3D Environment Artist Antoine Lambert wanted to challenge his skills to prepare himself for a new country’s high-standards-industry. For his Sky Garden, it really was go big or go home. Don’t miss out on this breakdown, especially if you’re interested in large-scale environments, which includes:
- Story-Worthy References
- Reworking Blockouts
- Lego-Piece Assets
- Dramatic Depth and Details
- Meditating on a Focal Point
- Large-Scale Lighting
Hello everyone! My name is Antoine Lambert and I am currently working at Triotech in Montreal as a 3D environment artist. I studied architecture for two years before realizing that I am more proficient in creating and building stories. So I attended ESA Saint-Luc in Brussels and HEAJ in Namur. After graduating, I started working at Terragame, a VR-gaming company. I’ve been planning to move to Canada for a long time, but as a freelancer, I knew I needed to prepare myself for the high standards of the industry. So I enrolled in CGMA’s Organic world-building course taught by Anthony Vaccaro.
1. Story-Worthy References
During this CGMA course, I wanted to try to create a gigantic vista with a big sense of depth and a serene atmosphere. As I also wanted to create an atypical landscape, I chose to use the Zhangjiajie’s national park in China as my primary inspiration. Gathering references was pretty easy, thanks to all the tourists who visit the park. I also gathered references for the rock textures and the foliage, which came in handy later on in the process.
Creating environments is like creating a story you can walk through. Having a scenario in mind is the first step, but this can be a simple idea or even a feeling. Those giant natural spires seem like slumbering giants, perhaps taking advantage of the “perfect place to meditate”. I’ve found it’s easier to tell a story if you believe in it. Listening to music while working with the same rhythm and mood than the atmosphere I want to create helped a lot.
I first started to decompose the reference picture by isolating the primary, secondary and tertiary elements of the landscape. I had to create and arrange the rocks and foliage, which is easier said than done! The mountains were formed million years ago when the area was underwater by the geological movements and oceanic erosion. So a lot of ancient, organic shapes.
2. Reworking Blockouts
My first few blockings didn’t work out. I initially wanted to include a building in the composition. However, I was time-crunched and wasn’t able to create the large temple I envisioned.
Instead, I chose to focus on the rock formations and the organic aspects while using a big statue for the focal point. The terrain tool of Unreal isn’t really adapted to create this kind of shape, so I decided to use World Machine to create the initial shape of the landscape and build the rock formations with modular rocks around the terrain.
3. Lego-Piece Assets
As I wanted to focus on the exercise of composing a large-scale vista, I quickly modeled a few rocks on ZBrush and textured them with Substance Painter, some substance share tilables and UE4’s material tools.
I then created the foliage and different vegetation assets I would use to populate the landscape with SpeedTree and Maya. When creating those large scale scenes, Speedtree is incredibly powerful at creating optimized trees, with good LODs, realistic-looking shapes and great wind animations.
With all my “lego pieces” ready, I was finally able to really get into the composition of the environment. The first mountains I made weren’t extreme enough. When you make a graphical choice, you have to go all the way or not at all. So I created some really imposing rock formations to amplify the drama of the scene. As I was building mountains, I tried to keep some randomness in the rock placement to make it feel more natural.
4. Dramatic Depth and Details
Once the primary shapes and composition of the environment were satisfying, I could move on to the next steps. I almost created the whole environment with only one big rock, then created irregularities with a few others and used a moss shader to break up the textures, the addition of foliage was also a welcome touch as it brought even more irregularities.
In order to add more depth to the scene, I started by adding atmospheric and height fog to the level. The fog cards from Unreal’s “Blueprints” scene allowed me to have more control over the placement of the fog in the scene. It was really useful to help me direct the attention and soften any parts I found too “noisy”. Adding low poly trees at the bottom of the mountains and a 2D rendering of mountains at the very background was the last touch to add even more depth to the scene. When creating foliage in unreal, do not forget to set the shader to the right lighting mode, this will allow you to use subsurface scattering and give to your grass, leaves, and other plants a more realistic rendering.
5. Meditating on a Focal Point
I then decided to sculpt the giant statue of a meditating man and used it as the focal point of one of my shots. I used ZBrush and Marvelous Designer to create the statue and the clothing.
6. Large-Scale Lighting
Lighting a scene that big can be challenging, baking foliage is really computing heavy and uses a lot of UV lightmap space. As Anthony told me, keeping most of the grass lit in real-time will allow you to have a better shadow resolution on bigger meshes. For that kind of scene, I also should have used Unreal’s world composition tool to create LOD’s on the landscape and optimize the scene even further but I wasn’t aware of this tool at the time.
Scroll through to see Antoine’s final environment scenes.
- As I chose to create a large scale landscape, I had to cut corners and merge some ideas with others to bring my project to the next level, towards the end of the masterclass. Spending more time on the texturing, lighting, and reworking the statue area would make this environment a lot better.
- The most challenging part of this project was definitely the large scale of this level and its optimization, that requires a lot of work and will require more when I’ll get back to this project.
- I really liked this CGMA course, Anthony is a great teacher who gave me some very wise advice. The fact that he was able to follow the evolution of my scene allowed me to get weekly feedback, and it was incredibly useful.
- The weekly submissions help to organize thoughts and ideas in a constructive way, keep the track of the progress and keep archives of the project under its different forms, as well as present a breakdown of the scene.
- CGMA helps anyone from the industry to improve their skills and craft, as there will always be something new to learn on this platform. I would happily enroll in another course in the near future to further my skills in Substance Designer.
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.
See more of Antoine’s amazing work by scrolling through his ArtStation.