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Learn more about environment art
Hi, my name is Adam Knight, and I’m an Environment Artist from the UK. I started doing 3D about one year before enrolling in university, so my 3D career wasn’t set in stone when I was young. I went to school for stage acting, film/TV, and game design and ended up discovering 3D when I had to sculpt a dragon. It kind of exploded from there: I could pour all my creativity and energy into creating worlds on the computer.
At the university, I aimed at defining who I wanted to become: either a vehicle or an environment artist. I took the first year to sleep on the decision and by the start of the second year eventually chose environment art. Once I knew the direction, I started pumping out environments as fast as I could: Colony Base, Forest Ruin, and Nobel Home within my second year and Hidden Shrine and Ramen Street in my final year along with other environments that aren’t published.
Right after the university, I joined the industry and slowly worked on the Secret Spot on the side. In personal projects, I focus on realism and I try to add as much detail into my environments as I can.
Secret Spot: Inspiration
The project was originally supposed to be an entry for the ArtStation challenge but it got pushed into the back of my mind when I found a job.
I enjoyed Alessandro Paviolo’s concept very much because of its hidden depth. The fact that it combines an interior and lots of foliage and nature inside makes it hard to recreate the scene in terms of lighting and general construction. I needed to work out how to modulate a small scene like this in an efficient manner.
I also loved the grimy, gloomy feel of the concept and the small details like the roots, statue, and bed, - these gave me some really nice ideas in terms of sculpting and presentation.
Start of the Scene
First, I used some basic geometry trying to get the scale down and work out how many objects I needed for the environment. Already at that point, I knew that I wanted the scene to use a sculpted modular kit.
When the basic blockout was completed, I defined the base by building objects and assets to a grid system and planning out how many assets I needed so I could modulate the scene properly. I developed the side walls first, then the windows and finally the pillars. The rest of the assets like large outside pillars and doorway fell into place easily after the main modular assets and planes were created.
The image below shows the final geometry for all of the environment architecture. I was able to create many different variations of the assets with this small kit and could have easily created a bigger environment with them, too.
Some of the assets made with the kit:
While I was creating the kit, I was also thinking about how the textures were going to be organized in the scene. As a result, I developed a color code; each color in the scene is a general key for a different material definition.
Here is the final kit with textures assigned:
All the base meshes were made in 3ds Max. For the roof, I simply made a few stones, then fit them together to get a nice detailed feel. Even though it’s not really efficient it looks cool and defined. For the pillars, doorway and window archways I made the full models and broke them into a few pieces that fit together. This allowed me to make different sizes and shapes easily. For the ground stones, I made a few simple cubes and placed them together to get a few different variations. For the inner window design, I also created the full model base, broke it up and sculpted little sections to make the object look intricate and more importantly old. The walls are simple modular planes/models that have a tiling texture placed on them.
When I was done with all the base meshes, I then exported everything to ZBrush and started defining the shapes and surfaces.
I don’t use anything fancy for sculpting, just the basic brushes like ClayBuildup and Trim Dynamic. I kept my sculpts quite simple and easy to read so there is no noise. I simply define the silhouette and damage around the edges.
The statue was my favorite thing to sculpt. I have never made a statue as detailed as this before, and it was fun to sculpt the cloth for the first time. During the process, I used ClayBuildup, Trim Dynamic, and Standard brush the most. The base brushes in ZBrush are so versatile that I don’t feel the need to download tons of extra stuff. Just like with the architectural elements, I kept the statue clean so that the textures would read better.
For the foliage, I made two texture sheets and some geometry created in 3ds Max, then exported everything into the engine.
I always try to sculpt my foliage because it allows me to get the exact look I want. When studying the concept, I tried to imagine what kinds of foliage could be found there. I started with simple with clover and grass, then added some foliage on the walls and ground. Finally, I put some branches for extra color high up in the scene.
The atlas was textured in Substance Painter. I tried to give the foliage a slight stylization in its base color and roughness.
Below are some of the cards I made in 3ds Max. In Max, I usually use the baked opacity map because it allows me to see the baked silhouette more easily.
Here are the final cards in UE4:
I created two types of tillable stone for the castle stone blocks and the flat concrete. Color-wise, they are designed to have a similar pallet in order to fit well together, but also quite muted so that I can hue the color in the engine if needed.
The idea was to create moldy, old materials that would really exaggerate the constricting, claustrophobic and old ruin feel of the concept art. It was achieved by creating some lichen and using dark greens, browns, oranges, and whites in the base colors.
When it comes to creating the normals, I try to keep them as clean as possible so that the noise is reduced and the roughness can read well. This can help the surface to tell the story in the scene.
For some of the assets like the statue, I created unique textured to get the exact look I needed.
Sometimes, I take old materials from other projects and change them to fit my needs or sculpt the texture base in ZBrush, bake it down in Designer and take the texture from there. But in most cases, I work from scratch and try to learn different ways of texturing.
The scene is lit with a mix of static and stationary elements, with a height fog for atmosphere and a bunch of spot and subtle point lights to pop areas out. The HDRI was found on HDRI Haven.
Directional light settings:
Height fog settings:
Here are the detail light images with all the elements active, including reflection actors:
The scene took around 2 months, but I'm not 100% sure as I worked on it over a long period of time. Sculpting everything drained a good portion of my time and was the most intensive part of the environment. If I wanted to create the scene quicker, I would have used a trim sheet instead of sculpting a kit.
Yet, sculpting is one of my favorite parts of creating environments, and the statue was especially fun to make.
Thank you for reading! I hope you've found something helpful here.