Level Art: Creating Materials for AAA-games
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by brtt
50 min ago

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by Jamie Gibson
15 hours ago

Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!

Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!

Level Art: Creating Materials for AAA-games
4 May, 2016
Interview

We’re proud to present the interview with Vincent Dérozier from Ubisoft Quebec. Vincent is a seasoned level artist, who worked on some of the biggest titles in Assassin’s Creed series: Assassin’s Creed Unity and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. He talked about his job, creation of beautiful materials and challenges of working on big projects with lots of restrictions.

Introduction

My name is Vincent Dérozier and I’m a Level Artist at Ubisoft Quebec. Like many people, I’ve always been fascinated by art, especially from the entertainment industry. I’ve developed a strong passion for drawing and naturally landed at Emile Cohl, a famous art school in Lyon. This excellent institution is specialized in traditional art, video games, animation and comics. It’s basically the place where I trained my eyes and developed my critical thinking.

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After four years with the strong support of my great family and wife, I joined the video game industry at Ubisoft Annecy, in France.

I learned many things about modeling, texturing, technical constraints, history, construction techniques, level design, level art, pre-production, art direction and even relationship skills. It was wonderful to work in an environment where everyone teaches and communicates with each other. After five incredible years and contributions to six titles, I moved to Canada to pursue new adventures.

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Since moving to Canada I have had the privilege to work on titles like Test Drive Unlimited 2, 4 Assassin’s Creed Multiplayer across four games in the series, Assassin’s Creed Unity and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

What is My Job?

On Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, I worked as a Level Artist on the opening scene, the first sequence, with mainly two other artists and one mission designer. I worked from the high level conception until debug and I was in charge of both Level Art and Level Design. Most of my environments were made with already existing props or architectural pieces and materials, making specific objects only when needed. Because of my drawing background, I have always been passionate about textures and materials.

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Texturing in the Game Industry

Today, the job of a texture artist is well defined: you are responsible of the surface rendering of an object in the engine. That job has been evolving throughout the years. As an example, we are not working on one single texture anymore, but on a material which has infinite numbers of layers linked with a shader. Depending on your engine and technical limitations of the platform you are working on, you will put visual information in different textures. If you are working on powerful engines like the Unreal Engine or the CryEngine with PBR rendering, you will be allowed to build complex and deep materials.

Again, that new way of texturing is not so different but it allows us to work in a cleaner, more efficient way because the breakdown of material is more logical and the render is more realistic.

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The main challenge in games is the budget (time, vertices and materials). As frustrating as it could look, we called it “freeing constraints” at the Annecy Ubisoft Studio.

You don’t have unlimited time?

  • Then, make a smart break down of your scene.

You don’t have an infinite number of vertices for your meshes?

  • Then, just be clean when you work.

You want to be able to project shadows according to the orientation of a high resolution surface project on a lighter one?

  • Let’s create an amazing texture stratas called the normal map.

Thanks to “freeing constraints”, normal map, blending material shaders and baking techniques were created. That’s what I love so much about the video game industry and especially about texturing. It’s all about ninja secrets you will only figure out when you face annoying constraints.

Using Substance Tools

Depending on your project requirements, you can create parts of a material with Crazybump, Knald, NDO or ZBrush. Tools are only tools, but the way and time you are using each one can make a big difference in a game. The Substance Suite is an amazing and powerful tool.

During the development of Assassin’s Creed Unity, I ended up having to do or retake several materials in a very short time for Arno’s headquarters. Usually, I would have worked with Photoshop, photobashing stratas and creating height maps by hand or sculpts. But time was running out and a close colleague of mine was learning about Substance Designer, a stunning piece of software. Substance Designer is just a tool but it is designed for one goal: creating materials in a fast and iterative way.

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To understand why that software is so powerful, you have to understand what a nodal system is. It’s not just an amazing amount of ugly pastas going in every direction for no reason and creating material in a magical way. Nodes are like the layers and the effects created in Photoshop, but in a more dynamic way because everything is automatically updated.

With Substance Designer, you can create materials out of nowhere, blend them according to mask, add baked volumes on top of it, and if you need to update something, the software updates all the stratas in real time.

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Whatever project or company you are working for, using Substance Designer as a tool for iteration and hard work are always the key to success in order to reach a high level of quality.

Main Workflow for Material

For the past two years, I’ve been almost exclusively using Substance Designer for materials. Let’s take my last material as an example, ground dirt.

After gathering a lot of references and deciding the overall look and ratio of my material, I started with the biggest and main shapes of my height map. Those are totally procedurals and only made with noises and simple blends or transformations:

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Then I added the “medium details” which is feeding the overall material without breaking the big shapes I created before:

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Here, I added the last details to finish my neutral ground surface:

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I created some rock shapes, threw them everywhere on the surface in order to have a much more organic feel than what my brain can do on its own:

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Now that the surface is coming along, why don’t we just walk on it to add footprints everywhere? Just as if some bad guys were searching for Nathan Drake! I created a very simple foot Alpha and, again, splattered it of my height map in an organic way:

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Now, let’s add some water. I created a grey value, blended it in a Max mode and played with the grey value of my plane. The effect is like if I was in ZBrush, putting a simple plane through my sculpt:

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The biggest difference with ZBrush is that I can now reuse every node, stratas or mask and link them with each other to create my Albedo, Roughness, or Metallic.

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If I change anything at any step, everything will be updated:

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Beginners’ Guide

Like a lot of colleagues already mentioned here, you need to be hard on yourself. Seek for critics, accept them instead of finding excuses and avoid negativity, especially your own. The video game industry is a great place to work and to live in. Try to not be intimidated by the work of others, just try to reach their level.

Vincent Dérozier, Level Artist at Ubisoft Quebec

INTERESTING LINKS

SCULPTING AND TEXTURING BELL CROW

WORLD & CHARACTER CREATION IN AAA AND INDIE GAMES

INTERVIEW WITH MAKEHUMAN: THE FUTURE OF 3D-CHARACTER CREATION TOOLS

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