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Recreating Realistic Evening Lighting

3d artist Timothy Dries experimented with foliage and lighting in UE4 and created this cool-looking Rainforest environment.

3d artist Timothy Dries experimented with foliage and lighting in UE4 and created this cool-looking Rainforest environment. In this breakdown, he talked extensively about his work with the materials and the lighting settings. Check it out!


Hi guys! My name is Timothy Dries and I was born in Belgium but I am currently living in Cambridge working on Planet Coaster as a Graduate environment artist. As an artist I am constantly trying to push the things that I know and expand my knowledge of programs. For the following scene I was inspired by the work of Naughty Dog and how they handled their foliage.

This whole environment started out because I just wanted to get into SpeedTree and learn how to model assets from scratch. I also wanted to have a serious go at making and organizing assets to expand my own asset library so I can get stuff done quicker in the future.


Let’s start at the beginning, this is key to any project really, but look at reference. You can clearly notice the difference in your own work and other people’s work when they use reference to construct their assets/scenes.

The tool I love using for managing my references is Trello, you can easily share boards with other people and manage group projects like this.


Starting out with the ferns and wanted to make them fully inside of Speedtree, I loved it straight away, although it has a massive amount of options to skim through and it can be a little overwhelming. The best way to learn things in my opinion is to test out the things yourself first, and if you get stuck just look it up online, there is a vast amount of information that can be found online. I also want to thank Chris Martin for giving me some tips on certain Speedtree tricks.

So in Speedtree started out with a simple spike as a base branch, then added some other spikes onto them to act as holders for every branch and then add leaf meshes onto those as seen below.

Then after I got that I made a simple plane and baked a couple of variants down onto a plane so I could start in the textures. For the baking itself I used Knald and the Integrated Substance Painter baker.

For some of the assets I made the low poly meshes in Maya, then went into Zbrush and spent some time in there to get some good normal information with sculpting and adding details using some noise and alpha brushes.

Below you can see the method I used to create my foliage starting out with the low poly all the way into the final result.

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Nothing special in terms of brushes, the ones I used are, Move, Crumple, Claytubes, Standard and some alphas that I drag over the model to give it some noise.

Substance Painter and Designer

As for the textures I wanted to create some variation in the base texture itself and then add some more variation in the engine itself. As with all things, try to experiment with new ways and techniques of adding texture. I thing I have found useful to add to my texture is some extra normal edging to make the edges feel a bit more soft than they did before.

Bark material

You know that when you spend a lot of time on foliage that it can become quite dull after a while at least for me it does, so when you feel like you are getting tired of the thing you are working on, find something you are excited about. So I came at a point when modeling all the foliage, baking it down and all that stuff was taking a bit of a toll on me, so I decided to make a bark material in Substance Designer.

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I want to do some more work on this texture as it requires some adjustments in-engine and I need it to work with minimal adjustments instead.

Master Foliage material

Then in Unreal Engine itself I started on the setup for the main material for all the foliage that was in the scene, this helps in terms of draw calls and makes the scene a little bit lighter. Everything that needed to be changed afterwards I made into parameters, this essentially makes them easily adjustable when you create a material instance from that main material.

After you setup the main material adding other variations through instancing of the materials is easy.

All you have to do is tweaking the parameters you previously setup and match to your liking, this allows for quick iterations at runtime, so no need to go back into your texture authoring tools and change the color of something..

Then for the scene itself I like to keep the progress on a scene pretty loose when working on a personal project that doesn’t have a block out of concept attached to it. You can see some of the variations of camera/scene and lighting setups down below. So don’t be afraid to start a fresh scene, but make sure you have a backup of the previous one.

A thing I also wanted to test out was Dynamic global illumination without baking the lighting, to activate this you have to adjust the ConsoleSettings.ini file and restart Unreal Engine.

More info on that can be found here.

Activating this gives you access to the GI (in a way) that you have when you bake down your lighting, the major downside to this is that it is very performance heavy at this moment, as it needs to calculate it real-time and it is still in development.

I have attached all the settings that I used below, but this is a personal thing of course, you will have to experiment with these settings and tweak them to your own liking.

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As a finishing touch I added some Godrays and some glow worms in the evening scene. As with most of the stuff that I do I try to push myself and try some new stuff, and expand my assetslibrary at the same time.

I did this for the fake Godrays, I followed a tutorial on youtube first and then made some adjustments to it and set it up as an Instance, same as I did on the foliage.

Then I could easily tweak the values and make it less intrusive to the viewer. And for the glowworms I used a particle emitter with some simple settings to make them more flowing through the air.

The final scene and all the components that make the scene and some different time of day versions can be seen below.

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I had a lot of fun experimenting with the different aspects of this scene. I was going to release the scene on Gumroad, but it turns out that you can’t redistribute Speedtree assets no matter the end format. I had a lot of fun doing this over the time of a month or 2 while I was working full-time as well.

If there is anything you want to ask feel free to contact me. And I want to thank Kirill and the team of 80.lv for their awesome and continued work on this site and for having me.

Timothy Dries, Graduate Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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