About the UE4 Environment
This little environment I created in UE4 is a small tribute to all the adventure movies, books, and games that I love (Jules Verne books, Indiana Jones, Avatar, Tomb Raider, and Uncharted to name a few).
I wanted this scene to be an inviting environment without any obvious threats to the viewer/player but it also had to encourage exploration. In addition, I wanted it to convey a feeling of isolation as it was 1000 miles away from civilization.
Real jungles are dangerous and hard to navigate. There is a crazy amount of detail wherever you look (trees, plants, roots, vines, not to mention the ground/soil which is a small universe in itself). I knew from the start that I had to remove the most of it in this environment concept, but still, try to keep the general feel of this forgotten piece of land.
That's why I chose this half-stylized style where most of the details are only suggested instead of being there and where light and shadows are working together to amplify that illusion.
I sculpted the rocks in ZBrush. They are very simple sculpts with strong silhouettes, a minimal amount of noise and big areas of rest. There's nothing special when you look at them standing on their own, but they work great when combined into cliffs and larger rock formations.
When sculpting rocks in ZBrush, I am using the Trim Smooth Border brush from start to finish (except for some alpha cracks). There are 5-6 different rocks in this scene altogether. Polycount is 500-5000 tris.
A couple of them are using 1:1 textures and the rest has a combination of baked normal and AO maps plus some tileable textures. A subtle detail normal map is also present in all the rock materials plus vertex paint option with wet rock material.
Trees and Plants
I made the trees inside The Plant Factory by importing custom made branches and procedurally placing them on a tree trunk and primary branches. Every tree has 4 LODs. The poly count is from 5k to 15k tris.
Leaf/branch textures are made with Megascans leaf atlases converted into meshes in ZBrush and combined into branches. Then they are all baked to texture (this is a standard process these days).
I made about 50% of the plants in ZBrush and the rest is either Megascans or some purchased content.
Terrain River and Waterfall
The terrain's resolution is 505x505 and it's a very simple blend of 3 material layers. I manually sculpted the river bed inside UE4.
The river and the waterfall are just simple meshes with some panning textures and particle emitters placed strategically. The area around the waterfall and river is what makes them look cool and natural and not a stripe of polys with water texture on.
Lighting and Post-Processing
The whole scene is lit with dynamic lighting using one directional light and skylight (plus a couple of fillers here and there).
Volumetric exponential height fog was used to make the atmosphere feel heavy (moist air) and also to lighten up some background cliffs that were in deep shade.
I also increased subsurface values on some trees (leaves) to help the light pass and create some cool effects.
On the post-processing side of things, I only made a couple of small adjustments - contrast, shadows, highlights, AO, and color.