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Space Train Post #03 - Everything Since Then

General / 05 April 2018

At the point where the last blog post left off I was ready to flesh out this scene a little more with some new modular assets and then finish up with a round of polish. So to save time as the deadline is pretty close, I duplicated the carriage I'd already made and built an airlock module to connect them. To make it so they weren't identical I then replaced the door at the end of the second carriage with a large window so that you can get some nice scenic views of space. I figured it'd be nice to get some movement into the scene, so I built the window with large shutters and quickly animated them using UE4's level sequence.

Another Idea I had was to use this as an opportunity to experiment with a different lighting scenario. I thought it'd be cool if different carriages ran on different time zones so that passengers can acclimatise to whatever planet they're travelling to before they arrive. In this new carriage, it's night time, so I replaced all my bright blues and greens with some calmer colours. Darker blues and much more orange and purple. I really like how this carriage looks, I'm pretty pleased with it. 

The night setting gave rise to a few ideas of things to include, all I've gotten in so far is the 'Please keep quiet' signs. This finally gave me a reason to have those ugly dividers across the ceiling other than to hide light map seams haha.

I just used a pretty simple shader setup with fresnel to create the glass, then I used a bump offset to make the emissive text appear as if it were inside the glass on the surface. I think there's a lot more I can do with this effect. some stepping or something the text could look nice, but for now I'm happy with it. 

From there I've basically just been adding small elements that flesh out the scene a bit more. The one I sunk the most time into was this little robot guy. I figured every hotel needs someone to keep it clean and as I'm not a character artist and it's set in the future I thought it'd be fun to make a robot. I didn't want anything to complex, and I loved the idea of a wet floor sign that just goes about of it's own accord and cleans up spills. 

This isn't mine, this is what I stumbled across when I was doing research. I should've known I wasn't the first to think it up haha. It's called the Hurricone, which is amazing. I used this as a jumping off point for my design and sci-fi'd it up a bit. I didn't have that much time to work on it so it's not really finished to the level I would like, it's mostly flat colours and the roughness needs a lot of work as well. I'm happy with how the bake came out however, I finally updated my Maya so playing around the new UV editor was fun. 

And here he is in the scene. I think he's pretty cute to be honest even if he's not finished. I aim to get a little bvit of animation going on him, even if he's just bobbing up and down. 

Anyways that's most of what Iv'e been up to. There's a few odd bits I've skipped over, I've been doing some decal stuff here and there and filling in some of the previously empty screens.

Space Train Post #02 - Everything so far...

General / 12 March 2018

Thankfully this project hasn't been running as long as my Roman villa project has been so I don't have as much stuff to post. So rather than break it up into small specific posts I'll just dump everything into one and go from there.

Blocking Out

I sort of knew roughly what I wanted to begin with, the corridor. Every sci-fi environment needs a nice corridor. I started roughing out shapes in Maya not worrying too much about topology or anything, I just wanted something that looked cool and would repeat easily. Once I got something I was happy with I threw the assets into UE4 and got some basic lights in there to check the scale. 

I was pretty happy with it so I went ahead and modelled into everything a little more. I also began to refine the lighting a little more so that I had a better idea of what it might look like in the end. I was trying to push the idea of this being kind of like a train with some obvious visual language. The luggage racks and scrolling signs above the doors are a prime example. It's kind of weird and I'm not sure what purpose luggage racks would serve if everyone has their own room anyway but I like the aesthetic so they stayed.

Rough Texture Pass

After messing around with the models a little more I started throwing on some rough textures to get a feel for the colour scheme. I knew i'd be doing most of this with only tiling textures and then using mesh decals for the detail so I just applied a bunch of materials to every mesh and assigned colours to them in Unreal. it looked pretty ugly but it helped me refine the idea. 

Once I knew where the metal would be and what colour everything would be I had another crack at the lighting. I probably relight this scene every time I add something cause I'm never happy with it. I struggled to get the metal to look bright enough at first but it forced me to learn more about how to properly utilise PBR by using proper value and such and how to bend UE4 to my will.

Material Creation

At this point I'd gotten impatient and started making some materials in Designer. I haven't done nearly as much designer work for this project as I have the villa because a lot of my texturing has been done in engine. But here's a couple of materials I sunk a bit of time into. 

Mesh Decals

Before I went any further with this project I wanted to get the mesh decals underway. I'd never done this kind of trim sheet before so I wasn't sure how best to go about it. In the end I made it in Designer, I'm familiar with it and the none destructive workflow meant I didn't have to worry about remodelling bits if I didn't like them. 

 This is what the trim sheet looks like at the minute. I left some space should I wish to add anything. It was easy in Designer to generate an opacity mask from the height information I was using to convert to normals.

having finished that up I took it into Maya, cut it up into all it's pieces and then started covering my meshes with them. This was a very tedious process so I'm sure now I've finished it I'l discover a much quicker, easier way. 

Signs and Shader Work

I didn't have much experience with the material editor in UE4 before this project, so these were a nice little learning oppurtunity. they aren't complex really but I learned a lot of things that seem obvious in hindsight. 

For the scrolling signs above the door I just used a simple panner node and then exposed a few parameters such as the scroll speed, emissive intensity and roughness intensity.

The palm print screens for the middle of the doors were a little more complex but not by much. I wanted multiple parts to be rotating in different directions so I needed to build the material up in layers. There's a few odd decisions made in this shader but that's because I was just experimenting really. It's nothing revolutionary but it was a fun little challenge I set myself and one I was able to accomplish rather quickly.


I wanted to get some quick foliage into my scene because I knew that the would green would help tie it all together, I did a lot of research trying to decide what kind of plants I wanted and eventually just stuck to something simple. It was my first time trying out a new workflow for foliage so I figured I'd keep it simple for now. I started by gathering reference of the plant I wanted to make then set about modeeling the leaves in Maya. They were a simple shape so they didn't require any sculpting. I baked the leaves down in Substance Designer and textured them in Designer as well. After arranging the textured leaves into a quick clump I took them in engine to see what they look like.

All in all this only took a couple of hours and I've gotten quicker now I know what I'm doing a bit more, so I'll try and revisit these to clean them up a bit.

Space Train Post #01 - Gathering Reference

General / 11 March 2018

This is another university project I started working on over the Christmas holiday. My portfolio was devoid of any sci-fi stuff so I figured that was a good direction to head in. I found out about how Star Citizen were handling their environments and a few other games as well, using mesh decals and slightly higher poly counts to mimic a high poly to low poly workflow without the need to bake a normal map. This caught my interest so I decided to run with it.

My idea was to make a passenger ship that was sort of half train half hotel. It ended up being more hotel but there's still some train like aspects to it. I'ts split into a long chain of carriages for instance. 

For my reference I was looking a lot at luxury travel, by train or cruise ship, to see how they used space efficiently to fit in as many passengers as possible. 

TV & Film

I always like to look at what people have been able to accomplish in TV and film, especially for things that don't really exist outside of fiction. in this case I looked at a lot of Star Wars (the Empire's architecture in particular) and 2001: A Space Odyssey for inspiration. I wanted to make a fairly luxurious passenger ship so clean sci-fi made the most sense. 


Looking at other games is always important, especially in my case where I'm trying to mimic the workflow of other games. The three main ones I looked at to begin with were Star Citizen, Prey and Alien: Isolation. Art style wise I was thinking of aiming more towards Prey because I love Arkane's work and I thought the colour scheme they had for a lot of their environments would suit mine well too. 

Star Citizen 


Alien: Isolation

Roman Villa Post #08 - Fabric

General / 11 March 2018

This will be the last post before I'm caught up to the present, from here on out it will mostly be just prop work and polish. 

Fabric was something I'd wanted to have in this scene since the beginning. Banners fluttering in the breeze lend some life to the scene and the curtains between the centre columns work as a nice framing device. The curtains were just made in Marvellous Designer, retopologised in Zbrush and Maya, then textured in Substance Painter. They're actually way too high poly at the minute, pushing 50,000, so I might have to revisit them and try a different tact, but for now they'll serve. 

The banners were made in the same way I made the foliage. Modelled in Maya then baked to a plane. I textured them in Substance Painter  and then utilised UE4s cloth paint system to get them to billow about. This works kind of like weight painting and then there's a set of parameters that can be tweaked to determine how they act in the scene. The animation is all procedural so I really didn't have to do much. 

Roman Villa Post #07 - Ivy

General / 11 March 2018

At this point I was happy enough with the look of the room itself that I was ready to move on to dressing it up a bit. i'd been doing some foliage stuff recently for another project so I figured I'd keep it up and do some foliage for this project as well. 

I'd been looking into some methods for creating ivy recently and I'd been experimenting with a workflow that involved modelling leaves in Maya before baking them down and texturing them entirely in Substance Designer, so I was eager to give it a go.


I was using these image along with a few others as my main reference, I knew I wanted those long hanging vines to be coming down through the hole in the ceiling so I kept that in mind as I was making the textures. 



I modelled the leaf at a relatively low poly count, subdivided it, then took it to zbrush to sculpt in some detail such as the veins and to create a few variations by reshaping the leaf with the move tool. I decimated the sculpt then brought the new leaves back into Maya. 

I took the leaves I'd made and started arranging them. I used curves to model some quick vines and just started covering them leaf by leaf until I was happy. I also included a version of each leaf separate from any vines so that once the bigger arrangements were baked down to a plane, I could more leaves on top to add volume. I was planning on using colour ID settings to create masks so I applied a few different colour materials to the bits I wanted to keep separate. 


I baked that high poly arrangement down to a plane inside Substance Designer, then used those maps that it gave me as a base for texturing the leaves further. Most of the work was getting the colour looking good and my PBR values right. Then I just transferred that information to my roughness and normals. 


Once I was happy with the textures I exported them all and applied them to planes in Maya. I took those planes and arranged them into the shapes I wanted, using the single leaf planes to add volume on top of the bigger arrangements. 


To get the ivy set up in engine, I created a pretty simple shader with two sided turned on and the subsurface channel active. I multiplied the base colour and masked out the branches to create a subsurface texture and used UE4's SimpleGrassWind just to give it a bit of life. Then I just arranged the meshes I'd put together until I was happy. 

Roman Villa Post #06 - Trim Sheet

General / 10 March 2018

So it's worth mentioning that at this point I actually scrapped a lot of the meshes and modular pieces I'd had previously in an effort to decrease the workload. I wasn't really happy about doing this but I knew it would give me more time to focus on the smaller assets that will eventually fill the room up.

Having cut back the number of individual meshes I was able to finish up the the base texturing using the materials I had made, the only thing left to do was to make the trim sheet and apply it to fill in the gaps. I'd blocked out the trim sheet a while ago when I was unwrapping all my assets so I knew exactly where the various patterns would be going, I just had to fill them in essentially. 

This is the blockout I made early on for the trim sheet. I roughed out a bunch of tile shapes in Maya, of various sizes and arrangements, then baked it down to a plane to get this mask. I then took that mask into designer and began building up each distinct tile variant, treating each one as a separate substance. 

Once I started working into the texture, I did end up changing some things around and got rid of patterns that weren't likely to be used. 

This is what i ended up with. I decided to leave some space in case I want to add anything, hasn't happened yet but there's still time. 

Roman Villa Post #05 - Materials

General / 10 March 2018

I made all of these materials in Designer at different points in the project and I may very well make more before the deadline is up. For simplicity's sake, I'll just dump all the ones I've made so far into a single post. These materials were used to texture a large majority of the architecture in the scene, then I had a trim sheet with some more detailed tile work and mosaics to break up the repetition and to add some small pockets of detail. 

In some cases, such as the Stucco, I imported them to UE4 using the Substance plug in so that I could create a few different instances to get more out of just a single material. I love using parameters in Designer to make my materials as editable as possible, it's one of the reasons I enjoy the package so much. 

The marble tile was the first material I made for this project, thanks to Derk Elshof for letting me have a look at his graph which gave me some really good insight into how to go about it. As it was the first to get made, it was the first to get put into the scene, and it's also the only one I though to take some screenshots of as I was implementing it :/ 

Doesn't look too hot there but it gets better once I start adding proper lighting. That'll do it for materials up to now, they'll probably just start popping up in the scene from now on as I began to use them. 


Roman Villa Post #04 - Texel Density

General / 10 March 2018

So one of my main goals with this project was to work more efficiently and cleanly than I had in the past. A big part of this was keeping proper texel density and using tiling materials that I had created in Substance Designer, as opposed to bespoke textures made in Painter.

Once I wrapped my head around matching the UV grid to the view port grid and also discovered Maya's new texel density tool, this wasn't really an issue. I also realised that I wasn't bound by the 0,1 UV grid so long as I wasn't making bespoke textures, which is an important milestone for every new environment artist I think haha. 

I kept this up whilst unwrapping all of my meshes, and used a grid texture inside UE4 so that I could spot any mistakes. 

No I'd UV'd everything i could finally start making some materials. I'd been staring at grey boxes for too damn long and I needed to see some colour!


Roman Villa Post #03 - Refining My Blockout

General / 10 March 2018

From here  I started modelling into all of my assets and better defining the shape language I was going for. I spent ages on this bit, constantly chopping and changing and getting a little overwhelmed with all the work I was making for myself. I was working very destructively also so I didn't document it well at all. 

I became pretty frustrated with the project at this point and my work on it slowed down a bit. There were a lot of things I liked however so I just tried to push those aspects and left the bits I was struggling with for later. 

Here's the list of all the assets I was using at the time, It doesn't look like too much but it was more than I'd ever intended this scene to be and a lot of it wasn't even that necessary. I had two other projects I was working on at the same time as this also, plus personal work and I was worried I wouldn't have the time to polish the smaller aspects of the scene.

Anyways, that'll do for this post. Next I started working on some material stuff in Designer, the material aspect was one of the main reasons I chose this project so I was eager to get stuck in.


Roman Villa Post #02 - Blocking Out

General / 10 March 2018

Here I started playing around in UE4 and walking about the scene to try and get the layout and scale sorted, I wasn't really thinking too much about feasibility at this point, and I was trying too hard to shoehorn a modular system into it when it probably would have been easier to just make custom assets in some cases. Regardless once I had a blockout I was beginning to like, I found some angles that I thought would make for nice shots and rendered out some screenshots to scribble over. Obviously I didn't have a concept artist and although I don't mind painting I didn't want to spend any real time just bashing out ideas for how the room might look, so they were pretty messy but it helped me visualise the scene which is all that matters.

That was pretty much it for the blocking out phase, onto the next post!