Leo Brynielsson did a fantastic breakdown of his amazing stylized 3d environment. Beautiful work with the lovely hand-made materials.
I’m glad you like it! Making this environment was a challenging learning experience. I’ve had the idea for a long time, trying to create an environment that’s reminiscent of a painting. I wanted to mix my skills from painting concepts and illustrations with my 3D knowledge. To make it easier, I used one of my older concepts for inspiration and figuring out how to do it. The key element I had to figure out was to find the answer to what it is that makes this stand out as a painting?
Is it the apparent brushstrokes, the colors, the variation, the detailed silhouettes, the depth or something else? And how can I “convert” this to a 3d environment. The scene itself turned out very different than the concept but it was a good starting point.
For the textures, I decided to mostly use tileable textures, making as few as possible. The most important textures in my scene were the bark and the moss, so I focused mostly on those. I made two variations for the bark and one moss texture. I assembled those in one material and used vertex colors to blend them on the meshes. For each submaterial there’s one normal map and one diffuse map.
I started with painting the height map in photoshop, trying to keep that brush feel as much as I could.
Then I used Substance B2M to convert those into normal maps. I also used the height maps as “guides” when creating the diffuse maps. This was the process for the tileable textures. Overall most of the main textures were created in Photoshop. The stones were sculpted and painted in Mudbox, trying to be subtle with the normal information and getting that brush feel going.
The most important models here are the trees. I wanted to be able to easily create unique trees with different combinations so I decided to create different chunks of wood and branches. I then puzzled them together and used decals and vertex painting to hide the seams.
Here you can see some pieces and how I assembled them to create the bottom of a tree. I tried to keep the polycount as low as possible for the different parts and merged the trees inside Unreal when they were fit together. I modeled all the different pieces in 3ds Max, trying to keep the amount of assets as low as possible to make the process more effective. All in all I used two tree trunks and combined those with a few roots and branches. To fill up the gaps in the tree crowns and creating an illusion of high detail I used some alpha textures.
The water is quite simple. High metallic value and planar reflections to get the crispy reflections. For the motion I have two panning normal maps and then for a stylistic touch I have a basic outline shader using depth fade.
I wanted the sky to complement the serene and mystic feeling of the forest. I decided I could get away with making it quite simple and since it was not my focus when doing this environment I decided to use the Unreal standard dome, tweaked for my liking. The result is the most important and if I can find shortcuts, I take those shortcuts. As long as I’m satisfied with the outcome. To spice it up and enrich the vista I made a planet texture. It’s a simple alpha texture applied to a plane.
The lighting process was tricky and it took alot of iteration until it had the right vibe. I tried to nail it early on but it evolved a lot during the development. The most challenging part was to find the right values and contrasts for the whole scene. To keep it simple I mainly used one directional light and an ambient light with a high value to strengthen the easygoing look I was going for. To enhance the focal point I added some warm spotlights to light up the big tree and in addition to that I put some purple lights in the shadowy parts of the scene, to create and interesting contrast. I tried using both dynamic and baked lighting and concluded that using baked lighting gave the best results for this particular scene, especially for the shadows.
All in all, it took me around 1 month to build this scene. I’ve learned alot and it was an interesting and challenging experience. The most challenging part when creating this scene was to nail the painted look, to make it feel alive and interesting. Initially, the ambition was to create an unique art style that would work well in a game. I had optimization in mind and tried to keep the performance as good as possible. But there’s of course room for optimization and if it was made for a game there’s plenty of things I would have done differently.