Home 3D Art Showcase & Critiques

Marchwarden's Portfolio Work Thread

Hi guys, I'm Marc Thompson, 3D Environment Artist. Here's my thread for documenting my portfolio environment art projects. I want these pieces to be as good as they can be, so critique and advice is more than welcome. I'll be updating this first post with the most recent images.

Low Poly Bake:
Hi Poly:


  • Marchwarden
    Here is the concept art that I'm following, with permission from Pete Amachree:

    I just loved the look and feel and setting for this place. I feel like we don't see much of this kind of scene/time period in today's games, and it got me excited to make something a little unique.

    Here are some exploratory sketches and reference I found. This is just a small portion of my research:

    Here is a quick breakdown of some of the static meshes I have so far. As you can see it's very modular and allows me to make tons of variety. So far I've kept the texture use pretty low; I've generally tried to re-use existing textures before deciding I need to make new ones.
    This is just the early stage of this project and I have a ton of work yet to put into this; keep an eye on this thread!
  • mryogesh123
    Offline / Send Message
    mryogesh123 polycounter lvl 10
    Hi Marc, the first thing i would say is that the road needs to be defined a bit more. Its too shiney and can't tell if its meant to be water thats doing that. If it is water, think about how water would pool on a surface. It usually fills dents in the roads surface so i would hint at that. Also pump up some of the normals a little to show the cracks in ground surfaces. The other thing i would also point out is to watch out for scale on the balconies compared to the crub on the road. They are looking a little too low. Its a great start, and i'm liking the mood so far.
  • Marchwarden
    Thanks, mryogesh123. The funny thing is I actually made a nice shader to paint puddles on the street, but I left a giant puddle of water in the foreground and it looks terrible :). That's fixed now. Here's a better shot with some interesting puddles:


    And you're right about the height of the curb, I suspect it's at least twice as high as it should be, so I'll fix that.
  • Marchwarden
    Rough paintover to get a better idea of the rail station. I'm trying to get that contrast of the steampunk elements mixed with the huge victorian architecture. I'm also using this opportunity to push silhouette here.

  • mryogesh123
    Offline / Send Message
    mryogesh123 polycounter lvl 10
    Looks good now mate, I wouldjust add a few small buildings on the left side of the image to balance the image a little. Is this going to be the final composition shot?
  • throttlekitty
    Offline / Send Message
    throttlekitty Polycount Sponsor
    Oh wow, I'll be following this for sure. Looks great so far!
  • AimBiZ
    Offline / Send Message
    AimBiZ polycounter lvl 14
    Looking really good. A cozy night scene is coming to shape. A bit overkill with all the water on the cobblestone but it's a nice touch so just needs some balancing.
  • Marchwarden
    Thanks guys.

    mryogesh123: Something like this will be my primary composition, it'll definitely change a bit as I progress. I'm keeping an eye toward getting a few good shots from different areas of the scene. As for the buildings, yea for sure. Actually I've been thinking a bit about how to approach the skyline. My main concern is that the buildings in the background will need to be unbelievably tall, but it might work out.
  • toolpaddz
    Offline / Send Message
    toolpaddz polycounter lvl 10
    If you feel the need to keep the skyline, why not drift away from the concept a little and make the right side a plaza with an obelisk or a monument or such in the middle to balance the composition?
    Btw, diggin' this! :) I hope it will get much better still!

    //edit: well, actually, in the concept you don't even see the right side. But I'd even dare say that the concept artist wanted it to be a plaza...!
  • Jibby
    This is looking really great so far! I especially like how the ground has some cobblestone poking through the puddles. I'm sure once you add a rain effect and more wetness all throughout, it won't look out of place.
  • Marchwarden
    Here's an update:


    Not the prettiest update but I wanted to show a bit of progress.

    I've been building modular elevated rails and blocking in the station. I also copied around some towers to give a better sense of the far cityscape -- I'll be building some more interesting unique assets for that farther down the line. I have a few other building sets in the works to add more variety.

    In the meantime I've been giving thought to what to do with the middle of the large street. Large open squares like that weren't uncommon, but I don't exactly have dozens of interesting people to fill it with, like in the concept. My first idea is to turn the street into a round about with the middle being a sidewalk/park area with a few trees and benches. It would add a fair amount of production time if I start developing foliage though, I'll see how things go.

    I also tweaked the colors a bit, I think they work a little better now.
  • SimonT
    Offline / Send Message
    SimonT interpolator
    I really like that you go for rainy reflections. I like them in real life very much and so far it looks you'll made a very cool image :)
  • seir
    How did you made such a cool reflection?
  • Marchwarden
    I did the puddles with some lerp vertex painting using the cobblestone height map and DX11 reflection shader magic. Other than that it was just a matter of making the specular power of the puddles alot stronger than the wet bricks so that the puddles are more of a mirror and the stones have a more blurry reflection.

    Here's a good tutorial link about material blending for those interested:
  • Marchwarden
    Alright, I have a technical issue and I'm looking for a bit of experienced advice. It's about lightmap UVs; I've got these girders and railroad wood pieces and, as a result, I have a ton of UV islands and it's obviously not at all ideal for lightmapping. Below you can see it rendered with a 32x32 lightmap, and below that are the UVs. This mesh will be used 15-20 times in the level, so I also don't want to crank the resolution up or that will get out of hand quickly. Are there any clever solutions or do I just need to take the texture memory hit?

  • Marchwarden
    The way I understand it, each face needs to be at least one pixel wide and each edge of each face should be snapped to the edges of those pixels for the best results. Then after taking into account padding, I'm not sure I can pull it off at a reasonable resolution. I may just have to grind away at these UVs for an evening and hope for the best.
  • Ken Benson
    If I were you, I'd break the model into more modular pieces.
    For elements that are large and you can't do anything to break them up without creating seams in the lightmap, increase the lightmap resolution.

    Like Marchwarden said, be sure that every separate surface has its own pixels. Overlapping on a pixel mixes the information.

    Good luck!
  • osman
    Offline / Send Message
    osman polycounter lvl 16
    This is looking good so far :)

    What is the square shadows on the street? What light is causing those?
    Also, for your lightmap problems: You say you want to use 32x32 for the one you posted, but that's way too small. Just take that image of your uv's you posted and scale it to 32x32 in photoshop, you'll see that there is never enough pixels to give each island space :).

    I personally would either crank it up or simply use vertex lighting( you might be able to get away with it, there isn't too much lightmap detail on that particular mesh I think) Perhaps it's worth a try? :)

    Good stuff and gl.
  • Marchwarden
    osman wrote: »
    This is looking good so far :)

    What is the square shadows on the street? What light is causing those?
    Also, for your lightmap problems: You say you want to use 32x32 for the one you posted, but that's way too small. Just take that image of your uv's you posted and scale it to 32x32 in photoshop, you'll see that there is never enough pixels to give each island space :).

    I personally would either crank it up or simply use vertex lighting( you might be able to get away with it, there isn't too much lightmap detail on that particular mesh I think) Perhaps it's worth a try? :)

    Good stuff and gl.

    Vertex lighting could be the solution I need, these meshes should work fairly well for that. Anyway, yea my wording was confusing, I knew I definitely needed more resolution, I was just afraid of going to, say, 256x256 or more on a mesh that's instanced dozens of times.

    Thanks :).
  • Darkmaster
    Offline / Send Message
    Darkmaster polycounter lvl 11
    Lookin sweet! Can't wait to see more!!
  • Marchwarden
    Hey guys, here's an update, a bit more substantial this time. I've been working on blocking out everything so I have a really solid idea of where I'm headed. The statue is of course a placeholder base mesh. I'll probably do some prop models for a change of pace, those lamps should be quick and will let me get the lighting for those finalized. After that I'll probably tackle that monster train station, but it shouldn't be too bad. Crit and advice are welcome, as usual.

  • Fnitrox
    Offline / Send Message
    Fnitrox polycounter lvl 6
    woa loving this so far!
    the only suggestion that comes to mind is maybe adding some plants, but i really don't know if they'd fit the mood
  • Blaisoid
    Offline / Send Message
    Blaisoid polycounter lvl 7
    it looks pretty good. but i really hope that you'll model that builing with glass balcony and replace the generic one on the left with it. :)

    also, it might be a matter of camera angle but on the concept buildings feel more overwhelming.
  • Marchwarden
    @Fnitrox: It's been a consideration. It would definitely add variety but, as you mention, it may not fit with the setting. I think adding planted trees and the like along the streets would make it look too modern.

    @Blaisoid: Thanks for the feedback. I too really want to get that cool balcony in there, I just intentionally kept the more unique features for later while I worked on the pieces with the most re-usability.

    And you're right about the height of the buildings. I honestly ended up being very conservative there mostly because the buildings I had in all my reference were only ever 10 stories at most. I had this sense that adding an extra 10 stories to these buildings would look wrong and unbelievable, but looking at New York skyscrapers from 1900 I'm more confident that I could pull it off. Conveniently it's just a matter of copy pasting a few floors and updating the prefabs in my scene.

    Thanks guys :).
  • Design Runner
    Offline / Send Message
    Design Runner polycounter lvl 6
    It might be beneficial to look into the way many roads wear and sink down, and where the puddles form on them. If you toned down the shader you are using now, then added low areas that make sense, with puddles, it might look a good deal more realistic. Though the shader is stunning so showing it off might have its merits for employment as well. Quick reference: (water dried a little in the picture but you get what I mean)

  • MystiqueX
    Offline / Send Message
    MystiqueX polycounter lvl 7
    Sorry, I don't have any critiques at the moment, just wanted to say it looks great! I'm loving the atmosphere so far. Looking forward to more updates!
  • RogelioD
    Offline / Send Message
    RogelioD Polycount Sponsor
    I know Design Runner touched on it, but that road looks completely unrealistic. A good way to think about it would be terrain, instead of a plane. Your whole level is flat- and I think that some height differential would do your scene so much good. Otherwise, it's lookin really cool. Keep up the hard work!
  • Quickel
    Offline / Send Message
    Quickel polycounter lvl 12
    Great start! Can't wait to see this progress.
  • Marchwarden
    Thanks all :). It's interesting that some people think the water on the ground looks great but others think it's not realistic at all. For now I'll just say that what is there currently is an early version and there will be improvement and polish on it before the end.

    In the meantime here's some lamps:

  • YBourykina
    Offline / Send Message
    YBourykina RIOT Games
    O__O that's some gorgeous work there, the textures are looking amazing, definitely excited to see more updates :)
    loving the lamps! :)
  • chrisradsby
    Offline / Send Message
    chrisradsby polycounter lvl 11
    This is a 100% kickass, great work so far!
  • Low
    I don't want to sound mean or anything but I think you did not capture the essence of the concept.

    Don't get me wrong your work is stunning and looks very cool but when I compare it to the concept art piece I don't get much of the ressemblance.

    The concept art elements are made of long thin lines that gives a sense of elegance. Yours are more blocky which gives a cartonny feeling. The concept shows a very trendy place to be somewhere downtown while yours (with those chimneys and that wheel-type thingy) makes me think we are set near a port or and industrial-hood.

    By the way, the lamp post in the concept is a very interesting idea. It is humongous, when looking carefully we see its base is something like 60 feet (20 meters) away from the point of view and still goes way up the top of the image.

    I didn't want to sound rude in anyway and again your work is very good (way more than mine in any case) and I just wanted to point it out for you because you said
    I just loved the look and feel and setting for this place. I feel like we don't see much of this kind of scene/time period in today's games, and it got me excited to make something a little unique.
  • Marchwarden
    @YBourykina, chrisradsby: Thank you for the motivation, it's really appreciated :).

    @Low: Thanks for the honest feedback. I think your point about the long thin windows and sense of elegance are spot on.

    The scale of the lamp post is also an interesting point because I thought about that specifically. You're right that the lamp post in the concept looks absolutely massive, but I wasn't confident that I could sell the size of it without it looking wrong and goofy, you know? Actually, the first few times I looked at the image I read that lamp post as being normal sized, just very near the camera. My priority was making sure the buildings looked massive and impressive, so I chose to keep the lamp posts at a more reasonable scale in comparison.

    But back to the industrial vs elegant elements, I think you're right and it's absolutely a balancing act. You could say that's one of the pillars of steampunk in general, that mix of Victorian decadence and mechanical practicality.

    For example, the train station, though it has a very functional silhouette, will still have large glass windows on the front with a grand clock face above it -- think Grand Central Station. I also still intend to add the cooler elements to the left building, especially that glass balcony and the large entrance -- that will help alot. My goal is to strike that balance in the end.

    Thanks for the feedback!
  • brandonorden
    It's looking great! The lamps you posted are pretty spot on, and I like the crafty alpha work you did with their spiral designs. I really wish I could give feedback or suggestions to make this better, but nothing comes to mind yet. Stay strong and keep working. =D
  • praetor187
    Offline / Send Message
    praetor187 polycounter lvl 11
    Good grief this is looking so good already. Love those lamps so well done, keep it up man im looking forward to more. :)
  • Marchwarden
    Hey guys, here's an update. So I've been overhauling the theater building and making it look way cooler like the concept. I honestly wanted to wait until it looked more complete but decided I should post for feedback and ideas, so here it is:

    I'm going to replace those fat tall windows at the bottom with the new elegant ones. I will also model ticket booths to line the lower walls.

    Let me know what you think of the bulbous awnings underneath the glass balcony. That ended up being a challenge from the design level up, because I honestly wasn't sure what their function is. I had a friend look at it and he said "restaurant with a view", kind of like the space needle in Seattle. I liked it and went with that. My main concern now is that it looks correct -- currently it has a strong reflection in the windows with VERY subtle light emmisive. If I give it too much light, like every other window in the scene, it just takes over and looks weird, so let me know if it works.

    As far as everything else, I've got an eye toward wrapping things up quickly. Summer is coming to a close so I'm just crunching away, and at my current rate it should happen. The rail station is next, and it should be relatively quick with a little Ndo2 magic. Then I'll make a nice steampunk car and then miscellaneous props and decals and do a texture pass.

    Wish me luck. :)
  • Marchwarden
    And another update. Hopefully with this the scene is alot closer to doing the original concept justice. I think getting the skyline in there was a long time coming and did alot to sell the scale of this city.

    I added a bit of decal action on the buildings to add a bit of grunge. I also went into the textures and detailed them up to be less flat and more interesting.

    I'm working non-stop on this thing, please let me know what you guys think as I start working on polishing things.

    Here's the textures I used for the station:
    And here's the current textures for the buildings in the distance; still WIP:
  • AimBiZ
    Offline / Send Message
    AimBiZ polycounter lvl 14
    This is coming along very nicely but it's deviating from the concept too much still.
    The two main things that catches my attention is the lack of a defined train station and lack of "roughness".
    In the concept, to the left we have what seems to be a train station, big windows, big entrance which contrasts nicely with the small elements that populates the rest of the scene. Right now it's mostly small windows all over the place. It would add so much if you actually made an interior for the station or at least hinted at it. Would really add to the "less is more" effect.
    As for the second point, the scene needs more imperfection and slight unevenness in the roads. This is the hardest point I think since it needs to look subtle and accidental and not made on purpose. Also streets usually rise to the center it seems, most likely to make water collect to the sides.

    A bit of wall of text here, hope it makes sense and pardon if I've missed any explanation to the points already mentioned.
    I actually have a third point which I think is the most important,
    Don't get too tight yet. The more you polish the harder it will be to make composition tweaks as that's what you need to change right now. Props are looking great, now nail the structure of those buildings.

    Looking forward to future updates!
  • BenHenry
    Offline / Send Message
    BenHenry polycounter lvl 11
  • brandonorden
    I took some time to compare your main shot to your concept, and did a really quick paintover to play with just a couple of things.

    First thing that caught my eye was the glass tubing that goes around the building on the left. I think it could use a bit more color variation, kind of like the area that's underneath the glass platform in the concept. There's lots of yellows and greens and purples that make it look vibrant that I think is missing from your glass tubing.

    Another thing from the concept that I liked that you could try out is about that glass platform. In the concept, it almost looks like it's glowing, lighting up things around it. Maybe you can try playing that up in your scene?

    I messed with the saturation of the window lights and strengthened it a bit. I looked at the main entrance of the building on the left in the concept and liked the saturation of that light and how it falls off, so I tried to take a little something from that.

    You could try playing with having just a few really tall far background buildings, like some smoke stacks or like a clock tower. I think at least having just a few tall buildings back there can help the city feel larger and grander.

    It kind of feels like the train station isn't fully done, at least looking from the main shot. I think when that gets roughly to the same level of detail as the big building on the left, that shot will look much better.

    Last little thing I can think of is to make the rain more apparent.

    Hope that some of this helps. Keep on going!

  • Marchwarden
    So I'll start off by saying the last round of feedback I got was fantastic and really made the composition better as a whole -- fresh sets of eyes are a wonderful thing. Thank you AimBiZ and my friends Brandon and Angelo.

    Anyway, UDK is great. One of the better ideas I had was to hook up vertex painting to the window glows to get complete control of the window lights and, most importantly, how they affect the composition. I think it added a ton to the scene.

    As far as the lighting you'll notice it is a whole lot more moody and closer to the concept. I'll be honest and admit that committing to changing the lighting this much was hard because 1) I have to leave lightmass running over night at this point and 2) there is a 50% chance that my computer will BSOD before morning when running UDK. Needless to say it's a big pain in the ass, but what can you do? Wait for Unreal 4 maybe, heh.


    At this point prop population and clutter will help the most, so I'm excited for that. I also intend to give that sunburst element on top of the train station a full high poly pass with a clock face and some fancy designs. It will make a cool focal point. Please keep the feedback coming :).
  • Marchwarden
    Hey guys here is a quick update. Forgive some of the obvious light baking errors, I just wanted to get this out there:


    I'm going to get lots of telephone lines in there soon, that will have a pretty big impact.
  • tristamus
    Offline / Send Message
    tristamus polycounter lvl 9
    For fucks sake, this is awesome. I really like your lamp especially, and how you cleverly used an alpha instead of geo.

    Do you believe it's more worth it to have the alpha rather than the geo in that situation? Or was it more of just a preference on your part? I ask, because alphas can be quite heavy. I'm assuming this alpha was no larger than 256^2?
  • SaferDan
    Offline / Send Message
    SaferDan polycounter lvl 12
    Oh my god, this is so good!I really love this man!

    I am a little confused about the posters on the glass? Are they on the outside?or the inside? They look a little out of place imo. But this looks so awesome man! Excited for more!
  • Marchwarden
    @tristamus: Thanks man. I agree alphas can be heavy, and in alot of cases straight geo can be a perfectly fine alternative without affecting performance. My main consideration was visual quality and, maybe more so, how much easier and better it looks to lightmap flat planes rather than a bunch of tiny cylinders.

    @SaferDan: Thanks :). The posters are on the outside, I just need to adjust some levels and do a real light bake before they fit in more. Once they do I think they'll help add a bit of that lived in feeling that's been missing.
  • AlanSMitchell
    Offline / Send Message
    AlanSMitchell polycounter lvl 12
    10% more steam punk please I love the style!
  • AlanSMitchell
    Offline / Send Message
    AlanSMitchell polycounter lvl 12

    Just some ideas
  • AimBiZ
    Offline / Send Message
    AimBiZ polycounter lvl 14
    Great progress! The street looks a ton more convincing!
  • SirCalalot
    Offline / Send Message
    SirCalalot polycounter lvl 10
    I was about to mention than your screens looked a lot brighter in your newest iteration... Then I realised that I'm on a different monitor doh.gif

    I think that your rain could do with being a lot heavier, such as in the concept.
    How are you going about making the current effect? Alpha planes? Particles?

    Epic uses a technique where a cylinder with a rain material is parented to the camera. Rotations are turned off and it works very effectively.
    It also means that the rain essentially only creates one constant overdraw to the screen, rather than potentially loads if other methods are used.

    Hopefully I'm coming across as helpful :D
  • scotthomer
    Fantastic work, great stuff!
Sign In or Register to comment.