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3D Artist Leonid Prokofiev wanted a challenge that would introduce to UE4 while pushing his environment creation skills, so he designed an asset-heavy plane crash site in a South Dakota forest. His workflow demonstrates both important fundamentals of environment design as well as helpful UE4 tips. Read on for an excellent breakdown, including:

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Rough Block
  3. Mesh Approach
  4. Sticks and Stones
  5. Vegetation
  6. Texturing
  7. Lighting
  8. Result

Hello, my name is Leonid Prokofiev and I’m from Kharkiv, Ukraine. My first 3D job was at Threedex studio where I created interiors, exteriors, and sometimes assets for games. Currently, I am working as a 3D Artist at Gameloft studio. I’ve had the pleasure to work on several games such as Gangstar Vegas, Spiderman, Asphalt 8, and Asphalt 9.

1. Brainstorm

The main idea was to create a distant forest area with both natural beauty and man-made objects. It was important to choose a place, time period, and culture before jumping into the scene, so I decided to depict a plane crash site and a survivor’s house in a location similar to South Dakota.

I found a few references for my location and started creating a rough top-down map of my environment.

2. Rough Block

The next step was to block out my location in 3ds Max, which you can scroll through below.

After that, I started learning UE. I exported some large block out meshes from 3ds Max and began creating my environment using the Landscape tool.

Also, I created a list of assets that I needed for the scene. This was important because I planned on using the assets (especially man-made) to help date the scene.

Watch this course overview to hear more about Organic World Building in UE4 taught by Anthony Vaccaro.

3. Mesh Approach

First, I started making rocks. I uploaded a block out mesh of cliffs into ZBrush and began to sculpt. Just for the sense of scale, it is very convenient to upload an additional human reference or something that will help you understand the scale. I needed to create large shapes and tried to get an interesting shape. It was not necessary to add a bunch of detail since I planned on adding detail on the normals in the material in UE.

As for low-poly mesh for organic objects, I created it automatically using decimation. Usually, I use ZBrush, then switch to 3DCoat and adjust my low-poly mesh to do UVs there. 3DCoat has very convenient tools for editing and creating seams, plus it unwraps organic objects very well.

I baked normal maps, ambient, and height maps in xNormal. Overall, creating organic objects was not an easy task, because it took a lot of time. Not only to create the model itself but also to set up the material in UE.

Read “3 Ways to Create the Best 3D Scene in a Budget Crunch” to learn how to optimize your workflow.

4. Sticks and Stones

It is necessary to constantly use the rule of PST (primary, secondary, tertiary) form. Anthony (the instructor) always talked about this.

In addition to the large rocks, it was also necessary to create smaller rocks that fell off the large ones for a good transition from rocks to the landscape. Boulders and stones were sculpted in ZBrush.

To make a rubble pile, I reduced the number of polygons of my stones, created a nanomesh brush, and scattered them on the ground mesh.

This is very useful and can be used to create textures in ZBrush. For the convenience of texturing and creating material in UE, you should use the sub tools to fill your stones and ground with color, so that later you do not have to paint everything manually. It’s easier to bake vertex color in xNormal. Scroll on the image above to see!

Side note: I did not have enough free time to make a water shader from scratch, so I found a river water tool in the UE marketplace and downloaded it. In the material, I made the river a little calmer, reduced the displacement, made the foam not so intense, reduced the color saturation, and added more opacity to the water.

5. Vegetation

For foliage, I began by modeling high-poly grass to make a texture with good alpha, then rendered everything that I modeled in 3ds Max. I created branches for the fir in the same way. Scroll to see!

In order to add variety, I created several large, medium, and small clumps of grass. The variation in color was made in the materials in UE.

Next, I started creating my trees. I made several branches and arranged them along the trunk. Just like with the grass, I made several versions of the tree to create a variety. In order to later adjust the swing of the branches in the material, you need to paint the vertex color of the branches before the stage when you arrange the branches. The same applies to the grass. You can scroll through the images below to see my process.

Read “5 Ways to Make Your Foliage-Filled Scene Believable” for a deep dive into vegetation.

6. Texturing

I downloaded the textures of the ground and made them seamless in Photoshop. Then I created normal and height maps in Crazy Bump. For landscape, I used the material with the LandscapeLayerBlend node. This allowed me to mix 11 textures for my landscape. As a blend texture, I used height maps, so that the materials mixed more naturally.

Some textures such as the texture of the rocks were made in ZBrush.

In 3DCoat, I created basic textures that did not need to be tiled. For example, this is the basic texture of the airplane. I used vertex color for many materials in order to blend a few textures and make the material more interesting. Sometimes I added a slope texture in the material using the WorldAlignedBlend node, for example on fallen trees it was moss.

I also did the basic paint of vertex color if it was necessary. For example, I wanted to add rust to my plane.

Of course, programs like Substance Painter and Substance Designer are necessary for creating good custom textures. Overall, I was really happy with my assets for this scene.

7. Lighting

Before I started lighting, I found references and created a mood board to understand exactly what I needed.

For lighting sources, I used DirectionalLight and SkyLight. I didn’t change Lightmass settings. Instead, I left the light source dynamic and didn’t bake lightmaps.

For skylight, I used an HDRI map, I made a sphere with inverted normals for the background and assigned the material with HDRI on it.

I also added AtmosphericFog and ExponentialHeighFog. In addition to the fog, I used planes with the fog texture which I placed near the rocks and above the water. To add more sunlight I also used planes with sun rays. In post-processing I added bloom, lens flares, change contrast. I made the picture in warm colors, slightly changing the white balance.

After that, I added LUT in the camera settings. I found the pack with LUT presets, chose the most suitable for my references, and changed its influence.

To adjust the night render, I reduced the intensity of DirectionalLight, made the HDRI map darker, removed the sun rays, and changed the LUT in the camera. I made the night LUT using the standard Photoshop settings.

8. Result

Scroll through to see some shots of Leonid’s final product!

Final Thoughts

  • Every 3D artist is a designer who should not only create good assets for the scene but also know how to harmoniously fit them into the scene in order to hook the player.
  • The main goal which I decided to study CGMA course of Organic World Building for was to improve the skills of creating an environment: gain some knowledge in order to know the way to properly locate the objects in the world, learn how to make the environment more interesting. And of course, I wanted to study Unreal Engine.
  • One of the most interesting things for me as a 3D artist was the UE Landscape system. I also found the foliage tool interesting. This tool helps to plant your vegetation over the surface very quickly.
  • Of course, I do not consider UE4 as an easy set of buttons that allows doing everything right. The tool is very powerful and has impressive functionality, so one cannot learn everything at once. However, if you set a goal and get enough patience, you will succeed!

LEARN MORE

CGMA provides comprehensive instruction for Art, Games, and VFX industries in a variety of courses for a range of students, from 2D and 3D artists looking to supplement their college studies to industry professionals looking to stay up to date on emerging trends and techniques in the field.

RELATED LINKS

Watch this course overview to hear more about Organic World Building in UE4 taught by Anthony Vaccaro.

Read “3 Ways to Create the Best 3D Scene in a Budget Crunch” to learn how to optimize your workflow.

Read “5 Ways to Make Your Foliage-Filled Scene Believable” for a deep dive into vegetation.