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Very impressive article Jake! You are very talented.
3d artist Martin Pietras did a wonderful overview of his beautiful 3d scene and some of the techniques he used during the production.
I like to envision a purpose for every project I begin, either to advance a technical set of skills, or polish a workflow. In this case I wanted to polish my overall workflow. From gathering references, to creating procedural textures in Substance Designer, as well as sculpting in Zbrush, and finally all the set dressing lighting and materials in Unreal Engine 4.
The main goals I outlined in my Polycount work in progress thread were:
- To maintain a modular kit for the scene with a few variations for each object.
- Use only procedural textures with the exception of foliage atlases.
- Maximum texture size of 2k.
- Improve Efficiency and Realism of my lighting in UE4.
- 1 week deadline for modeling / texturing
The motivation for this scene came to me after a hike I took, after seeing a structure similarly overtaken and lost in time’s grasp, seamlessly integrated into the environment itself.
I really quickly photoshopped together an idea of what I had in store for the scene.
I also took an hour to block out the scene in Maya and get a rough idea for how the scene would hold in 3D.
Lastly I made a Rough list breaking down the assets needed to have variation and modularity in the scene.
Bridge Pieces: 3 Variants for Steps, Side Pieces, Pillars.
Trees: 3 Variants for Big Trees, Medium Trees, Small Saplings.
Foliages: 3 Variants for Grass, Fallen Leaves, Ivy, Flowers, Fern, WheatGrass, etc..
Clutter Pieces: 3 Variants for Fallen Logs, Fallen Branches, Rocks, Pebbles, etc..
Environment Pieces: 3 Variants for Environment floor shaping.
I like to work in 3’s as it is a good trade off between Variation and Time.
Asset Production Workflow
I found it important to work smart not work harder with my self imposed 1 week deadline.
One example that illustrates this is my modular logs I created.
Each was sculpted in Zbrush, began using the same low poly base, with the same UVs.
Thankfully Zbrush will update the larger silhouette of the low poly to align to the Highpoly.
This enabled me to quickly create variation even retaining some of the high poly micro detail from model to model. This also enabled me to easily adjust the parameters of my material blends in Unreal Engine 4, because each object was similarly constructed.
Through a combination of creating the initial sculpt with the micro detail, and then adjusting the lowpoly for a different silhouette, and moving up in the subdivisions to add different features, I did not have to resculpt too much of my micro detail.
Through a similar mentality, I created all the trees by hand in Maya. By attaching deformers to individual branch and spine sections I was able to create modular and procedural sets for creating branches and tree trunks just by moving my object in scene space.
Some of these were baked in to sheets to be used as dead branches etc.
Here is this approach on some of the Tree examples.
Substance Designer has become my main tool in my arsenal for tackling textures for my scenes. I will not go in depth into my workflow inside Designer, that could warrant a whole talk in itself. My general ideology in Designer is to work with my heightmap first, and then derive all my other maps from this.
I find that by focusing on the larger shapes, and then breaking them down from there and moving to the secondary and tertiary shapes enables you to create a realistic material.
In this case this Material was broken into the original rock shapes into a tile node. From there I run them through a couple of nodes that carve the shape of these natural rocks from the base gradient square. I find the more gradient you have in your initial shape enables you to create very interesting results with slope blurs and noises.
Material and Light Setup Scene
Below I have a screenshot of some of my assets in my Light Checking scene. Here I tried to keep the lighting as flat as possible. Using the Advanced Lighting Setup scene from UE4 as a base, I was able to compare how each asset was being lit, and if the albedo was too dark compared to another. Not only is this a great utility but the color checking box asset by created by Unreal is amazing, I can’t imagine not working with it anymore.
This one required plenty of observation of the way natural environments are broken up.
There are layers of detail and objects in a scene like this. For example the Vertex painting of the floor piece is one step to distinguish the floor characteristics. I blended 3 materials, the dry leaves layer, a grass and acorn layer, and a rocky pebble layer. Each of these layers informed me what assets would be laid on top. Often I found the pebble layer would be a transition between the leaves and the grass.
In terms of actually layering the levels of detail, the initial breakdown of the variation of shrubbery helped. In nature the woods do not just equate to grass being below trees, but rocks where the soil may be more exposed to the lower layer, branches from fallen trees, ferns, clovers etc. The list goes on. But the thoughtful layering of all these assets together creates a believable effect.
Through observing real life we come closer to understanding how to interpret it through our art.