Environment artist Stephane Fontaine talked about the creation of assets and materials, which would work well for a stylized video game.
My name is Stephane Fontaine, I’m an Environment Artist currently based in Paris.
I did my studies at LISAA, Paris for 3 years; didn’t know what I was going to do later, then I discovered 3D modeling and real-time after the first year of my cycle. Love at first sight, that’s what I knew I wanted to do with my life, so I just jumped all the way in it, practicing, learning, reading, watched other people’s work and try to match their level.
I have been in the industry for the past 4years, and worked in different studios (Cyanide, Spiders and Ubisoft) on various projects: “Aarklash: Legacy“, “The Technomancer“, “Ghost Recon Wildlands“,”The Division” and did help a bit on the final rush for “Watch Dogs 2“. Spent most of my time as an artist at Ubisoft, and learned a lot. Currently I’m an unemployed and looking for new opportunities outside of France. I want to discover new things, learn from other people and get better.
Stylized 3D Art
I won’t deny it, I’m a huge fan of Blizzard’s Art Style and Riot.
I love the fact that everything is painted, as I love to paint myself. The shapes are readable, exaggerated, and it gives, for me at least, a strong feeling. When I see people’s work like Michael “Orb” Vicente, Thiago Klafke, Vadim Bakhlychev or Tyson Murphy for example, I’m always amazed by the details, the execution and the “feeling” I get from their art.
It always makes me want to do more, push things over and get better !
I think it started to really kick in when I bought Warcraft III the day it was released, and I was hooked. Everything for me was there: the mood, characters, the story, the art. It gave me a big push to start drawing / paint on a daily basis.
Movies, books, comics also inspired me a lot, as an artist you need to be curious and find knowledge in every aspect of it.
Today there is a lot more hand-painted / stylized content, and it’s awesome! Like when you play Darksiders, or just read the ArtBook, you kinda want to do epic stuff like that !
The fantastic aspect of it is also important to me, as you can pretty much make anything related to you creativity, and not be “restrained” by codes and labels, such as when you do realistic stuff (depends if it’s Sci-fi, but you get the idea for modern AAA games about reality).
Low Poly Aspect
For me, the low poly aspect today is more of a choice of Art Direction. You see beautiful games in low poly (recently Astroneer), because it gives a specific feeling to the game. Nowadays polycount on models are not such a big deal, textures are.
You can stylize a realistic model, as you take shortcuts in forms and shapes, but still get a realistic result. Look at Dishonored 2 that came out recently. It’s stylized in the render, but the characters, art, have a “real” feel. the painted textures are fantastic! I think Low Poly is really useful for simple props (look at WoW’s props, they are low poly but still awesome), and they can be very useful to populate scenes fast. I mostly sculpt everything I do anyway, because I love to do it, but it doesn’t matter because in the end it will still be a low poly after retopology (think tables, chairs, doors etc). Your artistic sense is there to tell you if you should put more poly here or there to have the nice edge you want, a better bake, or the results you want in the end.
The first thing is to gather resources: pictures, art, real places, shots from a movie, anything.
Then I start to think of the whole scene, and start drawing, just to have a really simple Idea of what I want to do.
Once everything is kinda “ok” in my head, I make a very simple blockout in Max. It helps a lot about scale, readability. If it works in basic shapes, from near or afar, it will look even better after!
My pipeline for anything hand-painted or stylized related is very simple: 3DS Max for modeling, ZBrush for Sculpting, back in Max for Retopo / UV, bake in Knald, Photoshop for texturing, then Marmoset for rendering, or UE4, which I started to use a lot recently to learn new things.
Here are the 5 brushes I use all the time in Zbrush:
For realistic stuff (hard surface), I do everything in Max (use floaters, they are awesome!), then I bake it in Knald, Substance Painter or Designer for the texturing, then Marmoset to see the result with a different lighting.
I’m really interested in MODO too, I might give it a shot in the future, but I try to keep my workflow simple, as it works fine with me and I can get things done faster.
For me, it must be readable from every angle, and the silhouette too. If you can recognize something with just basic shapes, you’re on the right way. Simple example: rocks.
If you go the realistic way, you will see all the small / medium and large noise on it, all the details that when you look at it you’re like “yeah that’s a nice rock”.
For stylized, you want the shapes to be the most readable thing. Doesn’t matter if its a small rock or a cliff, the shape will tell you what kind of rock it is. The texture helps obviously, but the shape in important.
Sculpting is where you’re gonna get the most of it. Stylized content tends to have bulky shapes, broken angles, and all that contributes to this feeling. It’s simple, yet hard to get it the right way. Just need to practice !
I actually made my Handpainted compositing node to save time in Photoshop after everything is baked from the model. I needed a way to have a base composited texture fast, instead of creating folders, put the textures, rename, change the fusion layer etc..
I always use the same process, and it gets tedious and boring when you have 4/5 textures which contain various props. So I went into Substance to “automate” this and get a good base fast, so I will just have to repaint over it. Version 1.5 of the tool is done and it works a lot faster!
In the end I will always repaint on top of it, the diffuse, my spec, gloss. That way I know how the mesh will render in realtime with the maps I painted. You can’t go wrong with it. I didn’t get into fully procedural stylized material, but I will !
For realistic stuff, I usually grab multiple materials from the Allegorithmic’s website, and customize them inside Painter, it’s like cooking. If something is interesting in one material but the rest isn’t, I will keep it and delete the rest. You can iterate fast, change everything, it really is a time saver.
I also repaint in it, or do most of the Height / normal details / decals in Painter. Sometimes Ndo2 for very specific normal details before exporting it and combining it in Painter.
Modularity in UE4
Try to always think modular. Can this piece be modular ? Can I cut this into multiple elements and reassemble them together to have variations? Can I just make a tiling stripe to do this ?
Usually when my blockout is done, I count how many pieces I have, and I assign a simple color to them. With these, I make a full scene in Max to see how many times it repeats and if it works.
Remember to use the grid and set your pivots right… It saves time, makes you work faster and when you’ll be exporting into any engine will simplify your work a lot. Especially for environment stuff with lots of modular pieces. You can just snap them so fast…
Once I’m happy with the look of it, I just export the main pieces and start sculpting. Later on, when everything is baked and textured, I reassemble them in Max in various ways, then in Unreal if I need to.
To be honest, it was so simple I didn’t do anything specific.
I wanted a night scene, So I disabled the sun in the scene example from Unreal, then lower the previous sun’s time to have the night… A moon would have been cool but it worked straight away, so I just let it be like that. Then I added a directional light on the side, with a blueish tint.
I set up some sphere reflection capture to have some nice bounce on my meshes, and 2/3 lights to help push the effect of the Fire FX a bit (I have 9 lights in this scene).
Then I baked everything and tweaked the render inside the PostProcess filter.
Added some fog and voila! I could have push it a bit more, but time was a constraint.
Lighting is really interesting, and not really my domain. I’m trying to learn as much as I can to get better results in the future.