Abandoned Throne Room - Blog 03

Work In Progress / 25 April 2019

The internet is a fickle thing, am I right?


So the plan was to get this uploaded on Tuesday, but I've had internet issues for the last few days - turns out it was an Ethernet cable on its way out.

In any case, I've made some progress since and I'm here to share what I've done so hopefully it can help someone out at some point down the line :).


Trimsheet:

The Trimsheet was fun to go back and play with. Previously it was incredibly under-used and was made more for testing an idea out rather than really going to town on some cool tiling details. When I'd started off the scene, I'd made the original, but it just wasn't enough. So, after watching Tim Simpson's video on Trims (Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IziIY674NAw ), I finally got my head down and went back and revised it. The result is much better.










The new Trim was blocked out in Maya and then I did a pass over it in Zbrush, smashing out edges, adding some damage with the Averkin Environment Brushes (Link: https://gumroad.com/averkin ) and then just baked down to a plane. The material was just a simple matter of baking out some Colour ID's and applying materials I'd already made for the scene in Designer.

For taking the 1024 texture into engine, I made a Merge-Map following the same packing order I've used throughout this project:

R = Metallic

G = Roughness

B = AO

A = Height

In-engine, I've set up some POM with my Trim, but I'm not entirely sure if it's even worth having in the long run. For now, I have it in, and I can always come back at a later date and make a final decision.


The Scene:

 So I wasn't too happy with the floor of my scene. After going back and looking at a few references, I noted that the floor was far too cracked and damaged for what I had in mind. As a result, I swapped out the material and re-designed how I would have my floor.

I had been looking at what to do with the floor-space for a while, as I want a viable way for the tree to get nutrients, and up until now, there had been no discernible water-source for something that large, not to mention all the other foliage I plan on adding.

Early on in the concepting stage, I wanted some form of water channel or 'trough' to cut through the floor with bridges over it. I was thinking of how I could help the composition and lead the eye further towards the throne and came up with the idea of having the trough in the place of the 'rug' I had previously planned.

I quickly ran into the problem of my large, modular floor pieces now no longer fit the large circular shape by the throne. As a result, I've decided to just have a large floor piece with some loops cutting through it every 1.5m. This may seem quite pointless and messy, but this actually works incredibly well in-tandem with my marble floor material for Vertex Painting later on. I'll demonstrate it at a later date when I actually get to that stage to save repeating myself.


To get the shape, it was a simple Boolean operation and then I just cleaned up the two or three verts that were left over. For this particular Bool, I used the DCBoolManager plug-in, but the standard would work just fine.


The modelling is very basic and simple at the moment as I need to take it through Zbrush yet and add a few more details. It's currently in-engine and as soon as it's sorted, I'll be moving onto the tree! Really excited to get back into this and make this something to be proud of!


Here are some current screengrabs from UE4. I think the first Camera angle needs to be played with a little bit, but it's starting to shape up a bit more!



  



Abandoned Throne Room - Blog 02

Work In Progress / 16 April 2019

Oh man, where to start...

So, first of all, I'd like to apologise to anyone that's been waiting for this post after their interest was piqued by the last one. There's been quite a few things going on since then, and I'll be discussing quite a few of them here for transparency and to discuss a few issues, that while many people discuss on Twitter, I've personally never spoken of publicly in an open forum.

So, what happened after the last post?

Well, I went to EGX Rezzed in London. It was the following day to the last post, and I remember getting perhaps 2 hours of actual good sleep that night because I was fretting over missing the train (I've maybe gotten 3 or 4 trains in my entire life, so as someone that prefers to drive everywhere, it's a bit of an event). I was up at 5.30am to drive to Stoke-On-Trent (where I attend University and where my friend and I were travelling from) and the train down was fairly uneventful.

The day as a whole was fantastic. I got some really good feedback from the Creative Assembly team that was there, spoke to a few Indie and AA developers and got some feedback from them as well. All in all, a fantastic day out and I couldn't wait to get back to work.

The following day, I was back in Stoke hosting a developer (Dan McCabe - Artstation: https://www.artstation.com/dannymac ) from Codemasters who was kind enough to come in and do a talk for the Game Development Society that I've helped manage since September. The talk was amazing, and I can't thank him enough for giving up his time for the day.

After the hectic week I had, Sunday I just shut down completely. Five years of pushing myself to the brink of exhaustion finally caught up to me and I began to experience the worst bout of burn-out I've ever had. Over a week later and I'm still struggling to even sit here and write all of this down.

I decided to take a week to myself, just chilling out and relaxing while going through my final week of the Semester (the week where all our work since September was due). Could I have spent the last week refining things for my hand-ins to make sure I get decent grade? Probably. Did I? Nope.

It's all well and good going to Art School or doing online courses, or even working on Portfolio projects, but the key is to look after yourself and your mental health above all else. What good is that degree if you practically kill yourself in the process?

For the sake of transparency, I had a total of 5 environments to essentially be done by this Semester, so essentially 24 weeks (ish?). It's funny, because I've spoken to a handful of Environment Artists over the year and most have had an aneurysm when told what I've been up to this year. It's possible, sure, but the problem comes in the form of quality over quantity, right? It's the same argument that could be made with fulfilling academic requirements vs a really nice, solid portfolio piece. 

I understand that all academic institutions need to hit certain criteria in which to provide you with a grade or qualification, but it can be a little nuts at times. In the three years that I've been at my University, I've never seen a level of burn-out and exhaustion across an entire year-group as I have with mine. Perhaps next year, it'll be better - maybe not. I hope it is. I've heard so many students, who are genuinely talented and inspire me in my own work say that they just don't care anymore. It's heartbreaking.

Luckily, there's been a few reasons that have begun to pull me back from burn-out, and I couldn't be more grateful.

I plan on getting back to my scene tomorrow, where I'll begin to rework my Trim-Sheet and incorporate more of it onto my models.

If anyone is suffering burn-out, take time for yourself. Do something other than 3D, or 2D or whatever it is you're working on and just rest up and enjoy life. You're only going to get one chance to live your life, so don't waste it practically killing yourself to always produce work. Take time for your health, be it physical or mental.

Abandoned Throne Room - Blog 01

Work In Progress / 04 April 2019

I figure a solid place to start with all of this is the beginning. The premise of this entire project was the create a scene that looks quite fantastical and imposing. Over the Summer when I was preparing for the project, I began gathering a load of reference for various projects, including this one. Some of my main points of reference were Exeter Cathedral and the Red Keep from Game Of Thrones/A Song Of Ice And Fire. 

As it happens, I live in the midlands in England where there happens to be quite an abundance of intact castle ruins that are preserved by the National Trust and open to the public. This meant that I had access to a lot of real-world references that I could always take inspiration from, which is the most important part of any project.

If anyone is interested in seeing some of these reference pictures, there's a Pinterest Board that I've put most photo's on if anyone wants to use them at any point. Over the next few weeks I plan on adding more that I've neglected to put up.

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/invieri/fyp_refs/ 

When I was thinking of all the different ways I wanted to tackle this, I was browsing ArtStation and Google for some artists that inspired me to push my work as far as I could. I'll post a few links to specific projects below for anyone to go and have a browse - I highly recommend these guys as their work is out of this world!

Paolo Puggioni: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/xeenR 

Cui Xiaoyu: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/r6y85 

Shawn Kassian: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/zNREZ 

Phil Liu: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/qloDL 

Jen Ravenna: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/DleYy 

Floyd Billingy: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/OmeRy 

Karen Stanley: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/r9LaL 

Paul Dalessi: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/Negb 

Florent Vilbert: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/6zGwx 

Thiago Klafke: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/KOoQy 

Boyd McKenzie: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/ELq0n 

Soo A Hong: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/ama8L 

James Rosenkranz: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/r951a 

Cassandra El Mhaia: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/RqrYy 

Alongside all of this fantastic artwork, I was lucky enough to have a friend who kindly did a quick photobash/paintover of the Red Keep Throne Room in August to help give me a general idea of what I was hoping to achieve by the end of the project. His name is Adam Thompson (ArtStation: https://www.artstation.com/admthpn ) and his work has been beyond helpful.



This was a huge help because I tend to work best when I have a concept I can directly compare and base my work off of. Another set of photos that really helped alongside this were a few shots from Exeter Cathedral, and you can see the inspiration from both throughout the project.


 




While my initial block-out was slightly different, it was enough to begin working on it.

I wanted to follow the Naughty Dog approach to my scene and general workflow, while also experimenting with things I hadn't really delved into before. My lessons at Staffordshire University for modules called MAGE (Mastering the Artistry of Game Environments) and ADMOD (Advanced 3D Modelling) really helped me understand the whole process of creating an environment much more. Before, I'd never heard of the idea of storyboarding a scene, I'd never considered doing a Value Pass, or a Colour Pass. These were new concepts to me, but ever since I've noticed a drastic improvement in my work from the very start. It's easier to balance albedo's, easier to get an idea of composition etc.


Block-Out:

One thing I noticed very early on in my planning and reference gathering was that many buildings that were similar to what I wanted to create were symmetrical. This helped with the modularity, because it meant I only really had to model half of the room and then I could use smaller models and props to break it all up.


I got through the initial block-out in Maya fairly quickly. I wanted a lot of large, rounded pillars to break up the large flat surfaces and give it a more organic feel, as very early on I decided I wanted my focal point/Hero Asset in the scene to be a large tree wrapping its roots around the Throne. 



The block-out for the tree was very quickly done in SpeedTree and then brought into UE4 to help get an idea of positioning, size etc. It was a lot of back and forth for an hour or so while I made sure it was still large and grand, but didn't clip through any walls or anything like that as I wanted to use it later on in the process.

To begin with, I was focusing on one or two camera angles and I wanted to get those set up in UE4 as quickly as possible. If I got my cameras set up early on, I could focus the environment around their composition and really get the most of them, which is something I've really struggled with in the past and I feel has really let some of my final renders down.

Eventually, I settled on three main cameras, which you'll see most screenshots taken from. I decided to go with a symmetrical shot from the entrance of the room, a low angle closer to the Throne and a third camera that was higher than the previous two, looking down on the scene as a whole.

Doing the inital Colour Pass was really useful as it gave me an idea of what materials I could use where to compliment what I could. Initially, I wanted the floor to be quite a dark marble and have the long 'rug' a nice pale green to compliment the bright red leaves on the tree. Having the marble floor quite dark meant that the green would 'pop' a little more and hopefully lead the eye. I noticed that a lot of similar buildings tended to use lighter stone, and once my block-out was complete, I could tell why - it helps lighten the room up considerably. It also worked out being a nice contrast to the dark floor tiles.


Master Material:

I wanted to get a good base for a Master Material fairly early on in the process to save me a headache later on down the line. I wanted as much as possible in this scene to be as re-usable as possible. As a result, I based my entire texture/material work off of UV's. Each model has three UV channels;

UV Channel 0: Unique Unwrap for baking and generating masks in Substance.

UV Channel 1: Lightmap.

UV Channel 2: Tiling Material UV's.

While this means I have a lot of Material Instances, it does mean that I can update things fairly quickly if I need to. With the Material Functions, I merely layer each part of the Master Material in them and then Lerp them together based off of Masks.

I have Material Functions for;

- Model Bakes (Normal and AO)

- Tiling Materials

- Damage

- Dirt

I have plans to add in options for Vertex Painting and a few different grunges, but for now it's all fairly straight forward and simple. I also apologise for the noodles in advance.


Trim Sheet:

A wonderful technique I was introduced to last year, and completely changed the way I approach my work now, was Trim Sheets. The ability to put tiling detail anywhere I want it at very little overall cost is absolutely amazing. Ever since I was introduced to the technique, I've attempted to incorporate it in some degree in each project I've worked on. With this project in particular, I wanted to keep with the organic feel of the scene as a whole. Because of this, a lot of the trim that I've used so far is floral. I gave it its own basic Master Material based off of the original so I can layer dirt and damage on it separately from the rest of the models to make sure it doesn't get overwhelmed.

I plan on revisiting the Trim Sheet as a whole so I can add some more elements that I can use to break some surfaces up. I'll be looking into that a little later on when I'm putting the final touches on models and such.


Modular Pieces:

I began making progress on some modular pieces and started to play with silhouettes. I wanted to really push each and every one of my models this time around by giving a Zbrush Pass to most, if not all of my pieces in the High-Poly. Through doing this, you get a much nicer model with much better fidelity through using this method.

Very early on, I wanted to play with the organic feel of the scene. I got the idea when I was reading about house Tyrell in Game of Thrones and wanted to incorporate something like that, while also attempting to make it a little imposing at the same time. While a lot of this is going to come later on, I thought it worth trying at the very least, if only to make it a little different.  


The actual models themselves in the few weeks prior to making this blog actually took a few different iterations until I was somewhat happy with them. The most notable were the large Jade pillars on either side of the Throne and the change to the marble floor. I found that once I had the vaulted ceiling in, the dark marble was sucking up all the light and just looked black. I'm happy with the change, though the floor does need some work, both in material and in the Mesh.

I've played with the lighting continuously whole I've been working on this, and while originally I was playing with Stationary Lights, I was getting some very noticeable and irritating lighting errors that seemed to be corrected after swapping to purely Static Lighting. I plan on putting in some Stained Glass behind the Throne, but I still need to set up a proper Glass Shader in UE4.

My current area of focus is the Throne and the Tree as they're the last pieces to really get out of my 'Block-out' stage, but just because a model is past that 'stage', doesn't mean it's the final one.

From this point, I'll be updating the blog each week (baring any emergencies) and any feedback or comments would be more than welcome. If anyone learns anything from my process then that's even better!