Malwina Czech did a breakdown of her stylized fanart scene talking about texturing in Substance Painter and Designer, lighting and post-process setup in UE4, and more.
The final year of my studies is coming up and it is becoming more and more important to me to push my boundaries with every piece I add to my portfolio.
With a passion for stylized art, I have explored many aspects of it but recently I started to notice that set dressing scenes and creating lots of props to decorate them has been the part I loved the most when working on my recent projects.
Due to that, I decided to focus and expand my skills in stylized prop and environment art.
The Legend of Zelda Fanart: References & Inspiration
Recently, I started playing the remake of “The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening”. This game's artstyle really hooked me and I fell in love with the super cute and soft plastic toy look. After a short time, I knew I wanted to create a fanart of it.
After I found the kitchen in the Animal Village, I did not have much to work with to recreate it except for the single top-down shot and reference from some similar places in the game.
To give the scene my own little touch, I added some more details, mostly through the roughness maps to the assets in the scene, something rarely found in the game itself.
While the game only lets you explore through the locked top-down view I took this opportunity to make my work accessible from all views. This meant I had to make sure every nook and cranny was nice and polished!
Overall, this has been one of my quickest projects with only about 5 workdays in total. Such a small timeframe forced me to work very clean and organized from the start to avoid any hiccups.
First things first. I thoroughly analyzed the scene, splitting everything up into four categories. For each category, I used a different workflow.
- Substance Designer materials
- Trim sheets assets
- Big/medium/small props
- Hero objects
For the floor and walls, I created tileable textures within Substance Designer. Although it was my first time working with SD, I managed to use this wonderful tool to quickly create textures that fit the style I was aiming for. Since I am very new to SD I, unfortunately, cannot share any special tricks.
I created a total of three textures using SD, two for my walls and one for the floor.
If you look closely you can already see the protagonist of this project’s textures: “Grunge Map 005” & “Anisotropic Noise” proved to be the best combination for woods.
Trim sheets are a real time saver! Through analyzing the props and environment, I quickly found a bunch of assets that could be unwrapped on top of a trim sheet to save texture space and time. Most of these props were wooden ones that didn't take the spotlight.
The creation of the trim sheet was fairly straight forward. “Anisotropic Noise” and “Grunge Map 005” have been my go-to SP maps. Through stretching and tweaking, I managed to forge most of my wooden textures. With different color and roughness values, I quickly created my different types of wood.
Props – Geometry & Uwrap
Keeping things optimized and as low poly as possible is always very important to me. But to achieve the soft toy look I chamfered most of my edges!
With my polycount in check, I unwrapped everything on to 5 different texture sheets. Three of them holding all my props, one for the carpets and another one for the assets (soups, etc.) that got vertex animations in Unreal.
High Poly for Baking
Most of the high poly meshes for the baking were very simple, I slapped turbosmooth on my low poly meshes and added poly loops where needed to keep my edges under control.
Very quick, simple, and smooth high poly!
Sometimes, turbosmooth isn't enough! For more complex and organic shapes I jumped to ZBrush and sculpted what was needed.
This was especially the case with most of my hero props, as they deserved a bit more love.
Substance Painter Textures
SP is one of my favorite programs. I used it for all my bakes and textures. For my high polies, I avoided small details as I reserved those for SP. This is less destructive and gives me more flexibility.
Here once again you see my beloved “Grunge Map 005” in action.
Using a few grunge maps led to uniform patterns throughout my scene. This way the different types of wood did not clash in style.
Gradients are great! In this project, I used bottom to top gradients on all my props to establish better focus.
For most props, I stayed away from smaller normal details. However, for the metal, I added very subtle grain. To soften the grain I blurred it and sometimes I painted it out of the mask if needed.
Since I was aiming for a toy plastic look I had to lower my roughness values for all my assets.
To get one step closer to the game's look I pronounced the edges of my assets with the “Baked Lighting Stylized” filter inside SP.
Unreal Engine Setup
Dressing my scene was fairly straight forward, I compared my top-down view with the game's view and only tweaked some assets here and there to make sure they looked appealing from all views.
Once everything was in place within Unreal Engine I started lighting my scene. I had not lit many scenes prior to this project, and because of that, I stumbled around a bit before getting it right.
My first attempt at lighting the scene was very close to the game's setup. This, however, did not work well from a third-person view as it became very uniform and boring. It lacked focus.
Starting from scratch for my second attempt, I drastically reduced the number of lights I used. My main light sources this time around were the two windows. Those made it very easy to lead the focus towards the cooking pots as well as the dinner table. Beyond that, I only added one more spotlight on the ceiling to brighten up the scene.
From there on it was a back and forth process to make sure all views were satisfying to look at.
For the god rays coming through the windows, I started playing around with fog and lights, but this did not yield the result I was aiming for. Once again, I started over and with the help of a tutorial I found, I created animated god rays exactly how I wanted them to look.
The tutorial for the god rays:
Following the fog, I gave the scene a warm and fluffy look. I added some exponential height fog with a peachy tone and tweaked the intensity until it looked nice!
Ambient occlusion is a great way to let everything pop a bit more. I myself am a big fan of pushing the AO a bit further to add a lot of contrast.
Sketchfab has a great post-processing filter called sharpen. I use it for a lot of my works and was hoping to create something similar in Unreal Engine. Luckily, I found another great tutorial for exactly that. Sharpening a scene just gives a lot more crispiness. It’s an effect you didn't think you needed until you tried it out once.
Sharpen post-process material tutorial:
Since the roughness of my assets played a big role in my scene, I made sure to expose that parameter to be able to adjust it on the fly.
A super fun and easy way to give some of your props some life is to use the “Simple Grass Wind” effect on your material. That way my soup looks like it's really cooking!
Finally, for all the renders I used Unreal's High-Resolution Screenshot command and for my video captures the Level Sequence tool, both super simple to use!
Even though this was one of my shortest projects, I learned a lot in the process. Through the time pressure, I managed to learn techniques that allow me to quickly create textures for stylized props within SP.
One of my biggest hurdles was getting to know SD. The experience, however, was great and I will definitely come back to create more materials in the future.
Another stepping stone was the light setup within Unreal Engine. For this project, I stuck to dynamic lighting, but I aim to make use of baked lighting in my upcoming project, as it could push the end result even further for scenes like these.
Thank you a lot for reading. I hope you found something helpful here!