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Wow, the YouTube video was released in November. How have I never seen it before? I've probably watched it three times in the past hour. It's an absolutely amazing production. What was the budget for this?
3d artist Teddy Mundy showed how he builds and textures complex mechanical environments for real-time.
Hello! My name is Teddy Mundy, and I am a soon-to-be graduating Senior from Ringling College of Art and Design. I have mainly been focusing on Environment Art, but through the course of my Senior Year and working on my Thesis, I have starting learning more advanced shader work, as well as beginning to foray into Tech Art.
My Senior Thesis, Rust Bucket, was built from the ground up for VR, specifically the HTC Vive. It’s been a great experience overall, and I’m very happy with the work I was able to produce!
The Game Art BFA program at Ringling College brings our feature film aesthetic to games and is focused on providing students with the professional artistic skills necessary to create compelling and believable interactive experiences.
Preproduction for our Senior Theses starts in the second semester of our Junior Year, and back then, the project was a far call from what it was now. The environment started originally as a forest rather than a swamp, at night rather than day, and most notably, the project was not intended for VR at that point. However, just as the semester ended, and I continued to work into the summer, I was able to attempt prototyping gameplay for the project in VR, and from then on, to VR it went!
VR, and its associated challenges
One issue that arose from not planning for VR from the beginning was the scope of the navigable area. VR, as it is right now, is at its best indoors, or in any way it can tightly control what the player can see, or to put it another way, control how much has to be rendered in the scene. Since you need to be able to run VR on two 1080×1200 screens, (one for each eye) with at least 90 frames per second, the requirements for polygon counts and texture limits are pretty rough. As such, I had to learn new optimization techniques, as well as learning how much weight each element had in terms of frame budget.
So, like I said, VR likes small or controlled spaces. However, my project puts the player high into the air, where they can see far into the distance, as well as go far into the distance – this was a particular challenge to handle. However, I am glad for the challenge, because it taught me how to be much more efficient with my models.
Even beyond the fact that my environment was a particular frame budget challenge, VR has other considerations when building an environment for it. For one, directing the player is a challenge, because you cannot rely of moving the camera where you want it to, and in my case, you also cannot rely on any sort of HUD element to give the player information. Since I chose to not include a HUD for the game, I had to take special care to make the Steering Controls, and the gameplay parts of the Furnace stood out, so the player would understand exactly what they needed to do while going through the experience.
The steering wheel, for example, is brighter than any of the other woods around it, to make it stand out. After playtesting, I also realized I needed to make a piece of duct tape to indicate to the player where “neutral” was on the steering wheel, as without it, it was easy to lose track of exactly how the wheel should be turned. As playtesting went on, I had to keep iterating on these types of concerns to make it easy for the player to understand the space.
Rust Bucket’s Furnace
The main player area in the game is the ship’s cabin, with two main “areas” in it – the Steering Controls, and the Furnace. You can see the steering controls in the header image, but here I’ll be talking about the whole process in which I made the Furnace.
I did not have any concept art for the furnace, so I started with a simple blockout of the main Gameplay pipes, and then worked on greebling the rest of the Furnace out. For the greebles, I studied Steam Train furnaces as a main inspiration, and through those found various components that I thought looked good, and added those onto the Furnace!
I used another modeling trick right after blocking out the Furnace. Looking over the different parts of the mesh, I tried to identify as many parts of it that I could make modular as possible, so that I could model and UV those assets right at the beginning, and use those to build out my asset. That way, I save a lot of time instead of re-modeling and re-UVing the same or similar assets over and over again.
That technique also helped me with texturing in Substance later on, as I was able to put all of those components into one material, and atlas all of their textures into one material. So, instead of having 3 separate materials and 12 different textures to draw, it was only 1 material and 3 textures. Every bit helps when trying to save on the frame budget!
And, speaking of Texturing…
Almost all of the texturing work done in my Thesis has Substance in it, and both Substance Designer and Painter have proved to be invaluable tools for quickly making great textures. Many assets have textures built from Designer and Painter, but I also found another way to use Substance to enhance my existing tiling texture libraries I had in UE4.
As most of my cabin was made of wood, I had to find a way to make the wood not feel same-y and boring throughout the whole cabin. To quickly spice up the tiling wood texture that I already had, I went to Substance and painted simple white/black masks on my assets, and used those as masks for grime buildup all over the ship’s Cabin! Using this method, it was very simple to texture vast areas of the ship’s cabin with a basic tiling material, and then spice it up with wear and tear.
If I could go back in time before I began this project and given myself one piece of advice, it would be to plan everything. Having a plan for your work in advance removes all of the guesswork, and makes life easier in all respects when trying to execute on a project.
All in all, I am very happy with how Rust Bucket has turned out. It was not without its challenges, but each of those came with a lesson to learn as well. VR has been an exciting new medium to pursue, and I am excited to see where it goes over the coming years!