Mountain House: Organic Environment Production for Beginners

Mountain House: Organic Environment Production for Beginners

Samuel METIVIER shared his process of working on a UE4 scene Mountain House from blockout in 3ds Max to landscape material and lighting setup.

Introduction

Hello! My name is Samuel METIVIER, I'm a French self-taught 3D Environment Artist.

In everyday life, I work at school as a network administrator (to have a little IT tech job to survive), and I try to do my best to enter the professional world of video games as a 3D artist. I work on my skills as soon as I have free time, studying workshops, video tutorials, and articles (thanks to 80 Level).

Since I was young, I've always been passionate about video games and especially how they are designed. Being able to create environments where you can evolve in real-time is one of the most incredible things for me.

The only professional experience I've had so far was as a volunteer job at a French studio AXC GAMES where I worked on the title ANAREA Battle Royale. My mission was to produce all kinds of props and optimization/UV on certain models that were already designed. It was a very good experience.

Learning 3D

The first time I used 3D software was when I was 14 years old - I still remember how I started exploring the free version of 3ds Max on Gmax. I was having fun creating maps for Halo: CE by following tutorials where I had to compile the map using the CMD - it was really cool and interesting! After that I started, to play Counter-Strike Source with a team of friends and so I used the Source SDK (always had a desire to create something new for games I loved to play).

Thanks to that, I acquired basic knowledge of level design and understood a lot of things about assets, prefabs, textures. It was enriching, really!

The moment I started working with Unreal Engine 4 I knew I wanted to become an artist, and from that moment on, I was trying to learn more about different workflows and techniques every day. That's when I really started to create things of my own.

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Mountain House: Start of the Project

For this scene, I didn't really have any precise idea. I had visited a place similar to this one and I wanted to capture a similar atmosphere and create a mountainous environment in the background with an almost abandoned house in the foreground.

Before finding references, I first set up a composition for my scene.

The references themselves were mainly used for the props and the structure of the house, I didn't really use any references for the composition.

Blockout

I made a blockout in 3ds Max by cutting the house into several parts and modeling different assets that would be present in the scene.

I worked in a low resolution polygon-wise - in this part, I put everything in place to then work on the assets separately.

Here is the assets list:

After creating my basic shapes, I then applied smart material imported from Megascans Bridge and made some adjustments (tilling, normal, roughness, albedo). This phase is needed to have a vision of what my scene will look like later on.

Trees are samples from SpeedTree, they are used only to give volume to the scene and will be reworked afterward.

Terrain & Mountains

For the mountains in the background, I first sculpted the general shapes and the details on a reduced scale and then sized it up correctly.

For the landscape material, I used a single instance for the mountain and the terrain. I created 5 layers with functions for the variation of texture (which breaks the tilling) and the control of UVs (far and near).

Vegetation

I used SpeedTree for the bushes and trees starting from preset and modifying it to get the final result.

The grass was simply created in 3ds Max - 3 variations with the same texture and material UV set. For the texture, I downloaded a grass atlas from Quixel which includes albedo, roughness, normal, translucency, and opacity.

Texturing the House

For texturing the house, I used smart materials from Megascans. I tweaked the parameters of each instance of material to adapt it to my scene and get the desired result.

Prop Production

Here is my process of creating an asset and integrating it into my scene:

First, I create the low poly with basic shapes and without superfluous polygons.

Then, I import it into ZBrush and sculpt the model with a very high polycount to bring out all the details I want.

As soon as my hi-res model is ready, I check if the low poly follows the curves and is well-suited for baking. Otherwise, I do a retopo in 3D Coat.

After that, I create the UVs of the low-res model and bake them in Substance or Marmoset Toolbag.

Then comes the texturing phase which takes place in Substance or Quixel Suite. I bake all the necessary maps like curvature and position. Thanks to these maps, I can play with some settings and get the desired effect.

Lighting

For the lighting part, I used a really basic setup:

  • Directional light
  • Skylight
  • Slight post-process
  • Expo and atmospheric fog

For the Skylight, I added a custom cubemap (pisa). By modifying the intensity you can easily light up the shadows in order to lighten your scene and bring up all the details you want to show.

I always like to add a bluish color to the scene.

The skylight is set to stationary.

For the Directional light, I first modified the intensity and set it to stationary to give a good contrast in the shaded areas.

After that, I played with the parameters such as temperature and indirect lighting intensity to better show the details in my scene without losing a lot of contrast.

The fog is enabled but used with a fairly low intensity.

For the parameters of the world, I pushed the Num Indirect Light Bounces to 10 and it greatly improved the light. It does take longer to bake but the result is worth it.

Finally, the post-process parameters. The main one is the exposure set to auto exposure histogram. By adjusting the max and min values, ​​we get a less flat and more contrasted result.

See the difference:

As for the ambient occlusion, it is very discreet and not too pronounced.

 

Afterword

I think a fairly realistic result depends on the whole process, not certain steps. For example, it takes a lot of work to create different props close to reality, especially by looking at numerous references (references are essential if we want to achieve a realistic result). However, despite the fact that every stage is important, I sincerely think that the lighting phase is one of the most significant ones. I think the shadows and relief are key for a realistic shot. Additionally, the depth and a distinct guideline to direct the eyes of the viewer ensure a successful composition (I do not pretend to have a magnificent composition). But it's my opinion!

I hope this article will help some people who are starting to explore 3D Environment Art, it was a pleasure to share my experience with you!

Samuel METIVIER, 3D Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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    Mountain House: Organic Environment Production for Beginners