Professional Services
Order outsourcing

Experimenting with Open Natural Environments

Senior environment artist at Rocksteady Studios Jody Sargent have recently published an amazing breakdown of her amazing UE4 project.

Senior environment artist at Rocksteady Studios Jody Sargent have recently published an amazing breakdown of her amazing UE4 project. She decided to study the creation of awesome open environments. It’s a great experiment and an amazing write up. We’ll be back with an exclusive interview with Jody, but so far you can enjoy this amazing insight into the project.

Hiking in 2077

This is my latest project using Unreal Engine 4. This project was a way of branching out in to big open terrains and foliage and combining it with my love of walking and the outdoors. I had trips to Snowdonia in Wales for reference and also photogrammetry shoots. I really wanted to explore nature, scale and colour in this project and create a sense of wonder and exploration.

The software used for this project was:

  • Unreal Engine 4
  • 3D Max
  • Photoshop
  • Zbrush
  • Agisoft Photoscan
  • Substance Painter
  • World Machine
  • Speed Tree
  • Truesky




The Breakdown – Reference

The first step was to define the look and style of the environment that I wanted to create. I used reference from trips to Llyn Ogwen in Wales as my base for the environment. Although the scene ended up far more populated with trees than this actual area, you can still see the main inspiration in the foliage, terrain and rocks. Here is a small photomontage of some of my photographs from my trips to Snowdon, and underneath a small section of my other reference found for the project to explore mood and colour.




With a solid idea of how the terrain should look I decided on using World Machine with the GeoGlyph plugin to create some lovely rocky steep areas and grassy flats. I used several height and slope nodes to dictate where my different materials were placed in unreal. This final setup had 5 materials, steep cliff rock, sloped areas with rocky sediment and grass, longer grass with heather, shorter grass and finally small stones and dirt. By using worldmachine and the terrain editor I was able to easily automate all of my material generation, allowing for very easy iterations at any stage. All of the surfaces were sculpted using a combination of zbrush and 3dmax.



Once happy with the materials I decided how to add the foliage. For the smaller foliage, the short grass, tall wild grass and heather I used the Unreal 4 “grass” functions to procedurally add them to my terrain. These all had cull distances set in the “grass” type and had multiple LOD’s for performance. They were made from high polys in 3D max and baked on to planes before being made in to meshes.


For the larger foliage, the trees and bushes I decided on 3 variations of a ponderosa pine and a small bush for variation. After modelling the fronds from high polys in max I brought my meshes and textures i to speedtree and created my tree variants. These each had 3 lods and a billboard LOD. Using speedtree allowed me to make use of the colour variation and wind in unreal giving me some lovely moving foliage in little time. As I chose not to atlas the trunk and branch textures I could use them over all of the models meaning that they could all share the two textures. These were added using the foliage painter, allowing me fine control and speed.


The last step was the rocks. I had really wanted to try out some photogrammetry so on a trip to wales I took some photo shoots for all of the types of rocks I wanted. I got some crazy looks as I waited for the sun to go behind the clouds on a few occasions as I tried to take 60 pictres of a rock but it was worth it and I ended the shoot with a few really nice scans. These were cleaned up and retopologised in 3Dmax and Zbrush and added to the scene using the foliage painting tool.

1 of 2

The Ship Wreck

After having a blockout of the ship for a long time I made the final version. The circular shape meant that it was made of a few modular pieces that could be easily duplicated and swapped out with some damage states around the edges. The ship was textured using Substance Painter.

Lighting and postprocess

The final steps involved finalising and polishing the lighting and post effects. The scene uses fully dynamic lighting with one directional sunlight, one skylight and light propogation volumes enabled for global illumination. I am also using distance field shadows giving all the trees a really grounded look. Here is the final scene in detail lighting mode.

8bec865f74-2077_BeautyShot_03 (1)

The Sketchbook

Finally having been through so many iterations and having had so much fun learning on this project I want to share a few shots I made along the way. I made many revisions on the composition and styling of the scene, some being dramatically different and was determined to give myself room to learn and explore ideas. I had a phase at the start that was just about new software, making foliage etc… and the real final composition phase was not until at least midway through. It has been a real case of sketching ideas in 3D which is how I love to work. Anyway here is some early stuff, I hope you enjoy looking at them!



Join discussion

Comments 1

  • Joshuah Kusnerz

    Amazingly impressive work.  Thank you for the breakdown on your process.


    Joshuah Kusnerz

    ·7 years ago·

You might also like

We need your consent

We use cookies on this website to make your browsing experience better. By using the site you agree to our use of cookies.Learn more