For those bashing EA..... Any old-schooler will tell ya, EA is not some great company. Yeah, they've released some great games, but the bottom line is they're the fabled 'corporate giant' out to make money and eliminate competitors. Been that way since the early 80's. Another victim of EA you might have heard of, the Wing Commander series (Privateer as well). If they can't rush out better games than you, they'll buy you out and kill your franchise.
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Oh man Cara Ellison? She always shows up in the best places!
A month ago a group of talented artists from Yager Development & The Coalition shared a short glimpse of their incredible new scene – the result of the close collaboration of very different specialists. The project is still a work in progress, but this short interview will no doubt give you a taste of the things to come. The artists discuss their production process, the creation of assets, the conception stage and all the intricate details that help to breathe life into 3d models.
We are a group of CG artists, who met each other working on different projects at Yager a couple of years ago. Currently the team consists of Bao Ngoc Vu our Character Artist, Lenz Monath our Environment Artist, Sarah Mai our VFX Artist and Yuriy Mazurkin our Concept Artist.
We aim for perfection and feel comfortable working together.
Bao: I am a character artist working on “Dreadnought” at Yager. I graduated from the Games Academy in Frankfurt (Main) , Germany, 2 years ago and I’ve been working in the AAA games industry since then.
Lenz: I am an environment artist with roughly two years of AAA experience and I’m building the scene for our project. Originally, I am from a small town from Germany near Frankfurt (Main). I was studying in Darmstadt in a game design program when I went to Berlin to work on Dreadnought, at Yager. I recently moved back to Darmstadt to finish my university degree.
Yuriy: Originally I’m from Russia. I hold a Master of Fine Arts degree from V. Surikov Moscow State Academy Art Institute. For about 10 years I’ve been working in the field of computer graphics. In 2012 I moved to Berlin. Currently I’m working at Yager on the Dreadnought video game as a Senior Concept Artist.
Sarah: I’ve been an FX artist working in the AAA games industry almost for 3 years . I worked on “Dreadnought” and “Dead Island 2”. Currently I’m working at The Coalition on “Gears of War 4”. I studied Game Art and Animation in Berlin, Germany.
This project started as a small showcase to feature our team’s professional strength and its purpose hasn’t been changed in general since then. In this particular scene we wanted to get the mood right. We aimed to achieve a feeling of cold, but our scene should look beautiful at the same time. Of course this is just work in progress and the video we have shown is our first test run and we are going to add all the necessary elements to hit our goal. We are interested in the maximum realistic picture. This prototype level could be a solid base for our next steps. Let’s see what’s possible for the Unreal engine!
Working out the Concept
Yuriy: I produced two key concepts: the character and the environment based on the original scene from Lenz. The team had approved the blockout before I started adding elements on top. We wanted to play with different materials that’s why we picked a medieval setting and a winter mood. It allowed us to add fancy carvings, ice-formations and beautiful VFX. I wanted to tell some kind of story via the environment as well, so I painted the wooden guards. The lighting setup was very important for us so it should be depicted in the concept as well. One of our goals is to get the final scene identical to the concept.
Approaching the Production
Lenz: The whole environment you see in the video started as a stage to present our warrior character. We gathered a lot of references to see what kind of mood and style we’d be going for and started with a quick blockout. From there on it was just populating the scene with the assets I created and step by step replacing the white boxes. I always try to establish a good lighting in my scenes very early on in production, to get a better feeling for the whole place and for the atmosphere.
For composition, I usually pick some fixed camera angles and work from there, and it’s super rewarding to see the progress you make after a month if you compare screenshots from the same angle.
In general, I wanted the place to appear as realistic as possible. I didn’t want it to be a giant bombastic castle, with a huge vista, but a modest, believable space, where the quality shows in the execution and the subtle details.
Sarah: Since the very beginning it has been important for us that we give the scene a realistic look – so I decided to create the most eye-catching effects with maya fluids. They include the torches, the smoke and the candle flames.
The workflow is always the same:
In Maya you need to set-up your fluid container and adjust the needed parameters until you are satisfied with the look of your effect. I constantly use the maya preview window to double check the size and shape of my fluid before I decide to take the final render. Usually I take 64 render images with the front camera and put the individual images later on together in photoshop to produce a flipbook.
The only thing left is to put your material together in the unreal engine including the flipbook (I use the flipbook node) and assign it to your particle. Usually I also add a few parameters to control the different values later on through a material instance.
The material cost is very low and you only need to spawn 1 particle for each emitter which is good for draw but in this case I need a high resolution texture for a sharp look. That means you need a little bit more performance on the memory side.
We wanted to have a dynamic scene which is telling a story: On the one hand the place is filled with warm light sources from the torches and the smoke from a bonfire but on the other hand we have the cold blowing snow and the dust. It visualizes a place which is a kind of shelter. It shows that someone has recently moved in even though the temporary hideout looks abandoned. The place is coming to life with the help of particles.
Building the right assets
Team: The assets all start with the initial whitebox. We test them in the scene, make sure they are cleanly set up in the grid and functional in the whole composition. From there on we model the high poly meshes in 3ds max and ZBrush. Earlier on we textured our assets in Quixel DDO, but we’re transitioning to Substance Painter, which makes it super easy to bake maps and give our assets character.
Unreal 4’s material editor is such a powerful tool, and we try to make use of it the best way we can. We went for an approach with layered materials. Every sub material like wood or snow is split up in a separate material functions and we combine them in the end and blend them via masks or vertex painting.
The snow was an especially interesting challenge for the scene. With subsurface scattering and tessellation we achieved to get the right look for different variations of snow. Using vertex paint we then can paint the snow directly onto meshes, and it appears based on the height map and the orientation of the surface.
Lighting the scene
Team: We wanted to go for a completely dynamic light solution for our project, to make iteration times quicker. Unfortunately there is no good dynamic gi system in place yet for unreal 4. However, we made different test cases and a combination of a dynamic sunlight, Unreal’s distance field ao feature and some few lights to either fill up the space or highlight some areas gave us the results we were looking for.
The particles in our scene are affected by lights since it is a lit (additive) material. To achieve a volumetric look for the smoke we baked the light in the flipbook images already.
We think lighting is a powerful tool to tell stories, and we want to create a sensation of mystery, areas in the shadows where it’s not entirely clear for the viewer what is going on there, pools of sunlight where he always comes back to and has a starting point to explore the scene. We want him fill in the gaps with his own kind of story and imagination.
The Next Step
We will finish the new scene and the character. Of course, we need to finish the whole project itself. And we already have some exciting plans for upcoming projects!