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3d artist Zack Parkinson talked about the way he achieved the incredible look of his stunning UE4 interior, inspired by the Scottish holiday estates, Resident Evil and Last of Us.
My name is Zack Parkinson I’m currently studying a BA (Hons) in Computer games Art at Teesside University within the United Kingdom. I was introduced to 3d art three years ago and I have specialized as an environment artist for games.
I have worked on many projects during the past few years, in groups and individually. The Abandoned Scottish Manor is an accumulation of all the skills I have learnt at university and my attempt at something more ambitious.
The Scottish Manor
From the start I knew I had a three months’ time period to finish this project, so I chose to create an interior to keep the scope manageable, allowing me to focus on the wear and tear details. To save time on composition and design, I recreated the entrance hall within the Kinlochmoidart House, a holiday estate situated in the Scottish Highlands.
The room has a strong composition and interesting ways for natural light to enter the scene, the idea was to recreate this hall but worn down and abandoned. I looked at games like Resident Evil 7 and The Last of Us for inspiration on how I would portray that abandoned atmosphere. I analyzed other artists like David Garret and Joel Zakrisson looking at how they approached the small details.
I started lighting as soon as I had my scene blocked out and this helped me weed most of the static baking errors by the time I started my final lighting pass.
I started with the modular pieces first, prioritising the core components of the house before moving onto detailed props. The base of the staircase and where the wood beams meet the stone went through many changes. Eventually I had to readjust the whole staircase to get it all to fit together realistically.
I heightened the ceiling and added a skirting along the top of the roof. When all the building blocks were in place, I moved onto tileable materials and detailed props. Here I started to get a good idea of the direction I was going to take my lighting.
From this point, I would keep adding props and adjust the lighting as I went on. Also, started with texture variation on the walls, and adding dust and grime on the floor.
Finally, I decided to rip the lights out and relight it with a more realistic and methodical process, only putting lights in if they had a specific purpose. I added some god ray VFX and finished off the dirt and grime on all the assets.
The first step I took was to blockout the scene, I exported the Unreal Engine 4 mannequin using it to set the scale. I did most of the scaling by eye, using a video walkthrough of the room I found on YouTube to help me. Taking the blockout into Unreal every now and then gave me a feel of the room and its size keeping me on track.
Once I had completed the blockout I broke it all down into a 150cm by 150cm gridded asset pack. This also gave me a better idea of how many assets I would need to create, allowing me to make an accurate asset list.
I only completed around half of the asset list due to time limitations, however I prioritised well making sure the most integral assets were completed first.
When it came to asset production I used 3ds Max for modeling a lot of the modular pieces and Zbrush to sculpt details into the more visible assets. Here is an overview of my pipeline when producing the Stag head asset.
I had a lot cloth to create in a small time window. I used Marvelous Designer to simulate my high poly and the ProOptimizer modifier in 3ds Max to generate my low poly.
This was very effective as ProOptimizer keeps your UV’s intact but reduces the polygon count significantly. It wasn’t perfectly optimised, but it was a very fast workflow keeping the UV’s intact, this meant I could mask patterns into the cloth texture without having to unwrap again 1:1 which would have been too time consuming.
When texturing I wanted to make sure everything blended well together, looking like it all belonged in the same place. Here is a rough break down of my overall pipeline to achieve a uniform look when it came to texturing.
When creating materials, I found spending more time on roughness variation helps a lot, especially with my wooden planks. Having each plank reflect a different value brought them to the next level.
Desaturating my albedo values made the environment look more realistic. It also made it easier to spot any materials that were out of place when it came to colour values. I would later add saturation with post processing.
Lighting and Post-processing
I wanted the lighting to make the environment feel very hot and stuffy, adding to the dusty abandoned feeling. I added a slight tint to every light as I felt pure white was unnatural, going for lots of warm colours but fading them off deeper into the room.
I used spotlights for shadows, a directional light to highlight points of interest, and point lights to fill the scene. Most of the light placement was realistic, however I broke realism on the stair case as I liked the effect of the highlights shining down each step.
Here are my Lightmass and post-process settings, I changed the lightmass.ini files to increase bake quality. Don’t forget to BACKUP beforehand just in case. My post process settings used a lot of bloom to blend to scene together, I also reduced the ambient occlusion as the bake quality was high enough to get detail into those small corners.
Feedback and Polish
Around half way through my project I had reached a point where it was starting to come together. I sent my project to tutors, friends and some contacts in industry gaining valuable critique. Below you can see a list with all the feedback I received. Also, I took a hard look at my scene, writing down everything I noticed that could be improved. With this list, I prioritised everything from most to the least important. In the last two weeks, I began to tick as many of these changes of the list; I didn’t manage to finish all of them, but enough to bring my project to the next level.
I am happy with the result of the project, I think I was successful in what I set out to do. There’s a lot of character packed into the scene without overloading the eye. I do think my environment could be optimized further given more time and it would be nice to relight this in a more horror/ night-time setting (we will see). If I could recommend one particular process I used to other artists it would be to create a polish list yourself, it gives you direction and helps you focus on the details that will matter the most.