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Michael Kuwilsky gave a detailed breakdown of his amazing little UE4 scene.
My name is Michael Kuwilsky and I am currently studying Media Informatics and Interactive Entertainment in Mittweida, a small town in Saxony, Germany.
It always amazes me how much atmosphere can be delivered through game environments and this spring, I decided to give it a try and learn to build some myself, starting with a few small scenes in Unreal Engine 4 and beginning to learn several asset creation tools and workflows.
I was inspired by some artworks from the Romantic Era to make a scene that captured the feel of an autumn day with cold mist surrounding the ruins of an ancient cathedral and warm sunlight filtering through the leaves of gnarly old trees.
Many of the meshes used for the scene were from an earlier project I did, which featured a slightly damaged but mostly intact version of the cathedral. This first take seemed a little too empty and boring to me, so, for this piece, I reimagined it having fallen into ruins over the course of time.
I do not know much about lighting yet, but I tried to focus on it a little more to bring more contrast into the scene by underlining the cold of the stone with slightly blue colored volumetric fog and the living things, like mushrooms and leaves with warm colors. Therefore I placed a few additional orange lights above the leaves, while I left the main directional light white.
As it sometimes took several centuries to finish a cathedral in the middle ages, there were often changes in the architectural style throughout the building process. That is why many gothic churches actually feature a mixture of different building styles. In order to emulate this and bring more interest into the structure, I decided to replace the upper half with windows inspired by the French Late Gothic Flamboyant style while the rest was kept in a look reminiscent of the High Gothic period.
Making the Assets
I started with modeling the base meshes in Maya and Blender, using curves to create the windows and box modeling the shapes for the other architectural parts. Then I took the meshes that would be most noticeable into ZBrush to sculpt the high poly details onto them.
To break the parts down and make them seem more like ruins, I cut some pieces out of the high poly meshes with the help of booleans. I retopologized them to get low poly versions, some of them manually with ZSpheres, but most with the help of the ZRemesher plugin for cleaner results before putting them through the Decimation Master plugin to reduce the polycount to a minimum while still preserving the silhouette of the objects.
Finally, I baked the normal maps and textured some of the assets in Substance Painter. To reduce the number of materials, I reused most of them for smaller meshes, like ruin parts by placing their UVs on fitting areas of the textures.
To make some tileable textures I used photos I took in the past years and edited them with Photoshop and Substance Bitmap2Material to get the other textures needed for physically based rendering. These textures did not turn out well because I was in a hurry and not good at texturing, but since my spare time was running out I used them anyway.
If I would do a scene like this again, I would try to use Substance Designer. I am currently learning it and still far away from making good textures, but seeing the great materials some other people are creating, it really seems to be the best option.
The foreground tree consists of two meshes, a branch with planes for the leaves-texture and a trunk part, which I have sculpted and retopologized in ZBrush. They have a lot polygons and can’t be used for a whole forest. So I made another, more simple tree to be used in the background with the sapling plugin from Blender.