Maxime Renault did a breakdown of his UE4 project Victorian Manor: importing models into the engine, creating paintings, assembling the scene, setting up lighting, and more.
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Hello everyone! My name is Maxime Renault and I am an environment artist at Histovery based in Paris. I had the opportunity to work on augmented visits for the Royal Palace of Amboise, the Château of Chambord, the Royal Fortress of Chinon, and other projects yet to be announced. I studied at Pôle 3D for five years and graduated in September 2018. I specialized during these years as an environment artist. I love recreating existing locations as much as I love to make up new environments.
Victorian Manor: Start of the Project
I started the Victorian Manor project at the end of the first lockdown. I stopped working on it for a few months and returned to the scene recently. I wanted to reproduce a cosy Victorian interior, make it believable and optimize it for a game.
When I begin an environment I ask myself a few questions such as: Where are we? What is the era? Who lives here? It helps me a lot and I know right away what kind of props I need. When searching for references I like to skim Pinterest and of course Google Images but it is also interesting to explore the museums' websites or even eBay. This way you may find more original references and it is not uncommon to find images with a really great resolution that can be zoomed; they will be very important for the texturing step. Pictural references are good but it is also important to find documentation for the size of the objects or architectural elements and other information (for instance, what could be the size of my mansion door? Was there electricity for every light source? etc.) Once I have got all my references (at least for the mood and the global design) I start working on the blocking in 3ds Max.
I started working on my blocking with simple shapes and chose to work in centimetres. When searching for references I found interesting pictures of the Hallwyl Museum in Sweden and based my scene on the Upper Vestibule. First of all, I readapted the space and the layout, then focused on modeling the furniture and some assets to arrange inside the room and started to create my hallway in Unreal Engine 4. To be sure the scale of my assets was correct, I put some Unreal mannequins in the scene to compare the sizes. I set up a quick lighting to work on the atmosphere and define what value each part of the scene will have.
Working on Modular Elements and Props
Once I was satisfied with the blocking I could now focus on making modular assets. Still in 3ds Max, I modeled the walls panelling and the ceiling and made them modular. I built modular elements for most of the wooden elements (panels, ceiling, staircase). I have, for example, 6 unique elements that compose the staircase which I joined in Unreal Engine. Thinking upstream, the modularity of the assets is a real timesaver.
To model my low poly, I reused my blocking meshes when I could. For the small props and a lot of the architectural elements (pillars, wooden panels, doors, ceiling, etc.) I modeled the high poly in 3ds Max.
I grouped the UVs assets by theme (furniture, small assets, doors & windows, etc.) and arranged them in order to respect my texel density. I baked and textured the meshes in Substance Painter. For the export, I used the Unreal Engine 4 (Packed) output. This way the Ambient Occlusion is stored in the red channel, the Roughness in the green, and the Metallic in the blue. I imported my assets in Unreal Engine 4, unticked the sRGB box for the ORM map, then built my materials in the game engine and added nodes in order to control my AO and Roughness intensity.
For this project, I kept a constant texel density. I strongly recommend reading this article by Leonardo Iezzi about texel density if you want to know more about this matter. Basically, it is about keeping the right pixel density for your scene assets. For the Victorian Manor, I kept a texel density of 1024 pixels per metre for the interior. It gives me a texel density of 10,24px/cm which could be great for a first-person game. Now that my texel density is defined I can switch to making my UVs.
For the walls and ground, I made my textures in Substance Designer and did a projection mapping in Unreal. I added a grunge map to add subtle details and “break” the tiling.
The video below shows how a scene can be quickly created with the modular assets I made and how I used the materials for the walls and the floor in UE4:
Paintings are made using pictures found on the internet. I have been looking for portraits from the previous century to create an impression of family portraits of the manor’s owner. Then, I edited the colours of the portraits in Photoshop in order to have homogeneous values, applied a varnish in Substance Painter, and textured the frames.
You can see the way I textured the paintings in this GIF:
The way I textured the carpets is quite similar: I took patterns I liked on the internet, modified the colours in Photoshop, and added the result in Substance Painter.
With the references that I gathered previously, I observed how the interiors were composed and focused on my points of interest which I highlighted with my blocking and the few lights in UE4. To make the final scene look organic, I tried to put myself in the place of the person who lives here and how they would decorate the interior. Adding folds to the carpets, making chairs not perfectly aligned, and putting some small assets like an ashtray, a consumed cigar, and a cigar-cutter makes the scene more life-like.
I placed cameras in my points of interest and started trying out different compositions until I found one that pleased me. I arranged the compositions with small assets and enhanced them with well-placed lights.
For the lighting setup, I started with a Stationary SkyLight a Movable Directional Light. I searched for an HDRI and chose MonoLake B taken from hdrlabs.com. For HDRIs, I also recommend HDRIHaven. I put an Exponential Height Fog and played with the Volumetric Scattering Intensity to get a nice mood. When I was happy with the result I set up my lights for baking and baked the lighting in medium resolution. By doing this, I saw the gloomy sections I had to enlighten.
With the help of mural lamps and lightbulbs, I added warmer touches to the environment. I exaggerated the power of the lightbulbs because they are one of the cliché assets of the Victorian era. I worked on the emissive in Substance Painter and added some variety by playing with a gradient and placing a gold pattern over it. In Unreal Engine, I ticked “Use Emissive for Static Lighting” and adjusted the Emissive Boost in a way to have a nice halo and subtle light around. I had to be careful not to boost the emissive too much to avoid making it too saturated. Then, I added Static Point Lights in some of the Lightbulbs positions and unticked the “Cast Shadow” option on the affected meshes.
One of the main challenges during the production of the interior was setting up the lighting and the colours to create the desired atmosphere. Before working on the post-process and playing with the lights, I decided to create a global harmony by choosing complementary colours. The wooden elements have a red-brown tint while the wallpaper and fabric elements are green.
To create this kind of environment, I stayed focused on the accuracy of the assets but also tried to capture the dreamy atmosphere of a place like this.
If I had to give a piece of advice to beginners, it would be not to be shy to reuse elements and adapt them to your scene. I used free assets for some of the architectural pieces and it saved me a lot of time and allowed me to focus on the lighting which was a key point to me. Also, working with references for a scene like this (and for any kind of environment in fact) is really essential. In this type of environment, detail prevails. It might be obvious but with good references, you will be able to create the details efficiently and avoid asking yourself questions that might slow you down in the process.