Working on the Scene for Zero Six: Behind Enemy Lines

Ehsan Ebrahimzadeh discussed his career path in the industry and briefly talked about the production process of his scene for Zero Six: Behind Enemy Lines, covering vegetation, lighting, and texture workflows. 

Introduction and Career

My name is Ehsan Ebrahimzadeh, and I am a Senior Environment Artist at Arkane Studios in Austin, Texas. 

I started my career back in 2009 in Iran. After attending school for Software Engineering, I worked with two of my friends to make our first game, which became an FPS game called “Men of Freedom: Tangestan”. Kickstarting our studio was a dream come true. We won some awards at the Iranian Game Festival, and our game became a very successful project. We had a small team of four people. I was responsible for the game’s environment, story, game, and level design, VFX, sounds, and I even played as a motion actor! I learned a lot throughout the process.

After “Men of Freedom”, because of some difficulties, I decided to move on and seek for bigger opportunities. Eventually, in 2016, I moved to the US. My portfolio was basically empty back then, I was doing everything my studio needed, but could not be focused on one thing because of the nature of my work. Now was the time to settle down and work on some personal projects. 

Our Heritage” was the first project I worked with my good friend Aidin Salsabili. After that, I worked on some others like Artstation’s Beyond Human challenge, WWII Trench, and lately the “Tropical Jungle” scene, which I worked on for a game called Zero Six: Behind Enemy Lines. 

Getting into AAA was an interesting journey, for sure. I applied to some studios I had in my mind, and finally got a call from Arkane Studios. After going through a typical hiring process like test and interview, I accepted an offer for the position.  Working at Arkane has been a blast, and I am enjoying every second of it, highly recommended!  

Tropical Jungle

About the Project

Zero Six is a third-person military tactical shooter game. For this scene, my job was to make an intro scene. After working closely with the game director and going through some different ideas, eventually, we decided to go this direction, tropical, lush jungle scene that could show not only the mood and visual target of the game, but the opportunities a player can have playing in this world and taking down enemies. 

I wanted to show the most with just one screenshot. This one scene was a good example of showing what we had in our minds.

I always start by studying and researching the concept I want to work on. For this scene, we wanted to go deep into a tropical rainforest. It was important to know the biome and find the species that grow there.

Working on the Vegetation

I mainly used Megascans and Speedtree for vegetation. I love both products and I have my own way of using them. Procedural software and photogrammetry products are helping the industry a lot. However, I think the idea of drag and drop models in the scene and render is not good enough. I tend to edit, combine, change a lot of the scanned object before bringing them to my scene. As for any procedural, I would like to use them smartly and, in a way, that my models look as natural as possible. 

Lighting & Atmospheric Effects

I used real-time lighting for this scene. The whole scene is using directional and skylight for the main lighting. I used some point lights to fake some details, but the main lighting is coming from the two lights. The angle of the sunlight and shadows was important for my composition.

The most important point in this scene was to make it look like a natural, lush tropical forest while keeping the scene readable and not noisy. It gets harder in this kind of environment when you have many different assets with close hues. Good composition, lighting, and correct values helped me in this matter. 

I used an Exponential Height Fog with Volumetric fog on, fog is cool, for sure, I see a lot of overused which can cause the scene to look milky and unclear. I tend to have a little bit of color in my fog to sell the mood of the scene.

The god rays and light shafts are set in my directional light volumetric scattering Intensity. Again, it is subtle, and I tend to not overuse post effects and light features. I want to tell a story and everything else should help my story and not become a story themselves.

Textures and Shaders

For the foliage, I used UE4’s two-sided foliage shader type. Since the forest is very dense, translucencies were important to help the lighting and readability of it. Below, you can see the main shader part. I made a quick moss shader that uses fuzziness and is based on Z-axis. 

This is an early test comparing default UE4 shader with my test, which was using fuzziness and some tricks from what was used for Uncharted 4. Both shader balls are using the same texture maps. 

Textures are made using Megascans, I like to combine, edit, and add different textures instead of directly using what I can find from Quixel. Megascans are great, especially, when it comes to foliage and natural environments. But the scene can get pretty noisy and hard to read if you just drag and drop textures and models straight from Megascans to the scene, I play with the colors, combine different textures, and edit alpha channels to make them readable. 

Thanks for reading my small breakdown.

Ehsan Ebrahimzadeh, Senior Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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