A 3D Environment Artist Jefferson Bacquey Habrylo has shared a breakdown of the Hogwarts Library Personal Interpretation project, speculated on the challenges of creating large-scale scenes, and shared some environment art tips for beginners.
My name is Jefferson Bacquey Habrylo. I studied in a school called Epiic, which was bought by Brassart’s School and became Brassart Montpellier. I have been working in the video game industry for 3 years; Riders Republic, Anno1800, and Assassin's Creed are among the projects I took part in. I worked in 4 Ubisoft studios: in Paris, Annecy, Mainz, and Dusseldorf.
This project was very important to me, with many expectations for my career and my future, and one of those expectations was to be interviewed by 80 Level.
I instantly wanted to do a Harry Potter project after seeing the trailer for Hogwarts Legacy. I'm a big fan of the series – I grew up with the saga playing the Harry Potter video game when I was little. One of my dreams would have been to work on the development of this game.
So, I thought that the best way to reach this goal would be to directly start creating a scene. And to be honest, my wife wanted to be able to play in VR in a Harry Potter scene, more details are to come soon on this news.
I didn't use any concept for this work, I mainly use references from existing libraries – you can see my main mood board below.
What is important for me when I work with references is to understand why I love each of them and how they work as an environment. However, I like to catch every strong point of each of my references and find a way to make them work together, as I did for example with:
- The laterals balconies and the staircase of the book store Livraria Lello in Porto, Portugal;
- The ceiling, pillar, and balcony of Gladstone's Library;
- The pattern of repetition and infinity of the Library of Trinity College of Dublin;
- The barriers and privacy of the Chetham Library in Manchester;
- The library scenes in the movies (there weren't that many of them, so they have very little impact on the final product).
Of course, the main point of selection here was to look and feel like the Harry Potter ambiance, but I will come back later to that.
Planning the Composition
As described above, I spent some time isolating all my favorite items on each of my references, so I ended up with a checklist of things I absolutely wanted to see in my library.
I started doing a quick blockout and tried to figure out how to make all these elements work together, I wanted each shot of the library to contain three landmarks and for it to be in direct contact with at least one of them so that it would be coherent and we would always be able to find our way around the space efficiently.
I didn't try to fill the library with details everywhere. Doing an environment is not doing props, so I wanted to have strong points of interest in order to let the scene breathe and not feel lost in the information avalanche that would drown the focus points.
I think details are not systematically necessary, but should always be smart and have a purpose. Also, I didn't want to use props as an “emergency solution” to make the scene look interesting, I wanted the architecture to be good itself.
The kit I used was rather simple – it was a rule of 3 meters by 3 meters, whether vertical or horizontal. Without strict measures, a complex environment like this wouldn't have been possible, so I had to apply some rigor, although I honestly think I ran out of it towards the end.
All the furniture and the architectural pieces were made with Average Normal, so all the fine elements and details that you see came from a single wood trimmer which, like all the texts in my scene, also measured 3 meters by 3 meters so I was able to match the UVs and the kit without difficulty. This pre-production and reflection work allowed me to keep an efficient rhythm without needing to retouch everything every 3 days, which would not have been possible anyway taking into account the number of assets produced.
I didn't use any tools for the books. I just bought textures from Texture.com and created a Book Trim. This way I was able to place all the UVs and create many different books. It's a very simple method but it is enough for what I wanted to do.
I did however create a second texture with more colorful books that I wanted to use as a more unique object to add color to the library in a subtle way.
I created 4 materials for this scene. I tried to be as economical as possible to be consistent with the production criteria and to have a playable level without technical weaknesses.
The windows are really simple – it is just a small group of trims. For the wood, I was more delicate, I had 4 different kinds of wood that made up the library, and all of these kinds were precisely the dominant elements in my scene, so it was extremely important to make them look different. I did a lot of iterations to change the color, roughness, intensity of Normal, and AO. It turned out that the roughness was the most determining, even very slight variations of one allow being able to obtain very consistent results while keeping a real identity between the various elements.
For the floor, I just made a very simple kit, the planks were actually in volume with real geometry, the scene is not gigantic and mainly made of wood, so I kind of wanted some good-looking details for the ground.
The paintings were a little bit hard to work on: I desired them to be exactly the same as in the movie, and for some reason, it was quite difficult to find them online. So, for some of the paintings, I had to screenshot some movie frames and repair them the best I could. (I discovered later that, actually, it was possible to find all of them online, but it was too late already).
Assembling the Final Scene
I didn't really assemble the final scene, I just kept iterating on the scene from start to finish, modifying it each time. When new props or furniture came in, I reorganized to try to get a better composition. I also probably got on everyone's nerves by asking for feedback at every step of the creation, so I was able to get a wide variety of opinions and realize both the problems and the things that actually work.
First of all, I have never worked so hard on my lighting before. This is the first time I really decided to get to know what I’m doing and learn proper lighting methods. I have to thank Sander Vander Meiren who was my lighting mentor during this project and taught me an incredible amount of things.
He was an incredible and patient teacher, my only complaint is not having him as a colleague on a daily basis. We decided to stick to natural values for everything on the scene, based on the weather of Scotland, the Hogwarts location.
The scene is fully baked to try to achieve as much ambiance and quality as possible, so we basically use Directional Light to simulate the sun and Skylight to bring more natural color in the room from the side of the building not hit by the sun. Some volumetric fog was also used to give more texture to the global Library.
It took me 4 months to finish the scene, I didn't work much on it only having evenings and very few weekends, so I'm generally happy with the time it took me.
The main challenge was, of course, the size of the project. I did not make an exterior and I did not use Megascans – I had to create all of them myself and I really did not realize the amount of work I'd done, but it was a very glorious fight with a moment of doubt and finally a very happy ending.
I would advise beginners in environment art not to take so much work as I did – that with hindsight was a bit stupid. Even for me with my two and a half years of experience, it was too voluminous. I also advise them to put forward their kit and modularity which is absolutely essential for video games. Making both beautiful and modular projects is a real challenge, but also the most effective way to prove your own capabilities.
Finally, my most important advice is to ask for feedback, from all the people around you: your friends, your parents, your colleagues, people on Discord, etc. You have to take as much feedback as possible, as due to criticism and advice we move forward, and even if sometimes we think it is annoying to ask, again and again, it's worth it, and it is essential.
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