Karim Abou Shousha explains why lighting is one of the most powerful and mysterious tools you can use to create environment art, talks about designing the Beyond the Path Scene, and discusses the possibilities of Unreal Engine 5.
In case you missed it
You may find these articles interesting
My name is Karim Abou Shousha, I’m a Lighting Artist at Ubisoft Montreal. I have 14 years of experience in the 3D industry, which includes 7 years in the game industry. I have an AEC (Attestation of College Studies) diploma in 3D Creation for Video Games from LaSalle College Montreal.
My main experience is creating 3D photorealistic environments and my dream is to win an Oscar in lighting because I love lighting more than anything else in my life, each scene from my portfolio was just to show my lighting experience and how we can tell a story with lighting. Lighting is a sensation, lighting is everything because without it we’re blinded.
I worked with major companies like Backyard I worked as an Art Director at VR and AR events in Saudi Arabia, I also worked at Adobe Stock as a 3D Modeler. I also worked as a 3D Environment Artist at Redpill VR Montreal, I worked on a VR underwater game but unfortunately, the company shut down before finishing the game.
Then I worked with TLM Partners, Inc as a Senior 3D Environment Artist in VR games. Also, I worked as a freelancer with Aaron Sims Creative on a short movie. Then I worked with Gentilhomme Studio on a big interactive screen project for Orlando airport. Then I worked with Lucky VR for 2 months creating PokerStars VR but at this time I got an offer from Ubisoft to work as a Lighting Artist for Skull & Bones.
Using Unreal Engine 5
Since I am one of the users of Unreal Engine since 2015, I was waiting for this version to reveal the new technology and new features and see how it will improve the game and the movies by using the new system in Unreal Engine 5.
Nanite has amazing features, it converts the high-poly mesh into a virtual mesh which means there’s no wireframe or polygons count, and it will allow us to have very high-resolution assets in games and in the cinematic shots, too.
So far, I am loving the new interface, it’s more organized and gives me more space for the viewport, too. To me, this is Unreal Engine's best version so far.
When I used Lumen for the first time, I was really surprised because I don’t like the results Ray Tracing gives me, it is too heavy and makes my machine very slow, and I thought it would be something similar but it’s completely different, it’s fully GI with amazing quality and good performance.
Lumen brings robust dynamic global illumination to Unreal Engine for the first time and integrates well with other supporting systems in UE5, so basically, Lumen solves dynamic diffuse indirect lighting. For example, light bouncing diffusely off of a surface picks up the color of that surface and reflects the colored light onto other nearby surfaces; this effect is called color bleeding. Meshes in the scene also block indirect lighting, which also produces indirect shadowing.
For the first scene I made in UE5 I got the idea from Assassin's Creed Valhalla. I saw a concept art called Dark Forest from the artist Lucas Leger. I really liked the mood and the lighting because before I choose any concept I’m trying to feel it and put my soul inside this place and this is the secret behind every artwork I create. It’s important to feel it and say to myself what I want to see in this place, I’m the person who sat behind the camera, I took these shots, I was in this place.
My goal was to create an ambient scene with a different light mood and try the new fog system I have been working on, and it will be available for free soon. I used the new Megascans assets to test Nanite, and also I used Lumen to see how it works with UE5. I used a lot of spotlights to have some full and rim lights in different areas to create a nice look. In post-processing, I tried to make a nice color correction with good contrast.
Beyond the Path Scene
For the Beyond the Path scene, I used a concept by Sylvain Sarrailh I saw a year ago. And I wanted to make this scene because as I said before each scene is special to me, I dreamed to live there, it touched my heart and I decided it would be my second scene made in UE5.
I used the Megascans assets to build my scene faster, I also used free trees assets from the Epic Games Store: the City Park Environment Collection has really nice trees.
Lighting is always an important part, firstly I asked myself some questions: what are the key lights, and which direction will they come from? The direction of the light is very important for the final looks and there’s a big difference between the sunlight coming from the right and the one coming from the left, especially during daytime.
I wanted to have sunlight and at the same time focus more on the tree trunk path, then I added more Spot Lights to have more contrast. When it comes to Rim Lights, I always use them if I want to separate the object from the background and make it really stand out and catch the eye.
I used 3 big Spot Lights to fake the sunlight in some areas and 2 RectLights to add the Rim Light effect.
Faking the sunlight
I was looking to make it natural and at the same time make it look like a beautiful painting, so I played with materials and the colors, especially in the waterfall. It played a big part in making my scene look nice. I then added the rainbow effect to make it more natural.
Lumen for sure has amazing tools and makes the lighting more realistic, but there’s no update on the light sources. I think they need to add something very important like V-Ray's Light Exclude Object because sometimes I just want to add a spotlight to only highlight one object, but it’s hard because it will affect the nearby objects as well, so I’m really hoping they can add this tool soon.
I think we’re lucky to see this new update as I (just like many others) hate to wait for a long time to just see the result, but now I can do whatever I want to see it in real-time with amazing quality and details. The next step they need to make is to improve the VFX to make it more real as Houdini for example because I believe it’s still a limitation in Unreal Engine.
In the end, I would like to say that if you want to make an environment you have to study the lighting from the real world, take your camera and hang out alone and look at the world around you, try to feel the shadows, the air, the sky, try to feel everything and then ask yourself a few questions: what did I feel? Was I happy? Sad? Scared? Depressed? And then you will know the power of light and how it can affect your perception and mood.