Sketchbook: Willow Paquette

Online / Send Message
This sketchbook is to help me document my work and help myself to be more accountable.   Anything I am posting here should fall into the realm of personal projects and will say if otherwise.  I appreciate comments and critiques on my work, and encourage it in this thread. 


  • DarthWillow
    I am currently in the market for a new Games Industry job as an Environment Artist.  One studio that I have applied to has given me an art test with the expression that I could show the work in my portfolio in any way that I want.  I am going to post updates on it here as I go.

    To summarize the test, it is a fully lit sci-fi hallway and a door in the Unreal Engine.  My goal is to use no more than 4 textures and will be creating fully functional assets including collisions and LODs, utilize vertex color, and show my full process including baking down hard surface information.

    My thought process when creating environments is to tell a story.  Hallways are a tricky space to tell a story because from a functional perspective they are most often made to connect two or more spaces.  When thinking of a type of hallway that could fill that need, I thought of a high school hallway.  Often times there are lockers and decorations such as school spirit or functional additions like clocks and PA systems.  I also found it rather fun that I can't find another 3D environment of a sci-fi school hallway.

    Starting out has been a bit slower as I have been working full time finishing up my current contract at Monolith Productions and planning a move, but I have made an effort to start things off with a healthy amount of R&D for both real school halls, and sci-fi architecture.  I have a preference for function influencing form in my work and I get annoyed with a lot of even well-polished sci-fi environments for being cluttered for the sake of being cluttered rather than considering why something is built a certain way.

    At the recommendation of a coworker, I started using the software PureRef to organize my reference images.
  • DarthWillow
    My plan to start things off is to work in modular pieces which I put together quickly after gathering measurements of real world sizes and began to get something in engine to look at and begin working from there.  At this point, the models are almost a caricature of what they are going to be just to get proportions and placement down.  The materials too are all stand-in at this phase.

    Coming back to it a few days later, I had been considering lighting and how I wanted my space to be lit.  I began incorporating physical lighting elements and started the lighting process early on because it will inform a lot of the decisions I make going forward.  I also took this time to look into some IES light profiles to help get more accurate values early on.  From what I have below I want to add some small pod lights on the ceiling and along the walls close to the floor to help the space feel more well lit and happy like a school should be (even if it's in space). 

  • DarthWillow
    In order to consolidate, I created this thread with my real name associated with my work.  I had only one post in a previous sketchbook thread, so here it is.  The other thread will no longer receive updates.

     Recently I have been getting to work with Substance Designer at work and there is still so much to learn.  This  was a fun little evening exercise to try and make a shape from scratch all in Designer and had me run into an interesting issue of my height map blending together and not overlapping like in the final result.  What I learned is if you use the Tile Sampler Color node rather than the standard Tile Sampler, you can get a result where things don't melt together if they overlap.  That knowledge is going to be great in getting some of my other substances looking the way I want.
  • DarthWillow
    Continuing my blockout is a great space to play around with things like scale and proportions to make sure things feel correct.  It may seem silly to put such an effort in showing these early changes, but I am really trying to find the identity of this space before I dive in and put the hours in necessary to polish it.  Measure twice, cut once and all.  Some things I have learned since my last update is that the frames around the classroom doors running down the hall feel appropriately sized, while the lockers feel way too tall.  The wall sections themselves needed a greater sense of depth to keep to the sci-fi aesthetic despite the heavier influence of real architecture up to this point.  Jutting out the bottoms into a lip is helping this.  The larger doors needed to be enlarged, and by adding the glow of the windows of the classrooms and some pod lights along the ceiling I am getting more of the healthy, lived in feeling I want.  It's not dialed in yet but it feels like a step in the right direction.  I also plan to put some more pod lighting along the bottom of the walls to cascade fun shapes across the floor.  Finally, the floor itself is in an early stage with me playing with what I can get out my packed texture elements and what limits that presents to me.  I will probably add more sci-fi details along the walls on the floor, but the very earthly presence of tiled floors makes it feel more like a school.  I am still playing with things, so lets see if that choice stays.

  • DarthWillow
    Continuing my block-out, I am still not putting a lot of emphasis on surface detail (which will come later with my textures)  Since my last update I have started building and placing props and decorative elements as well as continuing to add detail to various architectural elements until I am getting a shape read that I like with them.  Lighting and stand-in materials are still in an exploration phase.  Finding a balance between typical sci-fi spacecraft/station architecture and a school is proving to be a delicate one.  For this reason I have no problem using this time to feel as confident about the design as I can before I go into detailing assets.

    Some things I am liking:
    • The locker design feels very Deus Ex and the little splash of color on the handles helps tie it in to the classroom doors.  The balance of clean white to color feels right for now
    • Adding light tubes behind glass above the large doors rather than an emissive plane.
    • The ceiling pipes feel both like a space station
    Things that I need to work on:
    • The trashcans read a little too contemporary and need a rework.
    • The classroom windows need more shape refining to them now to keep up with changes on other things.
    • I need something to deal with the lip at the edge of the ceiling transition.

  • DarthWillow
    Continuing to block things out, I have put in several props and decorative elements, added some more modeled detail to several architectural elements, and have further pushed lighting and added more temp materials.

    Things I am liking:
    • The spread of color in an otherwise monochrome space feels correct.  I am going for a NASA-esque vibe.  It should feel human-made and civilian.  A lot of sci-fi architecture like the Nostromo is based on military vessels like subs or boats.
    • Adding light tubes behind glass rather than just an emissive plane over the large doors.
    • The ceiling pipes do a great job of tying in the contemporary school and a typical sci-fi element.

    Things that need work:
    • The trash can needs a rework with it looking too contemporary and not futuristic.
    • The window trim needs to be updated to match the other elements
    • Some sort of trim or cover for the lip where the ceiling changes elevation.

  • DarthWillow
    Almost done with blocking things out, more details to come as I start finalizing geo and making more advanced materials.
    A lot of my time since my last update has been going into material creation.  The hologram material and Text Decals especially. I also am finally showing off the other side of the hallway and have lengthened the existing hallway by a few wall units just to put in some things like trophy cases. (left background - sorry you can't really see them in this shot)
    Most of this update is materials and props this time.

    I'm pretty happy with how I got the lettering working for the gymnasium paint on the walls and the classroom numbers.
    I created an evenly spaced grid with text in Substance Designer, using a tile generator to make sure everything lined up correctly, then brought that into UE4 as a channel of my already existing packed masks texture and ran it through a flipbook node to crop out each letter, then made a parameter to choose what point in the "animation" would show up in any given instance.  Also as good practice, I exposed the base color and roughness values as well.

    Positives of this method mean that I only need to use the alpha channel of an existing texture to save on memory.  The negative is that each letter has to be it's own material instance which if you are spelling a lot in a few different colors can add up a lot to have values to change.

  • DarthWillow
    After finding out the job that I was working on the art test above had been filled, I am switching gears for a bit to finish up a personal scene I was making before my last job ended as it's a bit closer to completion.
    I had been making several forest biome ground-cover plants to push my knowledge of SpeedTree and vegetation creation in general.  I wanted to have some context for them, so I am working on some other elements such as trees, rocks and a big ol' kitty skull to make it all feel more whimsical.
    Skull was sculpted in Zbrush, baked down to a low poly in Toolbag 3, and textures done in Painter.

    Once I had my visual focal point made, I got it into Unreal, sculpted up some terrain, began putting together a water shader for the stream in the midground, and started placing my already made plants to accentuate my focal point with an interesting composition and flow to the scene.  I'm really focusing on a single render for now rather than a workable game space (Though that may come later)

    From there I started painting in a few terrain textures I also had completed to break things up.  I wanted this to feel like a forest, not a field, so I took to my reference to pick the best way to fill things out.  After living in the Pacific Northwest for the last 6 months, it seems an appropriate homage to use that as inspiration.  So anyway, forest, necessitates some trees.  I was planning on going with pines originally, but found several images with primarily birch trees that I really liked.  I then blocked out an adult and adolescent birch in Speedtree as well as sculpting a boulder (will probably do 2 or 3 rocks total) to break up the vegetation and define the water feature.

    I like the general direction things are moving in and from here need to make another rock or two, and make textures for them and my trees.  Oh, and change my leaves on the ground to match and not be oak leaves. XD
  • DarthWillow
    The deadline for my forest scene came up a bit sooner than I expected.  I was invited to a job fair and needed to get everything finished before then.  Here is my final render.  The trees and grass are a bit rushed, but with them not being the focus, it's alright, especially for my main shot. I feel like they do their job to fill out the space.  In-engine, I did a slight color variation of the bark between the 2 trees I made and it really helped them feel individual as they propagated the background. 

    Check out the full res images here:

    I am still on the job hunt and will continue working on my sci-fi scene.  More with that to come soon! :)

  • DarthWillow
    Back to my space school!

    I wanted to give the hallway more of that traditional sci-fi shape language without losing on too much of the architectural influence.  I was also needing something visually to cover the lip as the ceiling transitions to the more open area, so I created some supports that served both perposes.  If I need to make the shapes more dramatic, I am just changing that asset and not all of my wall sections as well.
    I decided to change up the colors, honestly because looking at reference, the orange accent gets used so much in sci-fi interiors it actually feels cliche.   I tried going yellow like some of my references of schools, but decided upon green to have it feel more friendly.  The exact shade is subject to change.

    I've also added in some lower running pipes in the wall pieces.  I think they add flavor but aren't final shape language-wise.   Outside I put a sphere and created a simple planet material while also putting a slight panner on the stars outside to give the feeling that you are orbiting around this planet, giving the whole space a lot more context.

    There has also been general detailing to existing assets all around in this pass.  I am getting closer to having proportions where they agree with me.  Though I am getting a lot of the medium level forms the way I want them, I am finding the hall itself feeling oddly wide.  I am going to explore either narrowing it or simply creating a divot in the ceiling to raise it and change the shape that way.

  • DarthWillow
    This is proving to be a big update.  I set out to get some finalized models and a texture down for the walls.  Though I think they can have a few more textural details, The progress allows for some huge gains on all of the wall sections.  Trying to refine that, I've added a basic amount of specular variation in my base materials which until they are dialed in leave the space feeling a bit... sweaty. XD

    This also lead me to revamp my glass material, following a great tutorial coming at it from a Vray perspective, which I am all about with Vray having such great refractive materials compared to my usual experience in real-time.  Check it out: 

    I was feeling that the supports needed to have more visual interest, so I opened them up.  This doubled as a great way to make a variation for the more open area as well as a physically giving a place for the pipes to go.  This open area seemed like a good idea when I started out, but I don't think I initially knew what my subconscious designing mind was after.  The moment I decided it should be a gathering area for sporting events, it led me to adding in some benches to enjoy the lovely view of the planet bellow, and moving the trophy cases closes.  I have plans for some banners over them to tie things in better.  It is gonna overflow with school spirit!!!

    If you have cared to look at previous images and pulled it together, the scrolling sign says "Go Space Whales!!!"  From the beginning, I decided Orbital High School (that's what I'm calling it now) had a mascot, the divisive Purrgil from Star Wars Rebels, aka the space whales.  Because of that and starting to design the school logo for the floor, I found the original design sheet giving me the true colors used in its designs, which I'm trying out as the secondary and tertiary paint colors.  I was really digging the green, but I accidentally made OHS have the same purple and gold colors of where I went to high school.. Oh how it comes full circle. 

    Also in the vein of textures, I painstakingly put over 100 decals for the locker numbers.  The things I do for art...

  • DarthWillow
    This update consists mostly of continuing to clean up meshes, adding details, and optimizing light maps as I go.  I designed my logo and got it in as a decal, filled up the trophy case, and added some hanging varsity championship year banners above them to really help the space feel like it's part of a school.
    Adding a mesh grate to the floor has given a lot of visual interest, but I feel like they need refined in some way.

  • DarthWillow
    I've been away for a little bit doing multiple art tests, but I was also able to do a little work on my hallway.

    I have been experimenting with using my wall texture in more places around the scene.  Normally I would create a few more textures, but I am really trying to see how far I can push things before I feel like I need to change up the approach.

    I have been wanting the space to feel more lived in, so after creating some posters and locker graffiti to be hung around the hall, I also created some trash from those papers to be littered about at the youths tend to do.  I have also added the starting phases of soda machines, as well as a roomba I want to animate, and bringing in some ferns from another project to help things feel more human.

    The exterior has also gotten some work.  I have been seeing a lot of sci-fi scenes that feel much more inviting when there's the earthly aspect of sun coming in a window.  So rather than having the sun either behind the planet or on the other side of the station, I have it peeking around the atmosphere, giving some way for the plants to stay alive.

  • Natm
    Offline / Send Message
    Natm triangle
    Thank you for sharing the thought process and breakdown of your projects. I'm also commenting to subscribe to your thread as you have a lot of great information! 

    I love the surface reflections in the space school envi. Maybe it's a touch too clean. A bit of dirt and grunge could help give it a lived-in feel.  Great work all in all! 
Sign In or Register to comment.