Tony Arechiga talked about the production of stunning terrains and backgrounds for the game Disintegration developed by V1 Interactive.
Since we last talked in 2018, I started working with V1 Interactive as a remote freelance artist, working on the content and sending it to them. However, it was a challenge for them to get the content staged the way I wanted in the project, so I asked if I could start coming into the studio a few times per week and building the skyboxes in-house. It made it way easier to integrate the content. After about 6 months of doing this, I just started going to the studio regularly and then joined them full-time as a regular in-house artist.
Disintegration Vistas Production
All the spaces in the game are mostly natural and based on real-world locations. So, I was able to make the vistas based on my own photographs or reference images provided by the team. It was mainly up to me to fill the background space with my own ideas. After that, I would adjust and change it based on feedback from Marcus Lehto.
I also flew around Google Earth and tried to match the look of the mountains:
I built out a library of various mountain and terrain types using mainly World Machine and ZBrush. The game has a few different biomes that I had to create terrains for, and it was a lot of fun. I had various distant mountain peaks, a midground rolling terrain, and various terrains to blend the playspace with the skybox. Some of the mountains could be used in different areas with different material instances on them. So I could use a lot of the same terrain with one master material, and various instances with different settings tweaked.
For example, these 2 mountains are the same mountain just scaled and with 2 different material instances:
A scaled-down mountain with up-normal snow:
The same mountain scaled up with same up-normal snow material, different normal map, and snow settings in the material:
A really simple breakdown of the terrain:
It's just a few individual sections of terrain that are blended together via the material.
I then add in a few panning cloud cards and fog to blend it even more into the background.
A lot of the texturing was done with rendering out an RGB mask in World Machine. I then would build out a material in Unreal using various tiled textures to get the desired look. A lot of the snow on the peaks was generated in the material using an Up Normal shader, but sometimes it didn’t get me the desired look. So I would generate a mask in Substance Painter using the dirt generator. I would then export that out and add it to my RGB mask.
Examples: RGB or SPLAT texture rendered from World Machine with Photoshop, and Substance Painter blend. So here the Red Channel is the snow mask generated in Substance Painter and edited a bit in Photoshop. The Green is the trees. I have the blue channel off here but that would be the cliffs or rock texture. All of these are using world coordinate alignment nodes. So the mesh can be rotated, scaled, and moved without the texture looking stretched or weird. If there is anything wrong with the texture scale on the mountain, the tiling can be adjusted in the shader.
Here is a mountain terrain section using the above mask for trees, snow, and rock.
Working on Skyboxes in Unreal
Working in Unreal has been amazing! The tools the engine provides for background work is pretty awesome! Particularly when it comes to auto-optimization and adjusting texture resolution on the fly. So you can author higher-res content and then optimize it later in the engine for performance. I also really like the Merge Actor tool! You can take a handful of playspace assets and then combine them into one lower rest asset for skybox use.
I really enjoy how easy UE4 is to pick up and the ideation time is just incredible. What you see is what you get most of the time in Unreal! Sometimes after baking lightmaps, you will get some funkiness, but with UE4 most things can be fixed very quickly. UE4 has recently added a bunch of new sky and lighting features that I have been diving into! I can’t wait to use these in a production setting.
The biggest discovery with making vistas and skies in Unreal was just the general UE4 workflow for it all. I really enjoyed learning about movement and other shader work within Unreal. I tried to figure it out on my own and asked artists in the community for tips, plus leaning on our FX artist and Marcus in this matter really helped, too. I am still learning new stuff every day in UE4.
While working on this project, I had to really think about performance and getting the skies done fairly quickly. I had to wear a few different hats at V1! I helped with vistas, lighting, and world art. The biggest challenge at first was learning UE4 and creating a workflow that could produce results fairly quickly. It was a great learning experience to be on such a small team! We only had 3 environment artists and it was a whirlwind getting this game over the finish line. This project helped me optimize my vista creation workflow.