Working on a Forest Watchtower with Quixel Megascans

Working on a Forest Watchtower with Quixel Megascans

Drysen Geoghegan talked about his Watchtower scene created with Quixel Megascans assets and Blender.

 

Introduction

My name is Drysen Geoghegan, I am an 18-year-old Graphic Designer and Digital Artist from Grand Rapids, Michigan. I first became interested in 3D Art/Graphics around 4-5 years ago. I was attempting to find a free method to create audio visualizations for the music I was making at the time. I stumbled across Blender 3D and eventually ended up dropping out of making music and moving into regular 3D art. At the time, I wasn't making any projects I was really proud of. At some point, however, I decided to dive into art more seriously.

I haven’t worked on many commercial projects, mostly due to the lack of exposure, but I have made close to 200 personal projects for both personal improvement and emotional expression. At this moment I am working on a project I have titled Dead Mother of the Living, which is going to be a horror art piece. It is inspired by a poem a friend wrote and the Outlast video games.

Studying 3D

I have not had any formal training in 3D art, and I am entirely self-taught. I used to spend countless hours on Youtube watching videos on anything and everything Blender-related. Eventually, I was able to start watching those videos at x2 speed and then gradually moved to videos on other software to build on my Blender techniques. 

Nowadays I don't watch too many videos for education on any specific things, mostly I just leave videos playing in the background looking for new techniques that may help with my workflow.

The Watchtower Scene: How It Started

A few months back I decided to take the plunge and join the Quixel community because of the multitude of amazing assets they provide. I originally went in with their rock and cliff assets, as I've always been drawn to deserts, mountains, and rough terrain. But recently, I acquired Forester for C4D and decided it was a good time to practice a forest environment. I did not expect it to get the attention of Quixel, or the response it received from other artists. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it featured by Quixel

My grandparents have a cottage in Northern Michigan where hikes and little explorations in the forest have always been a joy for me. I believe these experiences were a partial inspiration for The Watchtower scene. My main inspiration, however, was the game Firewatch and another video game called Vigor. The visual style in Firewatch inspired around 95% of the piece in terms of lighting, design, and composition, but Vigor is the game that originally placed the idea in my head.

Utilizing Ready Assets

With the Watchtower scene, I used Megascans assets to ground the piece into realism. The surface maps, rock assets, and vegetation are top-notch, and instantly bring realism into a piece. For grass and small details in this piece I used a Blender add-on called Graswald. I also used Forester's Multiflora for small variation in the grass adding flowers and different assets. For the small details of the path I used sticks, wood debris, and rock assets from Megascans. For the medium-sized boulders/rocks in the scene, I used one of the granite rocks from Megascans and placed it throughout the scene with a particle modifier. Most of the time I bring the assets into Blender using Quixel Bridge since it's as easy as one mouseclick. I also used their awesome tree trunk/stump assets to add a feeling of age to the scene.

To customize most of the Megascans assets I used, I added some procedural color variation and basic color tweaking to match my environment. This was done using a noise texture plugged into a color ramp with colors I wanted the assets to have a tint of. I then randomly applied the texture/color per object with 20-50% effect using the random output of the Object node.

Tower & Ground Plane

The modeling in the scene was minimal, as I only needed it to create the watchtower and the ground plane for a specific look. To make the watchtower I used several scaled cubes lined up to a reference image. From there, I textured it using Blender's built-in UV and node editor. I used a wood plank PBR material I obtained from Textures.one.

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The ground plane was created using Blender's built-in sculpting tools. Additionally for the ground plane, I used Quixel materials and Blender's texture painting mode to mix between a few different materials using an RGB map to blend each specific material with each color. I had one basic dirt material, a simple large scale grass material, and a gravel material.

Challenges

This project was very much a new approach for me, as I have not often attempted photorealism, but also I have never done such a complex nature scene. A big challenge for this piece was the fact that I never went for complete photorealism and my limited knowledge of how to work with a realistic atmosphere and lighting. However, I think my biggest challenge was mostly just a slow computer. I have barely a mid-range PC, and with as dense of a scene as this, it was just a patience game. To enhance my future projects I want to begin saving for a PC upgrade so I can create more of these highly detailed scenes without the need to tear my hair out over crashes and slow performance. 

Future Plans

A skill I want to work on more is making large scenes with getting the scaling of everything in the scene to seem as realistic as possible. Another thing I want to begin learning is how to create detailed realistic night-time environments, as they always have a sort of mystery set behind them, an effect that always pulls me - and I'd imagine others - into an image. I believe this is because everyone is at least a little bit afraid of the dark.

My current project, Dead Mother to the Living, is going to be a nighttime scene located in a forest. For this scene, I want to achieve both realism and surrealism. I am planning on using more Megascans assets for this project as they are so powerful and easy to use. 

Drysen Geoghegan, Graphic Designer & Digital Artist

Interview conducted by Ellie Harisova

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