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Youssef Achchari did a very interesting talk on the production of beautiful 3d environments with a bunch of small details.
Hi everyone! My name is Youssef Achchari and I’m a freelance 3d artist from Morocco. My experience includes working in 3d architectural visualization, 3d design and some indie video games. At the moment I’m looking for new opportunities to gain more experience in the games industry.
It started with an album that I’ve had for a long time on my hard drive, it was an old Romanian village. I liked the amount of detail in those references, so I decided to create a small environment in Unreal Engine to improve my workflow and learn more about the engine.
I started with blocking out the base houses in 3ds Max, mainly to get the proportions and the scale right as well as to prepare them for Zbrush. I sculpted only the larger forms to get an interesting silhouette. When it came to smaller details, I used tileable materials.
The last step was to use Decimation Master to convert them to a lowpoly and make UVs with UVLayout.
All materials were hand-sculpted in Zbrush, I generated the height map, the normal map and the masks via ZAppLink. Sometimes I use XNormal for better baking. And then I made texturing in Substance Designer. I used some tileable textures from textures.com and combined them together with masks that I had generated in Zbrush.
A great tutorial from Bradford Smith (I used Designer instead of Photoshop)
In Unreal, I used a master shader to test all my material. I made different nodes that I could use to tweak the colors also to control the roughness, ambient occlusion and normal. I used bump offset to push the details even further.
I created 2 trees in SpeedTree and adjusted density of the lightmap for better results. The grass was designed in ZBrush, using Fibermesh. I sent the high-poly to 3ds Max to add some plants that I created using texture as a basis. Also, I generated my maps in Designer.
I made a master material for foliage by using Two-Sided Foliage shader, I used different parameters to control the texture variation and tweak the subsurface color. I made a costume mask with a ground texture to combine it with the albedo. I wanted to blend it nicely with the grass to match it with the floor.
By checking my references, I started to add assets to the scene ─ I created a small group of stones, a chimney pot, a handrail, a fence, etc.
For the roof I added some extra bricks along each edge.
The wall has 4 materials for vertex painting. The main material is an old stone wall and 2 plaster materials that I created the same way as before (ZBrush and Substance Designer). The last one was a ground texture that I painted in the lower part of the houses to match it with the floor.
From this point, I started to play with my color values by desaturating my albedo to make the environment look more believable.
The lighting for this environment was just a simple setup. I lit it with a Stationary Directional light, a Stationary skylight and an Exponential Height Fog. The hdr used in this scene is from NoEmotion, as well as the skysphere. I just made sure I set the right brightness for the sky and also the good color temperature for the sun. I added some trees in the direction of the sun to give the shadow more interesting look in the environment and especially in the houses.
In the post process I used a bit of exposure and played with the color gradient.
In the end, what I wanted from this setup was to give the environment a feel of a warm late afternoon and a cozy vibe of a small village. If you want to go deep into lighting in Unreal, Tilmann Milde made the Unreal 4 Light Academy series, that was helped me a lot to understand the logic behind lighting in Unreal. There’s also a master class by Jerome Platteaux on lighting in Unreal, it lets you learn better how different parameters work in Baked Lighting.
Over the past 4 months I’ve been spending all my free time working on this environment. It was a great practice for me and thanks to it I’ve learned so much stuff about Unreal. The challenge was to get the right feeling of the scene by playing with the lighting and composition. Also, extensive use of Substance Designer really helps to speed up the process and to get a better and more accurate result.
Youssef ACHCHARI, Environment artist.
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.