Andrew Alexandrov shared some techniques he uses during the production of his simple, but cosy real-time environments.
Hello! My name is Andrew Alexandrov. I’m an environment artist from Moscow, Russia.
Since the childhood, I dreamed to create games. However, I wanted to be a programmer. At that time, I thought that only programmers creating games (ha-ha) When I was young, around 13 years old I found out what is CG and it changed my perception of the real world. After I went to college to be a programmer at the same time self-learning 3ds Max, PS, ZBrush. To the end of study in college I got a large portfolio and began to look for a job as Architectural Visualization artist. After working for about 5 years, I felt that I was missing something. Remembering my childhood dream, I quit my ArchVis job and began to work hard to create Low-poly models, textures and materials for games. Also I started to learn Substance Designer and Unreal Engine 4. A year later I got a portfolio with Low-poly models and various procedural materials and sent it to several developers from the Jobs section on Artstation.
One of those who hired me was Bluehole, Inc working on PUBG / PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. It was a stunning team of good and motivated people. We very quickly found a mutual language. Since that started my professional work as Environment Artist
Production of Spring in the mountains
Usually I working on environment props, indoor and outdoor areas of buildings but this time I wanted to learn how artists creating large landscapes like in Witcher 3 using World Machine (WM) and Unreal Engine 4. My reference choice was Scotland landscapes. There are a lot of beautiful places. I’m not tried to repeat exact mountains or places, but it should look natural. So, I made a height map in WM and then exported several masks to define snow/rock/ground areas
WM 3D preview:
WM mask preview:
Then I uploaded height map to UE4 Landscape editor and created landscape material. It’s quite simple and using just 3 different materials with blend by masks. Also I have ability to hand paint areas with snow.
I created several material functions and then just blend them via masks
After I finished the landscape I thought, why not add something more. And here I decided to add small house deep in the mountains. The production of scene like always starts from searching references and creating blockout.
I picked this reference for the house.
I made a grid separated closely by 100 cm in some areas it’s smaller just for using vertex paint. If you won’t use vertex paint or just resource limit of tris you can blend some materials via masks and get the same quality but lower control. So, I took a texel density 1024 per 100 cm to get a good quality of texture close. To do that I used TexTools plugin for 3ds max. Really good, fast and free plugin. Also it has a lot of other neat features like copying texel ratio from other objects, automatically set smoothing groups from UV shells and many others.
For the roof I made material in Substance Designer and then just pushed some edges to get ribs. After creating 4 different deformed pieces I imported them into UE4 and then distributed on the roof area for better performance.
One of my goals was almost do not use baked textures. In this scene baked only window glass and the door. For all objects I created three very simple master materials one for the regular objects, second for vertex paint and third for vegetation. For example, the windows using two materials one is seamless wood and second baked glass (emission and roughness/metallic map)
In this scene was very important to get a realistic vegetation. I used Quixel Megascans for that.
Here is the process of creating the grass:
Create a plane and put an opacity texture of grass (or any vegetation) I used plane 200×200 cm separated 10×10 segments
Then roughly detach every piece of atlas:
After that very important to keep closely to the border of grass otherwise, you will get a very bad performance in the end. To move vertices in 3ds max I used “Preserve UVs”, it helps do not spoil UV.
When I finished with each piece of atlas I created different clusters of grass:
So don’t forget to create LODs. For grass I created two LODs reduced second by Simplygon to 15% each. For scattering the grass in UE4 I used Foliage tool. It’s quite simple.
For creating materials, I used Substance Designed. Very love this software
Here is a graph of the rock material which I used for mountains:
For the ground I used seamless texture of dead grass from Megascans. Nothing special.
For the plaster I firstly created a height map in ZBrush. I could create it in SD but I wanted to relax. The sculpting process is very relaxing for me:) Then I just mixed height maps in SD and got different textures to use them in UE4 using vertex paint.
Lighting is lovely stage for me. Because I could rotate the camera and watch very long time and also try different scenarios of light. A saw a lot of well-modeled scenes but with a very poor lighting. Guys, you should understand and remember that good modelling can be spoiled by bad lighting but bad modelling can be pulled out by good lighting! Spend as much as possible hours to study lighting. It’s very interesting also.
In my scene I used completely dynamic light and shadows and it’s going FullHD 60 fps on my GTX 970
For the light from windows I used Spot light. Also I used Exponential height fog and HDRi map for skylight. It helps me to get an atmosphere which I wanted. Check out how it affects the scene:
Exp. Fog OFF:
Exp. Fog ON:
Also I attached the Direct light to the sky sphere via Blueprint. It helps me to keep Direct light where my Sun on sky sphere.
Here are some settings of light which can be interesting for you:
And also don’t forget about post process.
It’s quite individual but it’s very important to set it. Check out how it affects the scene:
I suggest always taking pictures in UE4 with CineCamera, because it has a lot of settings like focal length, DOF and aperture like real camera.
The challenge in this scene was to learn how create a large playable landscapes with realistic dynamic light and playable 60 fps. And now I guess how it works. Sometimes to fill large areas you could create auto material. Fortunately, UE4 allows you to do this. It will help you to palace grass, trees, rocks automatically depend surface. In my scene I do not use that because there was no need.
Every time when I start new work I define the goals what skills I want to improve. I think it’s very important to be concentrated and do not stop until you reach your goals in current work.
My tip to other artist work with passion and don’t stop. Keep become better and better with every new work. After finish any work draw conclusions and start the next because artist’s skills can be improved indefinitely. And… don’t forget about lighting!
Best regards, AndrewAlexArt.
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.