Brad Sierzega shared the workflow behind the Medieval Kingdom project, discussed how depth was adjusted with fog and clouds, and showed lighting scenarios for different times of the day.
Hey there! My name is Brad Sierzega and I am a Lead Level Artist at Gearbox Software. I've been in the gaming industry for almost 13 years now working on games such as Battleborn, multiple Borderlands titles, Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, and more.
There’s almost never a single day that goes by where I don’t get inspired by something that makes me wish I had the free time to do a new art project. The problem is the free time. But as an artist, I’m never fully satisfied and thus feel the need to push harder and stretch my artist wings from time to time. This past holiday break left me with a nice open window of time to do some of my own art outside of work. So I leaped at the opportunity.
The Medieval Kingdom Project
Earlier in December I did a smaller project over a weekend but wasn’t fully satisfied with it. It only scratched the surface of what I knew I wanted to do. After being inspired by rewatching Game of Thrones and Attack on Titan, I knew I wanted to go bigger! So I started something else which lead to my UE5 – Medieval Kingdom project. Ignore my terrible names for my art projects.
Often with any art project like this, I’m at the mercy of what art I have available to me. I consider myself a world builder, not a content artist. So no individual art here was made by myself. I used free and paid art packs on the Unreal Marketplace as the building blocks for this project. Here’s the list and links to the main packs I used in this piece:
Even though I didn’t make any of the art myself, it doesn’t mean I didn’t edit a lot of it. But more on that later when I talk about my process.
First things first, I needed to block out an idea. This was my first greybox blockout concept that I put together for the overall shape language of the scene. It’s important to have a good idea of the overall composition that you want to aim for planned out early on as well as figure out your main light source direction. If you don’t get these out early on, you may find yourself running in circles and not being able to commit to an idea especially when you are under a time constraint.
When all my projects evolve, I start to feature creep. I originally set a goal for it to take no longer than a couple of days of my time for a single image. But of course, shortly after starting the project, I decided I wanted it to look good from multiple angles and add varying times of the day.
The multiple-angle decision turned out to be much more difficult than I originally expected. It’s one thing to create a city from a single perspective. But to be able to fly around and see it from multiple angles with hundreds of homes and other actors that fill in the city started poking holes in my original deadline plans. In the end, the multiple-angle issue was taking longer than I expected, so I limited the multiple shots to a select few for cleanup. Overall, I don’t feel like I fully accomplished what I set out for on that aspect, but it’s challenges like this that help me learn and grow for future projects.
Fog & Clouds
Depth was important to my scene. Wanting to portray a sense of grand scale and depth was achieved with layers of foreground, midground, and background architectural details as well as a good use of fog and fog cards. Fog cards are a great way to add layers of depth in isolated areas that don’t affect everything in the scene. This was important for adding depth within the city and beyond in the background.
For the majority of my project, I was working with a cloud particle system that would randomly generate cloud distribution in the sky. This led to many undesirable cloud formations as well as extra noise in the sky, which I wanted to be a much simpler calming feel compared to the chaos of the massive city. Because of this, I switched to using premade clouds in the “Clouds & Skies” art pack, which helped significantly.
Here is a picture of what they looked like before I changed them:
Probably one of the most tedious aspects of this project was applying decals to everything. I wanted to add an extra layer of detail with grime and a worn-down look to the kingdom. The problem was I didn’t build the kingdom on any kind of grid with everything being rotated at different angles. I essentially had to manually add decals on almost every visible surface in the scene. None of this was ideal or efficient.
What I started to do later in the project was build prefabs or grouped collections of buildings or castle configurations with decals already applied to them. This became a time saver later but was something I should have tried much sooner in the project.
Early in the project, I started making multiple color corrections to many of the textures used all across the scene as I already had an idea of the general look I wanted. But it wasn’t until the second half of the project that I started locking down the colors of the lighting, fog, and any other post-process changes. If you look at the previous picture, you can see how it went from a dull more muted color palette to a much more vibrant scene.
The varying times of day were a fun quick addition to the project. I love playing with colors and already felt like I did the hard part of building the scene, so I might as well get a bit more out of it with some different time-of-day lighting scenarios. The only major changes I wanted to apply to these from the daytime aside from colors were to illuminate the kingdom to make it feel more alive. I achieved this by creating multiple new material instances of illuminated windows with accompanying point lights for some varying levels of illumination to them.
In the end, the project took about a week or so to complete. I created a short GIF that shows the process from beginning to end to see how the kingdom evolved from a few simple grey cubes to the vibrant world you see before you. My goal for this project was to build a scene that was believable and fantastical all at the same time. A world that I would love to explore in a video game.
I hope you enjoyed my work as much as I enjoyed making it and I look forward to working on my next project, whenever I can find some free time again!
Brad Sierzega, Level Artist
Interview conducted by Arti Burton
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