Understanding Texturing for Environment Design
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Understanding Texturing for Environment Design
26 December, 2017
Environment Art
Environment Design
Interview

Michael Andreula did a little breakdown of his beautiful environment, inspired by the illustrations of concept artist Tony Holmsten.

Introduction

Hello, my name is Michael Andreula, I am currently a senior at Champlain College in Burlington Vermont, studying Game Art & Animation. For as long as I can remember I have always enjoyed drawing, animation, and games. However, it was not until my mid teens that I really started to appreciate games for the art form, this was thanks to games like Gears of War, Bioshock, and Skyrim. Seeing the gorgeous atmosphere and environments presented in these games really opened my eyes and made me want to create worlds like these for a living. It was right around that time I started using 3d softwares like Maya and Max in high school. But, it was not until I entered college that I really began to hone my skills, and began my journey to become an environment artist.

Project

The environment is based on an illustration by concept artist Tony Holmsten. I knew from the very beginning I wanted to create a very tight, busy, urban environment, and Tony’s concept art perfectly capture that. After having my concept selected, I then began collecting as many reference images I as I could, stuff like urban buildings, air conditioning units, signs, and awnings. It was important that I had these reference images early on so I did not have to spend time later searching for them while creating the scene. With all that in mind the main goal I wanted to achieve was to create a believable environment, that looked lived in, while earning a better understanding of Substance Designer and Painter.

Tony’s concept:

Production

The first thing I did once I began working on this environment was to break down the elements. I made a list of all the assets I was going to need, and determined what the scale of what each asset would be. It was really important to get the larger elements nailed down first in order to set the scale of the scene. I then made rough blockout outs of the the main structures in 3ds Max and placed them accordingly in Unreal. This gave me a visual of what the scene would look like in Unreal, and allowed me to reiterate on these assets as needed.

Buldings

All the buildings were constructed using modular assets, which were 4 meters wide and 4 meter high. Some of the more unique building such as the coffee shop (MoonBucks) had larger modules, so instead of being 4×4 they were 8×4, but the overall construction was basically the same.

This process allowed for assets to tile easily and for the overall creation of the buildings to be simple. I create dozens of building assets such as walls, corners, roofs, etc. and they all easily snapped together. This also granted me to ability to mix and match pieces together so repeating assets were less noticeable. All of the smaller pieces such awnings, signs, windows, and air conditioning units were separate assets which further allowed me to get more variety and break up the repeating assets.

Signs

For the signs I basically had a few texture sheets that had a bunch of tightly packed signs that I created in Photoshop. Most of the signs were actual signs from real Japanese shops I found on google images or google earth. My process was I would find a sign that was visually interesting and corresponded to the building it would be part of. I would then bring the image into Photoshop where I would edit it to look weathered, by adding scratches, dirt, and color variation. It was very important that signs looked like they existed in a lived in world, so the weathering detail was crucial in order to receive this look. Finally I would create roughness and metallic maps.

Textures

Almost all of the tileable textures were created in Substance Designer. Since my goal of the project was to become more proficient with Designer and Painter I tried to use them as much as possible. In order to get more variation out of my textures I heavily utilized vertex painting and material instances. One of the many things I did in order to ensure my vertex painting results had the weathered grungy look I wanted was to create two versions of a texture. For instance I had base concrete material and then a dirty concrete material. I then used a blend system set up in Unreal where I could vertex paint multiple textures onto a single mesh.

I also used material instances as well, which gave me the ability to create duplicates of materials while also having the ability edit properties such as color, roughness, and metallicness. The benefit of this was being able to do this all within Unreal’s material editor as opposed to having to create new additional textures each time. This greatly saved space and time.  

Lighting

The lighting was incredibly tricky. Since the scene was so narrow it was really hard to get the shadows to cast the way I wanted, especially with all the wires and signs. I really wanted the lighting to give off the nice warm feel of a sunrise while also looking realistic, so getting it right was really important to me. However, the main lighting setup at its core was essentially just two directional lights. I had one light cast shadows and the light shafts, and the other light functioned as a fill light to soften the shadows. I then began to expand upon this by adding additional spotlights and point lights in places that did not receive enough light. I also utilized Unreal’s lighting channels which allow for lights to only affect objects within the same channel as the light. This was great for lighting up specific objects and not having to worry about it affecting the rest of the environment. It was really important for me to get this part right and still have the scene still look realistic.

Challenges

Besides the lighting, the most challenging part of the environment was to make it feel lived in. In Tony’s concept the whole piece feels cohesive and alive, but one of the reasons for this is because people populate the scene. It was very challenging to make this environment feel and lived in without people in the scene. The way I accounted for this was by populating the scene with a lot of props and adding clutter in order to made the scene feel less empty. Elements like the litter, bikes, and traffic cones really pushed the scene and made it feel less abandon. It was also important to not over do it to the point where it felt too cluttered. Finding the right balance of these element was very essential to this environment and a very tricky task to tackle.   

Michael Andreula, Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev
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1 Comment on "Understanding Texturing for Environment Design"

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Ross Taylor
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Ross Taylor

Hi, loving the project! do you have any references as to where you learned substance from? not even touched it yet but as im also trying to learn the same workflow/processes as you

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