A Senior Lighting Artist Pasquale Scionti discussed the usage of Megascans and Unreal Engine 5 to create environment art, shared the general workflow, and told some interesting tips and tricks on lighting.
My name is Pasquale Scionti, and I am a Senior ArchViz & Lighting Artist based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada with more than 15 years of professional experience in the Architectural Visualization Industry. I started out as an enthusiastic photographer and have always been interested in the latest technology. I self-taught myself into the world of 3D, and I’ve since worked in a number of countries and with several international clients.
I started my professional career around 13 years ago at some design furniture companies in Milan, Italy, as the brand from DeRUCCI Furniture to create 3D showrooms for living rooms and beds. I learned a lot from designers like composition and color palette. After some years I started my own freelance name as Sciontidesign creating photorealistic renders and animations. My ArchViz continued in 2017 in Tampa Florida where I was CGI Manager for Ashley Furniture creating photorealistic renders and animation and helping others to achieve similar results.
Later, in 2019, I collaborated with Epic Games as a freelancer on their ArchViz Sample Raytrace, which is a small apartment scene that’s set up for Unreal Engine users to learn photoreal techniques and reuse elements in their own work. I was responsible for leading the design work and composition on this scene, as well as the modeling, lighting, and texturing.
After this journey with Epic Games, I started to create fewer ArchViz scenes and focus more on gaming and environments with Unreal Engine that I started learning in 2016. It makes me tell a story in a very cinematic way, creating my personal compositions and drawings and bringing them to life with my lighting experience. That is where I got attention from several film production and video game companies like Sony, Microsoft, and Activision.
Starting a Project
Before starting a project I collect details and reference pictures. Not all of my scenes are from reference pictures, sometimes they are just what I envision in my head. I sketch as well, but I usually focus more on real pictures.
For the creation process, the first thing I do is use blocks in my scene to define the scale and composition. With that in place, I focus on the mood and lighting to achieve the desired look. I use volumetric fog in almost all of my scenes because it gives great separation between the background and foreground.
I get inspired most from games like The Last of Us, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Cyberpunk 2077.
The initial landscape is created inside Unreal and I sculpt it to the desired look, after that, I apply a landscape material and start with the composition that I have in mind.
Modeling and Texturing the Scene
I usually focus more on lighting and art mood composition but if I model assets I use 3ds Max and Substance Painter to achieve the look I need. An example of an environment that I modeled is my Silent Hill scene inspiration.
Megascans is always my first approach to create my scenes as it has great quality and now with Nanite inside Unreal Engine 5 you could use Quixel's High Mesh and 8k textures, things that if used with UE4 it would just crash. Megascans are very customizable from color albedo to creating your own unique texture using Mixer
Rendering and Lighting
My workflow sometimes consists of creating my composition with 3ds Max and V-ray. I render to see how it looks and I use Vantage from Chaos to see my scene in real-time, then I import inside UE using Datasmith. When done there is a lot of tweaking on materials but in most cases, I just replace them with new ones from Quixel or Substance.
My lighting inside Unreal Engine 5 does not change from UE4 but the great advantage is to see the GI Lumen and no more baking or UV mapping and also no reflection probes – portals – lightmass volumes needed.
Since everything is in real-time I can focus more on my artistic skills to create my scenes. As for post-production settings, in Lumen GI for cinematic, I insert a value of 8 same for reflections it is demanding so use it only for animation.
Other tweaks in PP are just artistic choices. One thing to mention is that Lumen has issues for now on Bloom Convolution so I try to use Standard with low values because with high values you will start to see flickering issues, same for emissive materials.
For exposure, I like to use real physical-based lighting values, and to do so you need to make sure that Extend Default Luminance Range in Auto Exposure settings is set to active. This changes exposure to be expressed in EV100 so for example, if I have a bright sunny scene I know that EV min and max are around 14 to 15 and the direction light (sun) is expressed in Lux so on a sunny day values are around 120,000 lux.
For more technical tips and charts on physical-based light values, I suggest checking out Joey Lenz.
I also suggest using the console variable command that in UE5 it is always docked and visible default is on the bottom left side.
To reduce shadow noise in Lumen, I insert in CMD r.Shadow.Virtual.SMRT.RayCountLocal 8. To soften shadows I insert in CMD r.Shadow.Virtual.SMRT.SamplesPerRayLocal 8. Just be aware that it will impact performance, I use a value of 8 since I have RTX3090 and only for cinematics but use lower values for best performance.
Another great feature that I always use is to sharpen my scenes using this CMD r.Tonemapper.Sharpen 2. Using a value of 2 seems great overall. If you higher that number it will look more like a painting and you will lose realism. Also if you have RTX Graphic Card I suggest activating Use Hardware Raytracing when available that is found in the Rendering tab in your project settings as it will increase the shadow quality.
Some challenges that I encounter are if the scene that I create is going to be in-game and not only cinematics so there comes the optimization and tweaks of lighting more higher samples and tweaks for cinematic and default settings for in-game are good. Since I use RTX3090 I sometimes activate DLSS Deep Learning Super Sampling that is a temporal image upscaling technology developed by Nvidia and exclusive to Nvidia graphics cards this helps to higher my fps in-game and increase performance without losing quality. The latest version from today NVIDIA DLSS SDK 2.2.1 now supports Sharpening Slider and Auto-Exposure Option, very handy.
For aspiring Lighting Artists, I would recommend learning the basics of Photography and the type of lenses also the ISO – Focal Range and Shutter Speed that will help with Unreal Engine especially for cinematics and the use of Sequencer. Knowledge of basics in 3D modeling using any software like 3ds Max, Maya, or Blender and understand the PBR process even with Substance Painter. Focus on how light behaves in real life, not only looking at images but going outside, understanding how the sun reacts with materials and how the shadows get softer from the object, take a picture and try to recreate it inside Unreal Engine using real light values to achieve the same look is very useful.
For mood and composition, it is more of a personal artistic approach. Just like Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso they are all great painters but each has unique techniques and talent.
For tutorials I recommend checking out Unreal Engine Academy, all courses are free and you could learn a lot from them. Also, my best friends are Google, YouTube, and the official Unreal Engine documentation.
It was a pleasure to be interviewed by 80 Level, thanks!
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