Preston McClary discussed the Wayside project and shared technical details behind production.
My name is Preston McClary. I’m an Environment Artist who graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design in 2019 and I recently wrapped up my contract working at Microsoft's Turn 10 studios, which is responsible for creating the Forza Motorsport franchise.
The Wayside project was inspired by a country store my grandparents own in my home state of Vermont. Some of my earliest memories are from that store and I wanted to make something to pay tribute to all the good times I experienced there. This project was also inspired by games like Resident Evil 2 and Far Cry 5. Those two games served as the bar to shoot for when I was thinking about the overall quality of the scene. My ultimate goal was to overlay a story onto a real-world environment that I had familiarity with.
General mood board to help keep me on theme:
Real-world reference gathered from the actual store:
Building Setup and Materials
I treated the main building as my character asset therefore I wasn’t concerned with trying to break it down into a modkit as the building was too unique in my opinion. The building itself was modeled in Maya and then I used a mixture of Substance Painter and Designer to complete the texturing process. There’s a mixture of one-to-one texturing and tiling materials that make up the textures for this asset. For example, I used a general wood tile material for the siding of the building and a one-to-one texture for the windows as I wanted to have unique details that matched the reference.
Props and Smaller Details
Prop work for this scene was interesting. First, I wanted to challenge myself with the police car. I had previously only modeled one car before as a student during my time at Ringling so I figured it was time to freshen up my hard-surface skills. A lot of time was spent looking up the right reference as I wanted to model the iconic Ford Crown Victoria and felt it would help with that classic horror feel. The other half of the battle with the car was finding a good spec reference. In college, we treated the car as a character so it had a lot of physical topology to add detail. This time around, I wanted to create a car that was more on spec with what a prop car would be in modern AAA games. I spent a lot of time looking at vehicles in The Last of Us Part 2 to see how they balanced edge detail with baked detail. Overall, I’m pretty happy with the results on my car and it’s something that I think all 3D modelers should try at least once. It's a good way to practice edge-flow techniques and work from real life.
As for the smaller assets, the neon signs were made in Maya using splines traced over an image found on the web, and the trees were made using photo-gathered leaves and SpeedTree. To save some time, I ended up using Quixel Megascans for the tiny weeds and decals near the base of the building. Using Quixel was something I was on the fence about as I like to make things from scratch however it’s a good skill to have to be able to use photogrammetry assets as it shows you can work with other people's assets and make them fit into your own scene.
The entire scene was textured using the Substance suite, mainly Substance Designer and Painter with some Photoshopped logos and signs when necessary. This environment was a big challenge as I was committed to texturing everything and even ended up redoing some of the materials later on. I initially tried doing some photo scans with an app on my phone but the textures ended up lacking the quality I wanted so I ended up starting from scratch. There are a lot of helpful resources online and tutorials that people have put out for free that you can watch and get inspiration from.
For example, I looked at Nathan Mackenzie’s Pavement tutorial series on YouTube to help me get an idea of how to build a solid material in Substance Designer. I also looked at Emiel Sleegers’ wood plank material for inspiration as well. I recommend checking out their work as it's good to look at what other artists are creating. I try to keep the texture setup in Unreal simple. The most complex material in the scene is the glass which I spent a lot of time tweaking as I didn't want the viewer to be able to see clearly into the store. That way I could avoid having to do another set of props. Everything else on the building is a simple tile with vertex painting to add variation like cracks in the pavement and paint chipping on the wood planks.
An example of how most of the materials are set up:
One of the variations of wood I created for this project:
I tend to start finding my compositions early on during blockout. Once I’ve placed a few meshes, I’ll fly around the scene and see if I can find any striking compositions. Usually, I’ll pick two or three shots and start working from there, however, I tend to plan on changing shots as things progress and the idea evolves. With Wayside, the shot I decided to make the thumbnail of the project didn’t even exist until two weeks before I wrapped up the project.
Initial Composition VS Final:
One of the things I wanted to do with this project was to try and tell a story with my environment. I chose to lean on classic horror tropes – the beginning of Resident Evil 2 remastered comes to mind and was referenced frequently throughout the life of the project. As such, I tried to include props like the flashlight and blood splatter in front of the store to give the viewer the impression: “Hey, somethings up here!.”
Lighting also reinforces the idea as I chose to make the inside of the store completely dark to add to the ominous feeling. One of the big challenges was lighting the scene at night as I had never done a nighttime setting. I spent a lot of time trying to make the lighting feel more narrative rather than standard RPG lighting but I didn’t want everything to be 100% visible although lots of feedback from colleagues suggested I boost the lighting to get around the 100% black values.
Unreal Engine has a lookup table function which helped me overcome this as I could have finer control over the colors and gamma and really helped make the scene pop. UE4 has some good documentation on how to set up Lookup Tables, so I suggest you go check that out.
Some of the post process work:
Using the LUT:
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a bit about my project and hopefully, it will inspire you to make something awesome. You can check out more of my work on ArtStation and follow me on Twitter to see what I’m working on next.
Special thanks to Harry Gray and Adam Tschorn for helping me edit this as well as many others who provided feedback to this project.