UE4 WIP - Tropical Beach House

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Hurtcules polycounter lvl 2

Hello everyone,

I’m working on a small environment that mainly focuses on an isolated house on a beach. The house has some unique tech elements to help sell a small story that I want to leave open to interpretation.  I think there might be more that I can do for this scene, but don’t want to take it far into sci-fi levels.

Right now I have cameras, an antenna, satellite dish, and solar panels, which is pretty unique in itself, but if anyone has some cool ideas or feedback to add I would love to hear them.

Aside from the concept, my goals for this environment are doing game art, getting better with unreal shaders and only making what I need to show.

The wireframe is a bit of a mess, some objects are high poly and some are low poly, but I have plans of using shader tricks for some of the models and others I’ll just do low to high bakes.

I typically do all my work in max first then go through and figure out what I need to UV and texture for the scene and the best way of using my assets, what needs what materials and shaders etc so this scene will be cleaned up and optimized soon.

The scene will also have foliage and a beach, but right now I want to focus on the house and then build the environment around it, usually I would have all this designed out, but since I’m not building this for a game directly I’ll just try this method out.

Let me know what you guys think!


  • momentum
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    momentum polycounter lvl 13
  • Hurtcules
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    Hurtcules polycounter lvl 2
    Update so far, 

    I've laid everything out and organized all the props I'll be using for the house. 
    Most have a high poly and a low poly mesh aside from a couple that I'll just rely on using smoothing groups. 

    I also did some geo improvements on some props, but it's hard to tell from this screenshot. Most notably, I made the hammock look more organic and lived in, and the chain angles that was holding it up were off. The satellite got more detail added to it as well. 

    The floor boards I split up into chunks, figured it wasn't really expensive to do so and it wasn't going to look right as a baked down single mesh since I had floor boards popping up from the sides. 

    The ropes I'll use displacement in UE4 to create the look I want for it rather than modeling out ropes and having it fit my geo, will cost more, but I'm not really concerned with it and I also want to learn more about shading in UE4 anyway.
    Same goes for the house siding, but I can come back and model boards out if I can't get the look I want with substance and UE4. 

    Will work on UV unwrapping and baking in Marmoset Tool bag 3 next 
  • macoll
  • PixelMasher
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    PixelMasher quad damage
    cool project. Realistically I would say 80-90% of this could/would be achieved with tiling textures, especially in a game like uncharted 4 where they have a ton of detail and tight memory budgets. things like the walls, and floorboards generally would just be done with tiling textures and trims, and have the geo cut up once the texture is applied. you can then vertex blend other types of dirt or wear over top for quick variation and to break up the tiling.

    things like the roof could be a tiling hay texture with some alpha cards added over top to give volume and that organic look. same thing for the ropes: I would have a small tiling rope texture and apply it to a straight 4-5 sided spline and then just deform the spline into various shapes after. 

    I would say 90% of most games on consoles don't use displacement, its super expensive and not really a realistic option, especially for something as small as a piece of rope. One of the ways to prioritize assets is to think about how big they would appear on the screen in a final scene, most displays are 1080 still, so a rope is going to be....20-30 pixels wide on screen at most? 

    another advantage of using tiling textures and trims is you dont have to sink a ton of time into doing highpoly assets for each object, you save a ton on texture memory since each asset isnt using 4-5 unique texture maps etc. 

    I hope this isnt too discouraging but figured it would be good advice at this stage of production, as it is a mistake I see a lot of beginner environment artists doing, having unique unwraps for everything. 

    If you want to get a job as an enviro artist, you really need to show you understand and use techniques that are heavily used throughout the industry, and showing you can creatively re-use a smaller selection of textures by using tiling textures, trim sheets, shader variations with color tinting etc to get a wide variety and save a ton of time will REALLY help show recruiters and leads looking at your portfolio you are ready to get that job :)

    hope this helps! cool choice of subject matter for the scene.
  • Hurtcules
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    Hurtcules polycounter lvl 2

    ­Thanks for the advice PixelMasher, that’s the area I can definitely see I need improvements in. Could you help me better understand the use of texture and trim sheets though?

    The idea I had with making high poly models was to bake smooth edges on my low poly objects, the environment isn’t really beat up so I didn’t see a need to sculpt any detail, but I thought it would add nice subtle detail. In production is this not ever really worth doing?

    From there I was going to share as much uv space as I needed to and then just cover it with a material I would make in substance; such as a wood material. With some masking I was going to edit some details, like color variations and stuff in either Photoshop or in UE4 and use vertex blending with other materials as well for some final details on top.  

    With a tiled texture already made do I just not bother baking assets down? That’s what I was doing when working with source on game props, but I figured with Unreal that detail would be something worth doing.

    As for trim sheets, I’ve seen some cool stuff done with them with Sci-fi, but I guess I don’t really see an area where I have any real detail being used multiple times. The wood probably won’t need more than a single material made with substance and then I can just edit it with instances.

    The rope was just mostly for fun even without using displacements on it I was planning on making the material in substance and just tiling it on the rope mesh anyway which is pretty much as you described.  

    The roof I was planning on making the thatch in substance and then masking out the edges in Photoshop, which is how I believe it works in Skyrim which seemed to be the best example of it.  

    If I’m missing something could you give me an example of what to do with what I have now? Or am I too deep in this workflow?

     Thanks for the help and sorry for the wall of text :D 

  • PixelMasher
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    PixelMasher quad damage
    walls of text are great. it means you engaged and thinking ;) 

    Yes in some cases having a highpoly for nice edge highlights can be good, usually for hero assets, floorboards on an overall environment not so much in 80% of cases. Some games do more highpoly than others depending on art direction and how their engine best handles environments. I know the new wolfenstein and DOOM games rely a lot on highpoly source assets, and they look great. But so does a game like uncharted 4 where they use mostly tiling textures for their environments. it also depends on the style of game, FPS games where the camera can get right up to the walls/floor/props need higher fidelity. but in a game like uncharted, chances are you are not going to be able to fill the screen with a floorboard and notice the 10% difference a normal mapped edge would make.

    Its all about context and looking at the big picture vs individual assets. thats where a lot of beginners get stuck and waste a ton of time. example: spending an hour+ tweaking the bolts and grime on a prop that is going to be tiny and shoved in a dark corner in game. 

    trim sheets can be used for anything, ornate columns, simple edge highlights with wear on a wooden railing etc. most props I have made use a combination of tiling materials and trim sheets for details.

    you can even combine the 2 techniques like star citizen and alien isolation did, having higher poly bin-game geo with modified normals that give you the beveled normal map look just using the geos normals and then cover everything with tiling materials and decals etc. (use the search function and search star citizen technique. maybe after you finish this project though, its a huge topic and trying to learn it all at once will really slow you down.)

     there are a million ways to skin a cat, but I would say the most common workflows rely heavily on tiling textures for most of the environment work. 2/3 of the methods i mentioned tiling materials is the backbone of their environment production. 

    here is a series that breaks it down quite well:

  • Hurtcules
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    Hurtcules polycounter lvl 2

    Alright, so I’ve done some research and some testing over the last couple days and hopefully I have this understood now, but I still have some questions

    This is a render in max. The one on the left shows the wood boards with my UVs placed in the 0:1 space using a 512x512 seemless texture on both sides tiled 4x. The left one is the same texture not tiled, but the uvs streatched passed the 0:1 space to match that if the texture was tiled.

    If I wanted to use any additional maps with this model the right version wouldn’t be done I’m assuming, and since I did do a high poly model I went ahead and baked a normal map, which I obviously can’t tile.

    I watched this video and around the 9 minute mark Anthony Vaccaro said in Uncharted they used multiple tiled materials over their assets and blended them together, but still kept a unique low res normal so that’s the approach I’m now taking towards this project which also sounds like the method metioned above with star citizen and alien isolation.

    In Unreal I made a simple master wood material that tiled the same 512 wood texture 4x and then I made two material instances where I switched the normal maps out. With this I’m assuming I can do a lot with master materials and create some cool stuff with masks and all I need to do is switch a couple things out for each instance and have a universal look between assets that use similar materials. I picked up a couple good tutorials on master materials so I’m gonna go over those to see what I can actually do because I’m pretty novice to Unreal's material system. 

    Now I agree that it wasn’t worth making a high res model for this mesh, you really can’t even see any difference, but since I made a high poly model for everything already I’m just gonna stick with it.

    I also picked up Alex Senechals course on tiling techniques that goes over trim sheets so I’ll go through that as well and see where that fits in with this.

    But is this the right technique when using tiling textures? I’ve seen some texture atlas mapping with tiling textures, but I’m not sure how that would work with this workflow since I’ll be layering materials I make in substance designer.

    On a side note, I love the baker in Marmoset Toolbag 3, but I couldn’t get my normals to look right in Unreal. I set the tangent space to Mikk / xNormal and flipped the y / green channels in both unreal and while baking and nothing I did gave me a correct look so I switched to Substance Painter with my own cage mesh and I got great results there so I’ll just stick with that, but I would like to know if anyone has been baking with toolbag for unreal.

    And ignore the actual textures / materials shown right now I'm just testing with random seemless textures I found online. 


  • Hurtcules
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    Hurtcules polycounter lvl 2

    I did some more research and I now I think I get it.

    So what I could have done was made a trim sheet of wood for example that tiles horizontally with some detail parts if needed near the top or bottom or combine the wood with another material. My scene is mostly wood so probably just a wood combination. That trim sheet would have normal map’d edges with bevels and in max I would scale my uvs to tile across the texture and match the uvs up with the edges to get the bevel edge look.  

    That’s the part I think I didn’t understand before with beveled edges that you could simply just use the ones in the trim sheet to get the same look without having the bake all the edges down for each asset.

    http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1022324/The-Ultimate-Trim-Texturing-Techniques this explained it quite nice for me.

    I also learned from watching Alex’s video on tiling textures that in max and unreal you can assign textures per map channel so your normal map UV’s don’t have to match that of the base colors. For wood it would probably be the same, but for sci-fi stuff like he was doing it was pretty cool to see the uses for it.

    Moving forward with this project now I’m not sure if I should change the workflow I’ve started and adopt this. Since I’ve already made everything and most of what I have has been uv’d and baked I’m not sure if switching now will save me anymore time, but I’ll do some experiments and see what I can come up with.

    Certainly going forward in future projects this workflow will be in mind.

  • RustySpannerz
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    RustySpannerz polycounter lvl 8
    I'm loving following this, I've been going through the same steps of discovery recently and it's really nice to follow along and further cement some of the stuff that I picked up! Please keep sharing any resources you come across! 
  • Hurtcules
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    Hurtcules polycounter lvl 2
    Alright so life got in the way for a little bit, but I’m back working on this.

    Right now I have all my current props in UE4 with just normal maps and basic scene lighting. I think it looks pretty good so far and I feel like it reads well also. Once the foliage and environment comes in to play it should look even better. 

    I’m probably going to model the wood siding planks because I think it looks odd that the windows and door pop out and I don’t think a material for the walls will fix that. The other thing that I might want to change is how the bottom supports look, but with some foliage around it should break it up.  

    I know I’ll have a master material set up for all the wood and same for the metal, I’ll just tile that on the antenna and satellite parts and it should look fine. For most of the smaller props I packed them into one UV and I’ll just have them share a material since the focus isn’t on them.


    I think I’ll make some foliage next and test out some simple textures to get an idea on how I want my materials to look.

  • Hurtcules
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    Hurtcules polycounter lvl 2

    I decided not to bother with making basic materials. My references tell me what I need to know and I’m creating master materials so if I need to change values later I’ll be able to easily.

    I jumped into substance last night and made this wood material with a couple variants with different warping and knots and set up a master wood material that I instanced on several props. Each prop does have unique normal, a mask for the variance and AO maps, but the substance material I made is tiled in the base color and normal and I just adjust parameters I set up to get different values between the wood planks using the mask. Also nothing is over 1k res right now and I think it’s coming together well.

    So right now I’m still deciding on how I want the island to look, I think I’ll just keep it simple and blend grass in where the house is on the sand and just cover the background with foliage. I might add some rocks in, but probably nothing large scale. 

    This is my wood master material

    And the water I made following the basic water shader tutorial here https://wiki.unrealengine.com/Water_Shader_Tutorial and just adjusted it. I want to add some more detail to the water shader, like foam at the edges, but for now it's fine. 

  • Hurtcules
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    Hurtcules polycounter lvl 2

    Finally back working on this scene and I think it’s coming along well, but I could use some suggestions and critiques.

    Right now all the assets in the scene are textured. 90% of the scene is all from Substance Designer, a couple from Quixel, and a few modified in Photoshop for the final look.

    There are 129 static meshes in the scene, 48 unique.

    17 Materials with 18 material instances.

    None of the textures are above 1024 and I’ve tiled almost everything inside either ue4 or inside of substance. I’ve also made a texture atlas for most of the small props as well with the goal to get the most out of my textures. I’m sure I could lower my normal bakes on most of the props to 512 and the scene would still look good so I’m happy with how that has turned out. The scene isn’t modular at all really, but I think I’m being smarter with my textures now with the use of tiling and master materials.

    I also like how everything looks, but it’s really brown. I don’t have the foliage, grass or sand in yet so maybe that will pull everything together, but I’m wondering if I should add some paint around instead of leaving everything bare wood. I tried using white paint, but from a distance, there was basically no texture, even with a weathering effect I had on it. Other colors just didn’t seem to look right either. Happy to take suggestions here.

    My other concern is that the antenna doesn’t read well, but when you look at one from the ground in real life you can’t really see the small wires either. Maybe if I have some trees in the background it will make it more visible.

    I also want to add a little bit more props around. I want to add a flag at least on the main post, but I’m sure some other props around could help the scene out a bit more also.

    For now, I’m going to work on the landscape materials and foliage and come back and make changes if I need to.



     Thanks :)

  • Hurtcules
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    Hurtcules polycounter lvl 2

    Hey guys,

    I just finished up the landscape material for the beach that will blend into the tree line that I will be adding in soon with a foliage pass.

    I made 4 materials that consist of wet sand, base sand, rocky sand, and sandy grass. The sandy grass just has small patches where the grass sits on.

    The shader is pretty simple, although I added the support for changing UV tiling, increasing normal map intensity, cheap contrast adjustment for the height map and changing the intensity of the displacements while instancing the material. 

    I also learned some tricks from Jacob Norris and Aaron Kaminer while learning about landscape materials so I used some of their advice while working on this.

    As for the design right now, I didn’t like how it was looking when the house was mostly on the grass so I pushed the grass back more. Maybe it’s the distance of the house to the water line but will see how things look when I start adding in foliage.

    Let me know if you guys have any suggestions, thanks. 

  • Hurtcules
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    Hurtcules polycounter lvl 2
    I haven't had a lot of free time to work, but I have made some progress on the foliage. 

    I've made grass, plant leafs, palms and some tall grass plants as well so far. 
    Everything was done by modeling everything out and baking in max or designer and then working in designer and Photoshop to create all the materials. 

    I've also made a banana leaf tree, but then I realized none of my references use that so it was just nice practice.  

    I have several different palm variations made as well as additional trees and bushes. 

    I'm actually now noticing how vibrant the tall grass plant looks because of the sunlight which is drawing too much attention so I'll draw that back a bit. The grass and plants near the tree were just quickly placed as well for now. 

    Plant shades aren't too crazy also, I added subsurface colors, but not much other then the basic tweek controls. 

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