[WIP][UE4] Cat in the Rain (Town Square Environment)

rexo12
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rexo12 polycounter lvl 2
Hey, thought i'd start one of these up for my Major Project, assessed in about 12 months time. Aim is to get cumulative feedback on what I'm doing, as well as forcing myself to keep a progress log (one of the requirements of the project). Hopefully I can keep this updated, but i'm always a bit slack about it.

Basic proposal is a small-medium sized environment adapted from an area described in Ernest Hemingway's "A Cat in the Rain" - Essentially a dreary inter-war town square in northern France. There'll be 5-6 areas of interest, where i'll showcase a hero prop of some sort and a little static scenario. As it stands, i'm thinking of: A cafe, A truck unloading, a cenotaph, hotel lobby, and hotel room. 

I do have concepts drawn, but they're pretty gnarly as i'm not too good at drawing, so really just there to remind me of what's in my head, and probably won't look like much to anyone else.

 So, some progress screenshots:

Early Blockout, really just getting the dimensions for the square down. Will probably re-scale based on the size of the apartment building on the left... I think it might be slightly too small though.

A shot from ground-level.


Putting together a set of modular pieces to quickly put together the buildings that will surround the square. First time i've really used this technique, so still figuring out what works best. (How am i going to do the low poly? what about Material IDs and texture sheets?)


An apartment building i put together using the modular pieces, plus some custom ones that i guess i can add back into the pool (The Awning is pretty dodgy, please forgive it). As it stands I don't think it's detailed enough, but I'm guessing a lot of it will be carried through the textures (Bricks, Roof tiles, stone, etc.)


A closer look at the archways building seen in the blockout - Truck will go in the large arch tunnel. Don't have a concrete plan or reference for this, will have to think about it a bit further. Arches are modular and parameterised.


That should be it for this initial post, I have a specific question to ask but will put that in a comment below. C&C would be greatly appreciated! Any general pointers on making environments (specifically the larger level geometry stuff) like these would also be fantastic! Thank you.

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  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2
    Question! What would be the best way to organise my textures/materials for this model? How many matID's are acceptable for this type of model, keeping in mind that it will be the largest element on screen quite frequently (along with 5-6 more similar models)?



    This was how I would probably go about doing the materials (Pretending this is the low poly, and each unique colour represents a MatID):

    All the materials will be instanced from a master material, save for the windows, which will use another glass material (maybe two more, depending on whether I want actual geometry, and thus a translucent glass material, on the interior ground floor). There's also a lot of duplicate geometry here so they can share UV space, but even so i'm estimating 4-5 matID's to get optimum texture and geometry detail. Is that too many? Is there a better way to be handling textures/UV's?

    Thank You!
  • Doxturtle
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    Doxturtle polycounter lvl 4
    I think that looks solid, those white trims could be packed with the other blue bits, they seem fairly similar. The trim + a few unique bits for the windows frames + corner pieces. 

    Seems like it will work well if you want to make different variants of the materials too. You can make different coloured variants of the shop front and the awning with a mask. 

    Looking forward to seeing how this progresses :)
  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2
    @Doxturtle Thank you! 

    Put together the Low poly for that first shopfront, spent way too long on it, sorta using it as a test-bed in order to work out the kinks in my workflow. Hopefully my production will accelerate once i get some momentum going. 
    I decided I'd split the ID's by modular elements rather than by building. This means that there's an extra 2 ID's (5 for this building), but I plan to make use of economies of scale by reusing the modular elements, so every subsequent building should only have 1 or 2 extra unique ID's. That way the more buildings i have, the cheaper it is! 

     Also blocked out another house, I'm unsure of the roof - tried to go for a mansard sort of style but didn't really commit enough. This should be much faster to build the LP for. 
    And here it is in context - kinda wanted the roof to be a bit lower but what can you do? Plan on adding hedgerows out the front, and flowerpots in the second floor windows, but they're detailing props that i'll get to later.


    And a look at the door i modeled for this building - will re-use elsewhere. 
  • garcellano
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    garcellano greentooth
    Wait, that's Unity :smile:
    My only call outs would be that the doorknob on that green door is wayyy too high
    and the arches may need to be pushed up a tad bit. Might be too close to the character's head.
  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2

    Finished off another few buildings:
    This one just being a variant of the Cafe, so should be quite quick to texture. Personally I like the placement of the doorknob as-is, as it lines up with where the player's eyes are nicely, but i can always just move it.

    Also started bringing everything into UE4 in order to contextualise it. Currently sorta dissatisfied with the colours though:


    I'm satisfied with the non-coloured view (aside from the poor mipping on the shutters), so I'm guessing i just need to rethink my colour scheme a bit, but I don't really know what direction to go in.

    I'm also using a material layering system to texture the main body of the buildings, which works quite nicely but is significantly more expensive than i expected, at ~225 instructions. Nor do i think I can really instantiate the material for the other buildings. I think i'll stick with it, but it makes me uneasy racking up this much cost so early in.


    Some materials i threw together in Substance Designer. They both need to be reworked, the colour/roughness on the Slate roof is definitely out of whack, but i was really struggling to get any kind of variation into it. SD's viewport renderer also always seems to have maladjusted gamma, which really screws up my colours. As far as i can tell the gamma value is hardcoded as well, which is quite annoying as i then have to do that hot-swap, guess-and-check thing between programs once i start doing any sort of colour work.

    I've also done a little breakdown of the sorta trowelled stucco on the plaster. It's an interesting effect and the way to go about making it wasn't immediately obvious to me, so i thought i'd share:


    The graph hinges on the Cartesian-To-Polar node. It's one of my favourite nodes that doesn't really get a whole lot of attention in normal designer use. I am essentially twisting the base noise into a circle using said node, then masking it off to create variations in the shape, and then scattering it around with a tile sampler (you could also use a splatter node here). 

    I've gone into further detail on the masks:
    From there we just make a few variations of this, and mix them all together with a splatter or tile sampler, ensuring lots of variation in scale and rotation, and plenty of overlap. Then you've got a heightmap/mask to use further in adding normal or base colour details.

    That should be all for now, Thank You! C&C welcome!
  • Finnn
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    Finnn polycounter lvl 2
    rexo12 said:

    Some materials i threw together in Substance Designer. They both need to be reworked, the colour/roughness on the Slate roof is definitely out of whack, but i was really struggling to get any kind of variation into it. SD's viewport renderer also always seems to have maladjusted gamma, which really screws up my colours. As far as i can tell the gamma value is hardcoded as well, which is quite annoying as i then have to do that hot-swap, guess-and-check thing between programs once i start doing any sort of colour work.

    I defently agree with you. Especially the roughness map looks very different in engine. I always have several nodes clamped in to adjust the roughness.

    As for feedback:
    Your slate roof looks very generic/uniform right now.
    Try to make your main shapes look separate from each other by adjusting your tile sampler.
    To make your noise look less uniform use a high value Directional Warp with your main shapes (before you use noise) as the greyscale input.
    This way the detail is appearing individually for each slate which makes your material look way less procedurally generated. This is an easy trick that will boost the realism of your material instantly.

    Also be aware that your plaster will have a very visible tiling pattern. No problem for the trims but on bigger polygons it will be visible.

    Anyway, good luck your for project!

  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2
    Thought i'd do another update because i won't be able to again for a while, I have mainly just been importing the archways building and putting together more substances to use as base materials.


    Some marble materials. Parametric options for colour and roughness, along with a switch between polished and rough marble. Rough variants shown here.


    Terracotta roof material used on the archways building (i should think of a better name for it shouldn't i?). 


    and a very simple wood material to use for trims.

    Whole project as it is right now:
    Probably hard to see here, but i've added some rain PFX.


    It's all looking fairly average at the moment, The lighting needs a lot of work, but i want to get the main shapes done first. However, I am scratching my head over how i'd make an overcast day have lighting and contrast that looks interesting. The archways building's base material is also very flat right now, I will be using decals and a blend mask to add grunge and wear and tear in order to break it up a bit. This whole thing has taken significantly more time than i anticipated honestly, which is a bit disconcerting.

    I'm also using an interiorcubemapping solution, based on the very helpful guide here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OO2jqYvXLY0 , on the doors and windows in order to fake interior geometry. Nothing special, i just think the technique's really cool.

    That should be it for this update, as always any feedback is welcome! :)










  • JonJo
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    JonJo greentooth
    You've made some great progress on this so far. I think what your buildings are lacking is some trim. You've thrown textures down before really working out those main shapes. I recommend reeling back and focusing on making the shapes of the houses pop first. Places that this would help a lot could include; trim along the base of the buildings, trim for the door frames, trim connecting the balcony to the wall, etc. You've already been doing it on the pillars (which looks great!) but a little more could really help! 

    For a project with this many buildings and large tiling textures, I'd also recommend looking into integrating vertex painting. It'll really help breakup those textures and add some cool detail.

    Keep it up!
  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2
    @JonJo Thanks for your feedback! Do you have any references for the types of trims usually used in modeling buildings? I always get a bit of a mental blank when going into the finer details. Also, do you mean more elements, or more greeble type stuff on the existing elements? (Or both, haha).

    Good catch on the vertex painting, because i actually already have a system in place for that. I haven't used it yet because the noise i was using to blend was unsatisfactory, and I wanted to refocus on the buildings first (as you've pointed out). 

  • JonJo
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    JonJo greentooth
    Hey @rexo12
    Take a read through this polycount post by Jacob Norris. It was posted a while back but the info is still solid; 
    https://polycount.com/discussion/144838/ue4-modular-building-set-breakdown

    As for the trim for your buildings, you should probably find appropriate trim for the style of buildings you want to make. Shouldn't be hard to find references if you're looking for a specific century of style of architecture :)

    When I mean more elements, I guess some more shapes and models to break up the shilloutte of the buildings. Adding things like guttering or a wind vane or something could help make the buildings feel a bit more interesting and less generic.

    Hope this helps!


  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2
    Put together another building - a Hotel, that is (or was) supposed to be a main focus for the scene. I tried to take into account the advice i've been given on trims and detail.

    Also did a lot of work on the layout, along with some minor props (renders came out strangely dark for some reason).: 
    Materials are not final on the hotel, need to put a bit more thought into it. I also think i need to put together at least one more unique building to fill in the space on the narrow end of the square, as i don't like using that many dupes. Unsure of what though. 


    I've also started putting together some of the "areas of interest", using the assets from the Kite demo as concepts. For this particular spot i'll have a nice vine wall, and maybe a bench.


    Put a bit more detail into the Cafe area, ignore the alleyway to heaven on the left there :)

    Next steps are to rework the narrow end of the square, get a material done for the floor (I'm thinking cobblestones), put together some trim pieces, and texture the props i've already got. I feel as if most of the foundational work is done now, and am excited to start getting into the smaller details, where i feel i excel at (and certainly enjoy the most).
  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2
    This past week and a bit has mostly been spent on smaller elements and detailing, I haven't done anything to the far end of the square, although I plan to perhaps give variation to it through foliage elements rather than specific unique buildings. First off, I put together a cobblestone ground material:
    of which i unfortunately lost the sbs for in a crash, so the adjustments i wanted to make couldn't really happen. It looks much better in-engine though. 
    I'm using POM to add depth to the material, along with a vertex paint blend system to add in the puddles.  Might also see about using it to add moss/general grunge to the material as well (right now i'm just multiplying a clouds over the top in order to break up the tiling). 



    It's probably not the best picture, but I also put together a spline based system for generating gutters, allowing me to very quickly conform them to the shape of the buildings. 


    Also got some decals off textures.com to add some variation to the archways building. Still have to get the vertex paint system to something i like.


    Started working on a system to generate vines along a trellis i put together, after i was dissatisfied with the efficiency of the Ivy generators that were out there. Decided that instead of generating the vines first and indirectly trying to get the ample leaf coverage, i'd start with the leaves and generate the vine stalks from there. Don't know how well this is going to work (especially with my limited knowledge of Houdini). 
     


    a beauty shot i put together for social media, so you guys can have it too. 

    That's all, feedback always welcome!


  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2
    Been a while since my last update, and unfortunately I haven't done particularly much, due to school and such getting in the way. Mostly painting and making props. 
    Started working on a leaf material, i still need to do a lot of work on the colour and roughness, by far the hardest parts of the material for me. Will be using this to scatter into a texture for hedgerows and other foliage.


    Finished up the trellis. Kinda unhappy with the leaf material, foliage materials are quite hard to pull off. Does look alright in-engine though. Higher res leaves are scattered on the edges of the mesh so that depth is maintained at parallel viewing angles.


    Variant of the clay flowerpot seen in previous screenshots, will populate with a hedgerow. 


    did some detailing on the underside of the archways, lamp model I did is also visible here.

    I have done some other stuff, texturing some more props and some modeling, but don't have screenshots of them on me. Thanks, feedback always welcome! 
  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2
    Same thing as last post unfortunately, been absolutely swamped. 


    Did... "finish" the hedgerow but I'm definitely going to have to revisit it, and maybe even totally discard the leaf material I put together. As it stands I think the main issue is just with how the static lighting bakes (that is, terribly), but even so...

    Also put together a hand/horse drawn cart model. I maybe put too much time into it it for a background prop haha. There's a hay object on there that I am, as well, going to have to revisit, which you can see is a bit of a trend with me and organics.... Something i'll have to focus on in the future.


    A little newspaper cart, Poster and money tin. Probably the first thing i've modeled that really starts to tell the story I wanted for this environment.

    And in context, next to the cafe area. Looks a little sad at the moment, lighting all these different areas to the tone you want while still maintaining consistency is quite difficult (and you can even see a fake lamp being used here).


    That's it for now, feedback welcome!


  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2

    Telephone box, M16 Adrian Helmet and Newspaper models I put together over the last week. 
  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2
    Update again! Here's an overview screenshot of the whole scene as-is. It's finally at a point that I'm starting to like, gotta keep pushing it. Also have a lot of free time for around 2 weeks, so i hope to really power through stuff i need to get done.

    Put together this truck model, used to block off the tunnel in the archways. Below is a render for my social media:
    and in context:

    The truck was interesting to put together, i've never really actually modeled something with the sort of molded, more organic shapes it has - especially with the limited references available. In retrospect i think the top and front of the cab needs more work on detail greebles and such, and the door kinda looks like it's backwards. I also originally modeled it a teeny bit too wide for the arch (even now it's quite a tight fit, you'll have to be precise backing out!), which just for the future means i need to plan these things a bit better.


    Also did a bollard model and some more interior detailing, nothing too special there.

    Reworked the glass shader, based on the tutorial here:
    It's subtle, but i feel that the effect is more convincing than what I had earlier, and helps break up the scene a bit. It does ruin any transparency that it overlaps though, I'll have to decide whether or not it's worth keeping.


    Gas lamp and candle particle effect, again based on the breakdown here:
     



    I'm still having issues with the hedges, mostly with how the leaf cards shadow, turning it into a bit of a splotchy mess. I think i also need to hand-tune the texture streaming, because I think it's loading too much unnecessary data - which i guess is to be expected due to the very open nature of the environment, not a lot that can be hidden. Also need to start populating the center a bit more, I've noticed that all my work tends to gravitate towards the edges of the environment.

    Another thing i've realised is that lighting an environment like this is a lot harder than i expected, as i need to keep consistency between all the areas of interest while still making those areas have nice and interesting lighting. Can't just throw pink and blue lights into an IBL like I have in the past.

    That's about it for this update, feedback welcome!











  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2
    Update, really not a lot of progress. Unfortunately I've kinda burned myself out on this - set myself too much to do too quickly. My graphics card also burned out which lost me a fair bit of time. Lesson for the future I guess!

    Gramophone model, Also experimenting with some colour grading for a different visual style.




    It's not a terrible look, but I feel as if I'm cheating a little bit by desaturating everything and pumping up the contrast. I've noticed my lighting in previous projects tends to gravitate towards high contrast and strong shadows - also tends to be quite dark, and It's a habit I intended to try and break for this project. 


    So I think I need some feedback on getting the lighting to look nice and interesting, without resorting to stuff like the above.

    Thanks!

  • DanikaPuzdrowski
    Hi :) 
    I personally think that the lighting you have going on now fits the grey/rainy atmosphere that I think you were going for - but in turn it washes out some of the good texturing you have going on, so maybe find a bit of a medium between the two? 
    That's my opinion anyway - it's looking great so far, i'd love to see it progress further :) 
  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2
    Thank you for your feedback! I have actually spent some time redoing lights and stuff, In particular I made them a bit cooler in temperature, as I felt they were too "dry" before. I also put together a sharpening filter in a Post-process material that, rather surprisingly, I think really helps. 


    Put together a bench and drain model as well.



    Also did some more backdrop detailing in order to seal up the level a bit more. 

    I'm considering reworking my window models, I think the square trims on them are far too simple, and I realise are probably part of why I've been unhappy with the project. 

  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2
    I'm about ready to wrap this up, The last month has been spent optimising and tweaking, mostly. I reworked the lighting (again) to better match that rainy/overcast atmosphere I originally wanted, but I keep feeling off about it - I think I'm too scared of introducing contrast, because I'm worried about turning it into a dark mess.







    Added a wreath and poppies to the cenotaph for a bit of story building:



    And put together a painting frame (with Monet's "Snow at Argenteuil") and some books to populate the interior of the cafe:



    Everything else has been mostly behind the scenes stuff - setting up LOD's and optimising shaders/particles and so on. If anyone has any feedback - on the lighting in particular - that would be most welcome!
  • JonJo
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    JonJo greentooth
    Yo dude, your scene has come along so far since I last saw. Really liking the stuff I can see from the interior too, the painting is looking very realistic and whatever building is in the third shot, I want to see more of that!

    First thing I'll say is that it's looking much too dark. On my monitor, a lot of your values are going to black (can be seen in the bushes and walls in the first and second shot, as well as bits around the fountain in the 3rd and fourth, etc.) Either increase your GI in postprocess or boost the skylight values. I know you want to have that nice contrast, but try and brighten things to match the skysphere as it's looking a bit random. I recommend downloading Tim Simpsons UE4 lighting set up just to play around with them and get an idea of how the work with your scene. https://gumroad.com/l/ue4light You can basically just copy the text from the doc and paste it into your scene. It'll just add a new folder with all it's own lighting stuff very non-destructively. 

    I'll just throw some free fire things I notice here too; 
    Your books don't seem to have any page definition in the textures, looks very flat where I'd expect some normal details
    Hedges are looking incredibly clean and uniform, might be worth scattering some leaves on the floor and adding some abnormal branches or clusters.
    The cobblestone parallax you're using is suffering from all the normal parallax issues and it's a little jarring. The places where it's intersecting with other geometry (i.e, the pavements) shows the key signs of parallax errors. I recommend either moving shots away from there, lowering the intensity, or removing the effect completely and focus on getting a solid normal map. 
    Rooms seem super bright and eye catching. Lower the intensity and drop some curtains in for a better silhouette. 
    The large square shaped pillars need to be rotated as I can see the same texture landmarks all the way down the row. 
    AO on the 6th shot is a bit intense for an object in direct light, probably worth pulling back on the AO a bit globally and relying more on your shadows as they are looking nice. 
    The brown brick house and the orange/brown building are suffering from a distance. It's hard to see any detail in them. The brown brick is also tiling way too obviously. The pattern is repeating way too much. Could be worth redoing this texture.

    Lots of ideas here, pick and choose what you work on, if any. 
    Good luck with your project dude, hope this has helped a bit. 

  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2
    @JonJo The colour crushing is exactly what I was afraid of, I will have to keep hacking away at this lighting. Will check out that link though, thank you. Do you have any suggestions for working with static skylights? Base values and such like that before I jump straight into the old bake-and-check shuffle. I also just messed around with the postprocess GI settings which are quite helpful - was under the impression these weren't available for static lighting (something to do with VLM's i guess?)

    I'll take your other observations into account too - Texture tiling in particular has been quite difficult, and the way I originally set the buildings up probably doesn't help. Working with tiling textures and not having full control over painting surfaces has been a learning experience for sure.

    The books do actually have normal details on the pages but it looks like they're being mipped out (oops).

    Thank you!
  • JonJo
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    JonJo greentooth
    @rexo12 As for the static sky light, I think you can put it on stationary and it'll still be good for static lighting, it'll just enable GI too. Most games use mixed lighting (especially with sun and sky lights), it's never entirely static. I'll double check my setting for my static lit scenes when I get back from work and follow up with some more concrete ideas for you :)

    Well you're tackling a big scene so it's very normal for things to slip through the cracks and problems to crop up. Implementing vertex painting might require you to go back to your original kit and add some extra edge loops, but you might be able to get away with sorting out your original textures and slapping on decals here and there. Some grunges, bird poo, that kind of thing. 

    Keep going though dude, it's shaping up nicely :D


  • JonJo
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    JonJo greentooth
    @rexo12
    Okay so in this scene I did not too long ago, I used a stationary directional light and a static skylight. You can see in this screenshot that the yellow colours are coming from the direction light and the bluer colours are coming from the skylight from the windows and glass ceiling. To get a nice bake with your skylight, I've linked some lightmass settings and my skylight settings. You'll probably want to tweak the values for your scene of course. Increasing the indirect and sky lighting bounces will help fill your scene nicely without adding harsh contrast! I also use Luoshangs GPU lightmass baker which does some incredible bakes, might be worth checking out :) 




  • rexo12
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    rexo12 polycounter lvl 2
    Rebaked everything with new settings, boosted the skylight intensity and removed AO baking.
    While it's much brighter and better than before, I think i've gone a little too far in the opposite direction, so I think I'll drop the skylight intensity to 2.5 or so, and boost the postprocess GI a little instead, as this has flattened out the image too much. I might also increase the brightness of the flowerpot textures to improve bounce lighting. I've seen conflicting opinions on whether or not you should bake AO - Is it just a matter of what looks best for the given scene?


    added vertex paint blends for my brick textures. It blends between the normal texture, a more uniform breakup variant, and a moss variant. It does help, but probably not enough, and the uniform variant feels too flat. Also having a lot of trouble with propagating my vertex colours to lower LODs, it just seems to refuse half the time.



    Added a coffee cup as a last prop, and also boosted the resolution of a lot of my textures and disabled lightmap compression, as I had 8GB of VRAM that I was barely using half of.
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