Vistorovschi Victor talked about the production of The Astronomer’s House, a 3D environment based on Simon Stalenhag's art and made in UE4 with Blender and Quixel Megascans.
In case you missed it
You might find these articles interesting
My name is Vistorovschi Victor. I’m currently working as a Virtual Set Builder over at Safeframe VFX. Previously, I worked at Ubisoft Bucharest as an environment artist on The Crew 2 and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint.
I started out fooling around in the Serious Sam editor for a while and then moved over to Quake 3 with Q3Radiant. But I started to get more serious into environment art when Unreal Tournament 2007 came out, which was also the time I started learning 3D modeling.
The Astronomer’s House: Inspiration
I’ve already remade some of Simon Stalenhag's works in the past and I had my eye on The Astronomer's House for a while. I really like his style and the atmosphere that he creates, the idea of familiar environments combined with fantastical elements really gives it a unique feel.
The first thing was to add some geometry and terrain to fill in the scene and try to match up with the reference. I normally tab between the reference and the viewport to match the camera and object placement as close as possible. After everything is set, I start working on the terrain, trying to match it to the concept. Once everything is set, it’s time to polish the models and add details to the scene.
I recently started using Blender and thought it would be good practice to learn the ins and outs. Modeling was pretty straight forward. I started exporting the placeholder props I created inside Unreal into Blender and from there I cleaned up the models and created the UVs. Didn’t make any high poly models, only made low poly ones thinking that the models are somewhat far away from the camera and any details from the high poly wouldn’t really be visible. The only assets that I didn't work on were the vegetation and the car.
With Quixel Bridge, it was a breeze to find the right assets to use. Having tons of high-quality assets and being able to quickly put them into your scene and start modifying them to suit your needs is awesome.
For the terrain, I created material layers using the same nodes from the Megascans materials and then added the layers in the master terrain material.
And for the tire marks, I created a simple model with a snow track material from Megascans and then placed them using landscape splines.
In the scene, I used only dynamic lights with distance fields and a few point lights to add more subtle highlights. In some areas, I used decals with a gradient material in order to add more occlusion and soft shadows. And I've also used lighting layers in order to create highlights on some models without affecting the other models around them.
For the post-process, the only things I modified were the auto exposure and the ambient occlusion, which was set to 0. I only wanted to have the occlusion from the distance field meshes and from the decal shadows which allowed me to have more granular control on where the occlusion should appear.
I tried to match the tones and colors of the reference image only using the colors from the lights and from the materials and those things in combination with the overcast light I think gave the scene that soft look.
I think in total it took me around 3-4 days to finish the scene, and the process went pretty straight forward. I did hit a little snag when deciding on how to add the accumulated snow on top of models. I opted to go with a show material with displacement on a simple cylinder or sphere depending on the use case. Up close it doesn’t look good but from afar it gets the job done.