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Kenan Wilsher did a little breakdown of his environment projects, where he tried to mimic the atmosphere of some famous games.
Hi! My name is Kenan Wilsher, currently finishing up my final year in Computer Games Art at Teesside University. I’m originally from Wakefield, England but I’m currently residing in the North East of England looking for employment after university.
I’ve worked on a number of game projects before (small local game jams and group study projects), however, my published work and the work I’m talking about today are just side projects in my spare time and work that I do for the university.
The most important elements to environment art, in my opinion, are immersion, visual storytelling, and stylistic consistency – everything needs to feel like it belongs in the world and that world has existed long before you step foot there as a player.
To really nail those principles, I always start my projects by creating a simple corridor from the world I’m creating and from there the world almost creates itself because I know almost exactly how everything else should look (it’s almost like creating my own reference). Due to the small space, this allows me to fully immerse and tweak things quickly to get that all-important stylistic consistency.
It’s almost like a small-scale test scene for the rest of the world – to see what materials work, what lighting styles look right, etc. You can see what I mean when looking at my previous work and see that corridors are the beginning of any interior scene for me.
Some of my friends have joked to me that I should be a dedicated corridor artist! But it is the best advice I can give to anyone if they struggling to find consistency in their style.
From a technical viewpoint – I like to start by analyzing what materials I need and creating those within Substance Designer. For example within the ‘Prey’ environment – after analysis, I found that the common recurring materials within the ‘office-like’, Art Deco areas boiled down to wood, gold/brass, and marble.
This allowed me to create my walls and my floor. The form and style of the meshes needed to all follow the Art Deco style as well and that’s where the architectural style really shines as I tried to follow the geometric shapes and stylings.
Once that corridor is nailed and I like what I see, I can use what I have to go into the production of larger, more complex environments.
Like a lot of other artists I know, my blockouts constantly change during production of personal projects.
With my current project, the blockout of the ‘stasis room’ changed dramatically as you can see below. The size of the environment drastically increased in order to improve level design and composition.
I tend to use double smooth (the method of turbosmoothing by smoothing group and then adding a normal turbosmooth) to create most of my high poly meshes quickly. I can then go back in my modifier stack within 3ds Max to get my mid-poly mesh.
I’ve played around with scanned data before but never actually used it in any of my work yet. On that specific piece, I was lucky enough to work with the very talented technical artist Calvin Simpson, who was responsible for creating a master shader that allowed us both to easily modify our materials.
Mostly this detail comes down to a mixture of a normal map, detail normal, and most importantly the roughness map. Whilst the normal details can add complexity to the meshes, the roughness map tells the most stories – when you look at a painting in the scene for example. The layer of dust on the roughness shows age, handprints that show that it’s been disturbed in the time it’s been there, drips down the painting can show a leak in the roof – all of these different kinds of stories can be told in the roughness detail.
I’ve been using Substance Painter and Designer for about 2 years now and they have allowed the creation of much more realistic PBR materials. The use of custom masks along with the flexibility and control over the PBR values means I can make iteration upon iteration to find the ‘sweet spot’.
The level of wear and tear obviously depends upon a number of storytelling factors. Where is the object located? How long has it been there? What purpose does it serve? Does it move?
These all affect the wear and tear of the object – thankfully I account for mistakes I might make by having parameters within my master shader that allows me to control a lot of my defects within the engine.
I like to add a sharpen filter set to passthrough for all unique models textured in Substance Painter as it makes the micro-details really pop.
Decals are a huge part of my workflow! I like to add a lot of details with decals to break up repeating patterns and shapes in textures and within the composition. You’ll notice that the floor in the stasis room is broken up by decals to try and break up the repetition within the material, and also give a visual cue of the ‘playable space’ in the room.
I also utilized decals to generate details for the walls that give a little bit of storytelling, however, the bloody footsteps on the floor in the scene in my eyes create the most mystery and intrigue, as they are consistent throughout both scenes and tend to lead the eye within the composition.
As I mentioned before, having a small corridor is a good starting point to test lighting, however, on bigger spaces, I tend to use different methods. I usually start by flooding the scene with lighting and figuring out where lighting sources are coming from, and what areas should be dark.
From here I go about doing my initial lighting pass (this will usually look awful, but it serves the purpose of knowing where I want my key lights to be).
I’ll usually work on some more of the scene and composition with this basic lighting build, before finally moving onto working out my lighting.
By using IES profiles I can get my lights to act realistically and more along the lines of arch-vis lights.
The final passes
I’ve utilized color LUT’s a lot in my work as I find they can dramatically increase the cinematic quality of my work. To create these I looked at a lot of the scenes from Prey to try and capture the same sort of color grading.
Of course, the work isn’t done there though, playing with the color grading and making the appropriate corrections makes the style of the scene even more consistent.
The ambient occlusion was a huge part of establishing the lighting style, so I spent a while ensuring that this was nailed in all areas.
Due to the areas both being slightly different, and with one area having external natural light coming in – I found it easier to use two separate post process volumes so I didn’t change one area and find the other area looked completely different to what I originally had.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my work on this platform, I hope this was insightful and you can find my portfolio of work here.