The Niagara system is fairly simple, I created one large fountain to represent the scene's main rain and then smaller fountains to represent the drips falling from the canopy or roof overhang. The sprites were modified to look more like falling rain and another sprite was created to flash at the end of the drop lifecycle for the drop splashes.
The post-production volume was mainly used to give the blue tint to the moonlight. A lot of the post-production effects are simple color filters I added in Premiere Pro when putting the video together.
My Vertex mentor Ben Merrick helped in a major way by first being my guide through Unreal Engine. As someone who has barely touched the game engine, he was a major help. He then suggested I establish a camera first, a crucial step I never would have thought about as I would have worked strictly from the viewport building, things unnecessary. Then seeing how I was catching on and taking a liking to materials, he guided me on using World Position and Normal to properly place my materials. He helped me with the tiling issues I was having and the lighting setup. Like most, I wanted to use all the lights everywhere without really understanding why or if they were even needed. My mentor Ben walked me through each of the lights and when to use them, helped me understand the Lumen system, and showed me how to set up vertex painting for the puddles. Anything I needed, Ben had an answer for which was amazing.
My Vertex experience in general has been amazing. The mentors really want you to succeed and do the most to make sure that happens. They do a good job with being flexible. For instance, most who join Vertex are students looking to get into the industry, they make sure to stay on top of those students teaching skills such as being on time with your work, working in groups, etc., but for those like me who already have a career but am just looking to improve skills, I don’t have to stress over the collage type atmosphere. They check in regularly with me to make sure I'm getting everything I need out of the course, review my work, let me know what I can do better, and allow me to learn kind of at my own pace (within reason of the semester), which is nice. They are very knowledgeable in the industry and most instructors actually work on major projects like TV shows that they sometimes get to talk about. I would recommend Vertex to anyone who is serious about learning or entering the industry. Amazing friendly staff who really care and have great connections in the industry, as a lot of your fellow classmates will get jobs with Vertex's help.