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Rasmus Westlund talked about the creation of the amazing ‘Japanese Shrine’ environment, which he managed to assemble in 3 weeks. It’s a very simple scene, which features some great lighting, beautiful PBR assets and nice post-processing.
I’m Rasmus Westlund, a 22-year-old 3D artist from Sweden. Currently studying 3D art at Future Games in Stockholm, Sweden. Before I went to Future Games I worked as an intern in a small indie studio called Rigid-Soft, where I worked on the game Lifeless.
The Japanese Shrine
I have always wanted to make a forest/vegetation heavy scene. So the Idea was to make something in a forest with plenty of foliage. I also wanted something in that forest with a high contrast in color, therefore the shrine and arc. I also put a time limit for myself, so I would push myself. My time limit was 3 weeks.
Due to the 3-week deadline, it was important to plan out and think about what assets I built and how I used them. So I started to look up some images of vegetation I wanted, and references on Japanese shrines, arcs, etc.
I modelled the base of the assets in Maya, then I sculpted the details in Zbrush.
The stairs and the rock wall needed to be modular, so that was something to put together in Maya as well.
The foliage was made in a very simple way. By just making some texture of leaves and branches in Photoshop, then put it on planes in Maya. The foliage was not that complex, and therefore I didn’t sculpt them. Thanks to programs like Bitmap2Material and some tweaking in Photoshop, I got some good normal and roughness maps.
Something to have in mind when you make the planes in Maya. Try to fit the planes as close as possible to the alpha. Alpha is quite expensive in engine.
Textures and Materials
I used Quixel and Bitmap2Material to make the textures in the environment. Quixel was used on most unique assets like the house and arc. Bitmap2Material and Photoshop was used for plenty of the tileable materials like the moss and landscape. Using the moss as an example, I used Albedo, Normal, Roughness, Occlusion and Height maps.
I looked on Google after some moss texture that I could start from. Took it in to Photoshop to make it tile. Here you can use filter -> offset to see if it tiles well.
After, I took it to Bitmap2Material to get a nice Normal, Roughness, Occlusion and Height map. And then back again to Photoshop to tweak the values a bit until I liked it.
(You can tweak values and make it tile in B2M, I just want a bit more control sometimes).
Keep in mind, this is not necessarily the best way to do it. It’s just my way to get a quick result that is nice.
How I set up the material in Unreal was pretty simple. This is the material for the trees in the level. I have lerped the bark texture of the trees with the moss texture and put a vertex color node in the alpha, so I can vertex paint the Moss on the trees.
I use the height map to get world displacement on both the moss and bark. I put a constant in the tessellation multiplier to get enough tessellation to make it look good. Something to have in mind, it can be expensive to have a high tessellation.
The way I always start is looking up some references of similar places. I looked up some references before I started the project, so I know what to build and what mood I’m looking for.
For this specific scene I started with putting out the main props. The house, stairs, arc and the stone wall.
Then I started on the foliage around, stones, trees, ferns etc.
After that it was just the fun stuff left such as, lighting, sun shafts, fog planes and a lot of tweaking in the textures and lighting.
For the composition on the main image, I wanted to frame the shrine and guide the eye towards it. To help the eye I used the arc as a frame and tried to use the stairs for guidance. Putting some lights on the stairs helped that.
Post-Processing and Lighting
The lighting is mostly done by a directional light acting like a sun and a sky light, both are set to dynamic lighting. Then I added spotlights where I wanted more light, to get a more natural lighting. Lighting is also a great way to guide a player. So in this case I put some spotlights on the stairs, to guide you towards the Shrine. Then I used a strong point light on the house to make it really pop.
On this image you can really see what a huge difference post-processing can do. In this case to boost the saturation and give it a warmer feeling with some orange/yellowness.
If that are something that I would recommend you do if you would build a level like this:
- Look up plenty of references before you start and plan out how you will build it.
- Do it right from the beginning. Do not stress out any assets, spent time on them from the beginning so you do not have to go back later and redo them. That’s something I did wrong with this project.
- And spent time on the lighting and post-processing stage. It will help you reach those last small things that will do so much for your scene.