In case you missed it
More materials for UE4 scenes
Hi, my name is Aaron Corbin, I'm a 3D Environment Artist from Southern California who recently graduated from Gnomon. I've had the pleasure of working on Echo Combat at Ready At Dawn Studios and I’m happy to be a part of the team. If you haven't tried Echo VR, I highly recommend it, it's an exciting multiplayer game that's fun to play with friends. Aside from that project, I am quite new to the industry with a couple of 3D environments that I completed for my demo reel at Gnomon.
I was working as a custodian at a theme park and video editing on the side when I discovered Gnomon. The concept of the school has always intrigued me, so I took the leap of faith, got a tour of the campus, submitted a 2D portfolio and was accepted into the school. Before attending Gnomon, Maya, Unreal, and ZBrush were all foreign for me, so I just tried the best I could with understanding the material and applying the knowledge. I think the most interesting attribute of the school is that all the teachers are current-working professionals. It gives a certain atmosphere, a sort of prestige that other schools may not offer.
There are so many courses at Gnomon, and some of them are more in line with your personal goals as an artist, but ultimately the school guides you through the refining fires to become a capable generalist. Taking courses like Intro to Maya taught by Max Dayan opened my eyes to what the 3D workflow was all about. Game Creation 1 by Charles Silverman was the first course that helped my understanding of what Unreal Engine is capable of. Hard surface Modeling 1 taught by David Mooy was an important one for my personal growth on becoming more confident with 3D modeling and correct topology. Those are just a few of many classes that helped pave the way towards joining the entertainment industry. It’s a versatile school suitable for those who are completely new to 3D as well as the seasoned professionals wanting to refine their skills with individual courses.
Behind the Arcade Shed
As I approached my final Demo Reel class, I wanted to create a game environment that was personal to me and my interests. I wanted to tap into my future desire to collect and refurbish original arcade cabinets. This project was a fun way to create my own arcade room and work on arcade cabinets but within a 3D space. I knew that I wanted to tell a story with the environment itself. I like to imagine that if it was a functional game, a player would come upon this backyard shed and gather ideas on what type of character lives here. It would be a fun hidden area that a player would discover off from the main traversed path of the game. My end goal for this project was to achieve a realistic environment during the production of which I could apply the tools I learned while at Gnomon.
Building the Shed
The shed itself was created in modular pieces such as separate walls, including the roof and a wooden frame to help the shed feel structurally sound. It took some time planning it out since I wanted the layout of the shed to feature all the assets I was going to create. I also wanted to make sure that the space could accommodate suitable camera shots that would support the story and mood of the environment. I kept the modeling of the shed quite simple and then textured each shed piece in Substance Painter. You can use the existing shader library in Substance Painter to craft your very own custom shaders. If you understand Photoshop with its simple layering system, then you will understand Substance Painter. If you are on a deadline, you can achieve fast results by using the power of Quixel Megascans. I used various tileable wood textures from Quixel and plugged them into Painter as a base, then tweaked them as needed. It gave me nice results on my shed, both interior and exterior.
Props and Set Dressing
I knew early on that this scene would ultimately be a showcase room full of many props that ultimately tell the story. Like I suggested earlier, the props would be the characterization of what kind of person lives here. The layout of the actual shed is basic, giving more focus to the furniture and props that create points of interest. My hero assets, the arcade machines, are the stars of the scene, so I looked at each machine as an individual character. I chose real existing machines that excite me: Joust, Ms. Pacman, Frogger, and Pole Position. I selected Pole Position as the main star of the show, the way it stands is naturally heroic and demands the attention. I wanted each machine to actually work and have attenuated sound.
What I Found Useful and Efficient
Megascans seems to be a topic of friction with some art students, and their immediate reaction is to make every little thing from scratch. If downloading a texture from Megascans saves you time on one asset, so that you can gain more time to focus on hero assets, then more power to you. If the goal is to finish a game environment in a specific length of time, stick to that goal and be creative on how to accomplish that.
If you don’t need to bake an asset then don’t, it can save you so much time if you prioritize what assets you custom bake and which ones you can get away with having simple geometry. Just giving a mesh a beveled edge, softening edges and setting vertex normals can save time by not having to custom bake every asset. Towards the end of this project, I learned that I could get away with creating simple geo for the structural elements and even with certain props, which gave me more time to hone in on more important assets.
I focused primarily on using Substance Painter as it gave me quick results. I combined materials with others, painted with masks, and tweaked material sliders until I came up with something believable. I used Designer for little tasks like quickly warping the normal maps on the glass windows. I set up some blueprints in Unreal Engine to accommodate specific material types such as the arcade machine video screens, as well as the landscape. As for the games you see playing on the arcade screens, I was fortunate enough to learn how to achieve that with the help from Anton Napierala.
The games on-screen are recordings of those games being played by me on an emulator like MAME. Then I converted each of those recordings into a png image sequence. In Unreal, I used 'Img Media Source' to path my image sequences into. Then you create a ‘Media Player’ and a ‘Media Texture’ which will generate a video material that you can use on a mesh. Just reroute the texture into the emissive color so that the screen will be bright. Finally, add some parameters to have more control of the video material.
By creating quick textures of distorted shapes in Photoshop, you can plug those into flipbook nodes and use parameters to control the image distortion and grain. You can use a panner node to get the movement of scanlines in the video material.
The lighting in the scene is mostly dynamic lights. I love the lights in Unreal 4 because they are very sensitive to the smallest incremental adjustments. I am by no means a professional lighting artist, however, it is still fun to play around and experiment with. I spent many hours just tweaking the settings, moving between different moods until I liked what I was feeling. Lighting can be tricky because moving lights around and adjusting settings can easily sway our judgment and we may prematurely settle on a mood. There could be a much more alluring way to light it just around the corner with a little more exploration. There is a huge spectrum of lighting choices to choose from, so I would say look at cinema and observe how they light their scenes and use that as a guide of inspiration to set the mood.
I learned plenty of valuable industry workflows at Gnomon and accomplished my personal goal, completing an environment that tells a story with design and composition. It also gave me a career that I love to be a part of every day. The biggest take-away from working on this piece was learning how to correctly manage my time with the wide array of assets that I wanted to create. I got quicker as I approached the finish line and that’s the beauty of trial and error - you gain more knowledge every time you experiment. You will learn from your mistakes and perform more efficiently on the next project you create.