Recreating The Division In UE4
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Recreating The Division In UE4
4 May, 2018
Environment Art
Environment Design
Interview

Stefan Oprisan shared a detailed breakdown of his marvelous UE4-scene based on one of the locations of Tom Clancy’s The Division.

Introduction

Hi everyone, my name is Stefan Oprisan and I am an Environment Artist at Playground Games, home to the Forza series. I studied 3D Games Art at Teesside University, and in my second year undertook a 6-week placement at R8Games, the makers of Formula Fusion, which is an anti-gravity racing game.

The Division project

Originally this was going to be my final year project at university, but at the time I was playing both The Division and Rise of the Tomb Raider. It was a hard choice between the two, but I eventually decided to recreate the latter as I was amazed by the narrative direction of the game. You can find my level here. Since then, I have been working on various personal projects but kept returning to concepts from The Division. I finally had the time to do it, and so chose the subway scene. This was largely because of how stunning the level of detail is in the game, especially in small confined areas like subways, safe houses, streets, and alleyways. So, I challenged myself to create my own version of an underground station that would have been affected by the contamination.

Production

All of the references I had for the project were a mixture of the in-game screenshots and real-life photographs. I started researching the architecture of New York subway systems to get a good idea of the space and general surroundings. Looking at existing NY subways, I created mood boards of key architectural elements that would lay the foundation. This includes the floor, walls, pillars, stairs, ceiling, pipes, etc.

Within Maya, I created modular set piece components that would help to easily blockout the level. This includes simple planes of 200 units that would snap via the grid. I ensured all my major components had realistic measurements in their width, length, and height to match the game playing area.

Once I was happy with the overall layout of the blockout, I started compiling a list of assets that I would need. This involved taking in-game screenshots of the type of assets you’d expect to find within The Division environment. Once I gathered enough in-game screenshots, I started to collect their real-life counterparts to check how they reacted to light, normal intensity, colors, etc and material references from Artstation to gain an insight into how to build my own materials. In total, I had over 140 assets that were used to set dress the level.

Assets

I started modeling my assets by researching their real-life dimensions to ensure they scaled realistically and modularly. Most assets were modeled as simple as possible with the mindset of either using unique textures or tiling materials created in Substance Painter/Designer or Photoshop for any text or patterns. Other assets, such as the bin bags, had three unique variants created in Marvelous Designer, which I created by following this tutorial. I implemented these features by using master materials and custom functions within Unreal Engine and created them as complex and customizable as possible. I tried to minimize how many shaders I needed for the scene.

I created custom functions to speed up materials and optimize what was being packed in to the texture. One of the functions featured re-generating blue channel of the normal on the fly, allowing me to replace it with my roughness, while the alpha would use either metallic, emissive or opacity depending on the asset type. The other function allowed blending two normals with individual inputs and strengths which helped add micro detail to certain assets. 

Other aspects of my shaders, such as the subway marble of the wall, featured damage and grime which was painted via vertex texture blends. I also used a lot of decals in my environment, specifically for the different types of grime and graffiti. I created a custom RGB material that allowed three different types of textures, all able to swap from a simple RGBA texture. 

The major placement of the assets started with the idea to recreate organized chaos, meaning that I wanted the environment to look vandalized and abandoned, but still have a context within The Division universe. Looking back at some of the E3 trailers, I tried to replicate the environment as closely as possible via the lighting, scene composition, and ambiance. 

Placing all of the rubbish was time-consuming at the beginning of the project since it had to look believable and make sense in the scene. In areas where there was a bin, I made sure to overflow rubbish and grime, whereas open areas feature less rubbish, but still had lots of grime. I created several prefabs that were scattered in certain areas to add a higher amount of detail dependant on the level of dirt in the area. 

Other elements such as bottles, cans, newspapers and pill bottles assisted in creating another layer of rubbish, and this was achieved by using the foliage tool. I particularly focused on corners and shadowed areas, featuring more rubbish and grime (as they wouldn’t be attended as other exposed areas).

My main goal with this project was to get a near 1:1 scale and representation to what the game itself achieved. I wanted the viewer to look at the screenshots and believe they were part of the game.

Textures

Key textures such as the walls, floors, ceiling and a few tiling materials were all done in Substance Designer (you can find them here.) All other props, like the concrete barriers that had a higher level of detail, were created and UV mapped in Maya, sculpted in Zbrush and textured in Substance Painter. The cloth assets such as the tarps and bin bags were simulated in Marvelous Designer.

I created three main variants of the subway marble: a clean version which featured a red and blue pattern, an extremely dirty version and a damaged version that was controlled via vertex paint. The substance material contained all three elements with info pins to help me remember where each major change in the material existed. 

The material itself was simplistic and extra detail and functionality was added in UE4. Extra roughness and grime were controlled via two RGB masks with their own sliders. The other master material used for props had features such a desaturation, specular, metallic, opacity, emissive, tiling and a color override via a mask in the alpha of the albedo, to add extra color detail to certain assets. 

Graffiti

The graffiti was a particularly difficult process, mainly because I didn’t have the time to recreate the level of detail which the graffiti in the game has. All the colored graffiti was researched on the internet, while the writing itself was custom made with fonts in photoshop. I used RGBA masks that helped me to pick color and transparency amount etc. This way, I was able to have four textures with sixteen variants of graffiti, which made the scene dynamic. Additionally, the grime that is visible along the top and bottom edges used a much simpler shader since it had its own color information. (Insert Image 15)

Post-production 

Post production was quite easy really. I took as many screenshots as possible in the order I wanted them displayed, and added some subtle color correction and sharpening in Photoshop.

Lighting was a challenge for me. I wanted to recreate The Division lighting as accurately as possible without having the need to add fake light to simulate bounce lighting. The primary warm lighting was coming from the underground subway tube light, but any additional lighting that CERA would have added to illuminate certain areas or paths had a cold blue temperature. A great feature which enhanced a lot of detail was the use of volumetric fog in 4.18. This added a sense of mystery and created an ambiance in the level which is frequently seen in the game. Even though the scene is underground, low levels of fog were added to make the environment feel cold and hostile. 

Having the ability to control how much volumetric scattering each light had was really important, as it offered the player a sense of direction. One other feature that helped was enabling the use of emissive for static lighting, which simulated the glow of each light source without having to fake it.

Also, one thing to note I was using at all times non-inverse square falloff as it helped manage to amount of light being lit but also temperature was used to add the cold/warm feel of the level.

Within the post-processing volume, I tweaked the exposure and global illumination, which helped brighten the dark shadows enough to stop them from being pitch black. Other areas included color grading, bloom, lens flare, AO, etc. Choosing which lights would be on or off was particularly tricky as I didn’t want a completely lit environment, however, in the end, I was pleased with how the lighting turned out.

Challenges

The greatest challenge in this project would have to be staying motivated to complete it. There were occasions when I didn’t have as much time as I wanted or needed to work on it, and at some points, it felt never-ending. However, sometimes you just have to push through and be proud of what you have achieved, regardless of how long it took to finish. So, I would say the main lesson I’ve learned is perseverance!

The greatest challenge for me was choosing an environment from the game and trying to apply my own style, whilst still creating a recognizable scene from The Division.

I would say the best advice is to take as long as you need to make every detail feel real and believable. Try and gather as much feedback from other artists as possible, and make sure you post work-in-progress images on public forums early on, so that you have plenty of time to improve on your work. (Good places to start are Polycount, dedicated 3D Discord groups or by creating your own ArtStation blog).

Stefan Oprisan, Environment Artist at Playground Games

Interview conducted by Artyom Sergeev

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