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Great breakdown of the process and optimization, thanks for sharing.
Carmen Schneidereit showed how she models, paints and renders beautifully detailed 3d scenes.
My name is Carmen Schneidereit and I am a 3D environment artist from Cologne, Germany. I will introduce you to the techniques that I used to create a realistic 3D diorama. I combined photogrammetry with classical sculpting techniques.
I study Game Art at the Cologne Game Lab and I’m currently working on my graduation project: an animated short film in Unreal Engine 4.
Next, to my studies, I work as a freelance 3D artist for Nyamyam’s upcoming game Astrologaster.
I started with 3D modeling around 3 years ago. After experimenting with the medium for a while, I discovered that I have a strong passion for building worlds! I love atmospheric environments that make you want to visit and explore them. As an environment artist, I always try to find a good balance between working on my technical knowledge and improving my artistic skills.
The Paris Diorama
The diorama works as a stand-alone artwork, but its original purpose was to explore the art style of the environment for my graduation project. In a team of three (Neysha Castritius, Raquel Rossetti and I), we are working on a real-time animated short called ‘Catch it!’. The movie will be about a girl chasing her dreams. It will take place in the beautiful streets of Paris – as well as in a magical world that’s under the streets. The diorama helped us to get an early impression on the visual look that we want to achieve in the film. The elements and materials of the project are now integrated into my modular environment kit for the film scene.
Gathering References – In Paris and from Home
Last autumn we went on a research trip to Paris. My team and I wanted to get a feeling for the city and its beautiful atmosphere and architecture. I especially noticed how many extravagant doors and houses Paris has. Those were the inspiration for this diorama. I took a lot of pictures during the trip, not only of the architecture but also of materials like walls and streets.
Back at home, I started to create a mood board similar to the way a storyteller would. I asked myself all the w-questions: what kind of people are in my environment, when and where does the story take place?
Then I started to plan the scene. I made a 3D block out as a base and painted / photobashed more details into it. This concept was adjusted once I started working on the scene in Unreal.
Photogrammetry – Creating a Game-Ready Tree
The autumn tree was my first game asset made via photogrammetry. I like the results one can get from photo scanning real-world objects.
First of all, you don’t need professional camera equipment. A smartphone may be sufficient. Personally, I own a Sony alpha 6000 that I bought for photography.
Make sure you scan your object on a cloudy day if you are outside, or in an evenly lit studio setup if you are inside. I photoscanned both the tree trunk and also took photographs of the leaves on a green screen. In this case, the green screen wasn’t the ideal choice as its color was too close to the color of the leaves. I’d recommend making sure you have a background with a better contrast.
After I captured enough photos, I processed the 3D tree in Reality Capture.
I didn’t directly use the 3D model that the software produced for a couple of reasons: First, it wasn’t a scan of a complete tree. Second, my goal was to create many birch trees, not just a single one. So I created a tileable texture from the scanned tree, baked the bark texture on a plane in Marmoset Toolbag 3, then used Substance Designer to create a tileable texture and clean the albedo from unwanted lighting information with the ‘Clean Albedo’ node.
I’d like to give a big thanks to 3D environment artist Chuy Salinas, who gave me valuable advice on how to create photo scanned assets and who introduced me to his approach of using Substance Designer in this process.
After the textures were done, I procedurally created several tree variations in SpeedTree.
Finally I was able to test my trees in-engine!
Building a Parisian Door
The door ornaments and columns were sculpted in zBrush. I started with models of each element in Maya and then carefully sculpted them into the shapes I needed. For the head, I looked at references from traditional sculptors (e.g. Michelangelo), to study how they sculpted hair and cloth. For the four small flowers that sit on the sides of the columns, I used an alpha map to create their shapes.
For elements that have simple geometry – e.g. the column – I did retopology by hand. For more complex assets, like the head, I used the zBrush ‘Decimation Master’-plugin to start with a basic decimation and then made some changes to the edge flow in Maya.
The textures on the door were made in Substance Painter.
Here I used a Substance Painter material as a base, adjusted it to my needs, and added weathering to it. I used the procedural generators to give me a weathered / damaged base, but then painted more details in by hand to achieve a more realistic look. I also worked with references here to have a good visual guideline. A door, for example, often gets heavy damage on the bottom and in the corners. That’s why I put more attention to the details in these areas.
I added dirt, moss and stains to the wall. For the diorama I decided that a unique wall texture was fine. For a modular kit I’d recommend to create a tileable wall texture and add damage and variation with vertex painting and decals. If you take a closer look, you can see that I did exactly that on the ground.
Lighting up the Scene
Using UE4’s Sky Blueprint
I used UE4’s sky blueprint for the first lighting pass of my scene. My goal was to create a warm and sunny autumn day. The setup is quite simple; I placed a directional sunlight in the scene and tried to find a nice way to light the tree leaves and get interesting shadows on the door and the ground. I supported the directional light with a spotlight placed closer to the tree. I added a fill light to the shadow area under the trees to balance the dark values.
Using a Custom Sky
Even though the Unreal Engine blueprint is great for sketching out lighting, there are many cases where you want to use a custom sky. You can simply make your own sky in Maya (or any other modeling software) by just creating a sphere, smoothing it and reversing the normals on the sphere. Afterwards, just import it into your Unreal scene.
In this picture I tried a different light mood with an HDRi sky.
I hope the insights into my process were helpful to you! Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.
Carmen Schneidereit, 3D Environment Artist, Student
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.