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Vanessa Bölke discussed the way she approached her beautiful entry for Wild West Artstation Challenge and created it with CryEngine.
My name is Vanessa Bölke, I am 21 years old from a very small village near the Dutch/German border. I studied Game Art at Games Academy in Frankfurt am Main in 2015 and in October 2017 I joined Cloud Imperium Games / Foundry 42 as a Junior Environment Artist, working on Star Citizen in Frankfurt.
Working on my project, I started establishing the biggest possible elements first and worked my way to medium and small details. This way I would not get lost and overwhelmed because of too many tasks at once and have a good overview of what is missing in the scene and what still needs to be done.
I wanted to highlight and get the main focus on the train building throughout the composition, which has already been nicely set by Chang-Wei Chen in the concept piece. It has a believable environment in a nice frosty atmosphere.
Working on the Landscape
When I started the environment it felt like a huge task with many construction sites.
I created a rough terrain with very blocky assets and placeholder textures first, but that did not really feel like I was moving forward with the scene. Once I had my tree set, as well as a few details on the houses with a nice basic lighting setup, I got a really good idea of where to go. The more details I added, the more excited and motivated I became about this project.
Approach to the Details
Like I said before, I started with the biggest elements first and once I had them in place I moved forward to medium and small details.
After placing rough block out meshes in the scene to get the composition with a believable object scale right, I had a good base to build the remaining pieces of the environment.
Next, I looked at individual assets and polished them step by step.
I always try to make use of every possible extra detail I can get, so adding texture blending, vertex color, detail maps, dirt passes and snow decals on top is something I used in this environment a lot.
When this was done I took a closer look at every corner of the scene and added more details where necessary. I set up camera angles for my other render shots and polished these areas even more.
I always try to get as much feedback as possible from more experienced artists at this stage. With this project, I got a lot of feedback from Cloud Imperium Games senior artist Patrick Gladys.
I used Substance Designer to create the main materials.
First I tackled the snow since it covered most of the space. This one is just a very simple white material with displacement and small speckles in the specular and gloss map.
The foliage was modeled as a high poly model, baked down on planes and textured in substance painter. I used an ID map to create a slightly colored needle variation in Substance Painter.
The cliffs were sculpted in ZBrush and baked down to get a unique normal map. I made a simple tileable rock material that I could then tile over the cliffs, while they still have their unique rock shape.
CryEngine’s soft depth terrain blend option made my cliffs, rocks, and trees blend nicely and seamless with the terrain.
Their new decal feature allowed me to apply a fine adjustable snow layer on top of every asset and tweak the look of the whole environment with just one decal.
For the planks, I originally created a material that had separated wood planks, but later decided to just have single wood board meshes and got rid of the separation in the material.
The most interesting part of this is the creation of the wood pattern. Credits to my art lead Michel Kooper for showing me this amazing solution. In order to get the fine lines warped around the knobs, I used vector warp.
For the wood I started with some shapes and tile sampler, then added some warps, slope blurs and noise.
I always like to use the get slope node and histogram select to make height based masks for nice a breakup in the diffuser.
I used a skylight with an environment probe and global illumination to light my environment. After playing with the volumetric fog settings I already had a pretty decent result to work with and the slightly red point lights in the buildings gave me a nice warm contrast.
Since CryEngine has real-time lighting, there is no time being wasted on baking lights and you see the result immediately.
I didn’t edit the scene in Photoshop. I did the color grading in CryEngine and only played with the settings in the environment editor.
A fog particle effect was used from CryEngine itself, as well as the falling snow particle, but I also put some effects like sparks and smoke on simple planes as a texture.
Overview of the particle and decal use: