Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Gaëtan Perrot did a breakdown of the outstanding 3d scene Proxima, what features an awesome combination of Victorian furniture, sci-fi scenes and gorgeous skies.
Hi, my name is Gaëtan Perrot and I’m a French Senior Environment Artist at Ubisoft Reflection in Newcastle, UK. My will to create video games started when I was in High School back in France. At the time, me and some people I met online were playing around trying to make games on our own. Back then I didn’t know anything about 3D modeling and instead I was focusing on drawing characters, vehicles or environments.
After graduating I went to a school called ISART Digital located in Paris. There I did a two years Game Art course where I studied both concept art and 3D modeling for games. My initial plan was to become a Concept Artist, but I ended up liking 3D much more during the course to the point where I shifted to become a 3D specialist by the time I graduated.
I then moved to a small company call Mando Production for a 5-month internship as an Environment Artist on a mobile game called Hills of Glory 3D. I then moved up to Ubisoft Annecy for a short period of time to work on Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag as a Prop Artist.
My first big responsibilities as an artist came when I started on Space Hulk Deathwing. There I had my take on the whole 3D Environment spectrum, from tile set/props modeling, to world building, lighting, and even weapon and character add-ons modeling.
After a year and half there I left France to move to Creative Assembly in the UK; working on Halo Wars 2 as an Environment Artist. I was mostly responsible for Hard Surface modeling and textures creation using Substance Designer. I ended up become the Forerunner specialist within our team (note: I published an article about my work on it in the 3D Artist issue number 109).
And now I recently joined the Ubisoft family at Reflections here in Newcastle to work on an unannounced project.
The idea behind this scene started when a friend and myself entered the Throne room contest. We didn’t go far as I was moving from France to the UK at the time. But our idea was to have a simple antique chair (the Throne) in the middle of a zen Japanese garden inside of a Martian station, with a big vista and all.
I worked with our original idea of creating old pieces of furniture inside of a space station. The sense of having these elements clashing with each other sounded really appealing to me.
This lady is probably quite a wealthy woman. I wanted to imply that she’s enjoying art and culture quite a lot with the instruments and the books everywhere. Is she a musician, or a singer maybe? Where is she traveling, and why?
I tried to keep the story behind the scene a little blurry as I want the viewer to connect the pieces themselves. And I think the best way of achieving that is to not connect them clearly in my head either. But I like to imply things. Maybe she’s been in that room for too long? I like the fact the only tidy thing is her appearance while the rest of the room is an absolute mess. I also think she’s drinking a bit too much…
I knew from the start that this scene will be very ambitious. I planned to do a lot of things that I was comfortable with, such as the creating a skydome from scratch, creating loads of clothes and organic modeling.
Since I wasn’t sure that I could ever make the scene the way I envisioned in my mind I decided to work in reverse. Instead of starting with a blockout and detailing from there I decided to make a list of the assets I’d like to have in my scene and made them one by one. That way if I got bored of the project, I would still have a collection of detailed props that I could use to make a simpler scene.
When I had completed the creation of my main props, I started composing the scene; and building the room itself and slowly getting things together and adding more elements when I needed to.
The concept for the lady was created a while ago when I was doodling some dress concepts. I wanted to try experimenting with how different kinds of materials worked alongside each other. This is where this mix of red silk and black fur came in which gave her the aristocratic and sophisticated look I wanted, almost like she would be ready to go to a ball or for a cocktail. I reinforced that look with the velvet gloves, the low bun and the jewelry.
Her pose suggest that she have been lost in her thoughts while looking out the bay. While she has a really static pose, the lopsided posture give her this slight ingénue and melancholic look I was after. I finally added an empty glass to suggest that she’s been drinking on her own.
All of the cloth work has been created in Marvelous Designer, including the cushions, the pillows on the chairs and the beddings. The software is easy to apprehend but it’s also really easy to get lost in, due to all the options it offers. For that reason and because I was limited by time, I decided to go for simple elements. For example, the clothes in the closet are all really simple dresses with tiling materials applied on them. I run several simulations on them to get variation especially for the ones that lay on the ground.
One of the constraints I gave myself when I started this project was to only use 3Ds Max for the modeling of the props. I find Zbrush to be really destructive and I wanted to reuse and modify elements of my high poly freely.
My workflow itself is fairly standard. I model the props directly as a high poly as it is easier when dealing with baroque patterns. Then when the high poly is done I do a retopology using a version of the model I decimate by hand. When that’s done, I bake and texture the model in Substance Painter before importing the whole thing in UE4.
One of the lessons I learnt while dealing with curves and baroque patterns is that it is much easier if I don’t have too many polygons when turbosmoothing. 3 sides are often enough for a curved piece of wood and I still have the possibility to change its form without breaking my model.
Unlike the props which have been baked bespokely, the room itself have been done using mostly a mix of tiling textures, flat trim sheets and geometry trims. The wooden floor for example has been done using Substance Designer with a pattern created in 3Ds Max. The trim sheets however have been modeled in 3Ds max and textures in Substance Painter.
The difficult thing about making composition in games is that it has to work from many of different angles. A rule of thumb would be to have a few main shots and to make sure that whatever you do, it works with these particular shots. In my case I had one main shot which is the one that shows the whole scene with the lady in the middle and the clouds at the back.
I knew from the beginning that I wanted a sunset and I struggled a lot with that. I even considered having a night version of the scene at one point. The scene uses a classic rule of thirds for the composition with the lady located of the left side of the image. I made sure that she didn’t had anything in her immediate surrounding that would deviate the focus to much as she is the centre of the attention.
Lighting and Skydome
My lighting consists of a primary directional light, a skylight and a couple of point lights to simulate the artificial lights present in the scene. Having a sunset is interesting lighting wise as I could break up the empty boring areas with a few small props that cast long shadows to create interesting patterns.
Regarding the skydome, I used Vue to create it. Vue a software dedicated to the creation of backgrounds and that is useful in creating skydomes. In my case I just had to place a few clouds generators, setup the lighting and render it. However, the quality comes at a cost as it took me 9 hours to render this IBL. After the rendering, I tweaked the result in photoshop a bit and I was done.
Even though I think it’s still was a good idea, focusing on props first and on the scene after caused me more troubles that I initially thought.
When I started to assemble the pieces together I quickly realised that they weren’t exactly what I needed for my composition. I ended up not using some of them or using them in a way I didn’t plan on at first.
The first version of the room was a full cylinder with a 360 window, like an observation bay. My initial plan was to suggest that this place wasn’t supposed to be a bedroom but had been arranged to be just that. The curve of the cylinder and the overall purposely odd layout of the shape ended up looking really odd and I spent way too much time trying to make it work. Deciding to ditch it to replace it with a layout that fits the logic of a bedroom without breaking my initial composition was the best decision but it came quite late.
Thanks to the Substance suite and to Unreal, I’ve been extremely flexible with my textures and materials. That helped me to push the visual fidelity of my scene further and I’m really glad we have such amazing tool sets at our disposal these days.