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Still Trying to Finish ArtStation's T.L.O.K.A. Challenge

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JamesBrisnehan interpolator
Hello everyone,
So I participated in the Legend of King Arthur challenge on ArtStation. However, I could not complete it on time because I had a lot going on those two months and chose a larger scale project than I probably should have. Oh well. But I am still plugging away at it since I really like the concept and would love to put this scene on my portfolio. Anyway, I decided to move my old and new work in progress updates over here now that the challenge is over.


So the original concept is "Merlin's Cave" by Erik Nykvist from Stockholm Sweden: 



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  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    Block Out:



    Lighting Test:


  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    Created Rock sculpting height maps in Substance Designer and started sculpting assets:




  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    First Materials and building up the landscape:




  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    Decided that the scene needed some additional lights and I took inspiration from of Erik Nykvist's other TLOKA submission "Avalon". Also as far as I got on the environment before the challenge's deadline.


  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    And this is where I am now:

    I have replaced almost all of the BSP and block out meshes. I reworked the lighting. I built in some things that were not in explicitly in the original concept like a sea entrance, a stairway entrance and a secondary stone circle. I should mention that I did not make the fire particle system. It is from UE4's starter content. I threw it in to see how it made the smaller stone circle feel.

    I still feel like there is a long way to go, but I am determined to finish it (foliage, stalactites, boats, waterfalls, etc.) . I am open to critiques if anyone sees something that needs to be fixed.


  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    This week I worked on sculpting the lantern holding statue. It's been a while since I have tried to do anything close to a character, so please let me know if there is anything that looks wrong or needs to be fixed. I still need to detail the hands a bit though.

    Also, I could use a some opinions on what sort of base for the statue I should go with. Right now I am leaning toward a simple design, but I'm not sure.




    Reference/inspiration:

  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    Since last time I posted an update, I textured the cave ceiling, made some stalactites, started vertex painting, worked on the lighting, learned how to create a volumetric cloud particle system, tested out my lantern statue, and then threw out the lantern meshes. I didn't like the shadows the block-out lantern was casting, and all of the time period accurate lantern designs I was looking at would probably end up being worse. I'm now thinking a tray of candles, or maybe just candles dripping through her fingers, ha ha. Still playing with ideas.

    If anyone has any suggestions or critiques, let me know.


  • WillPowell
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    WillPowell polycounter lvl 2
    The candle idea would look great, with the wax dripping down the statue. Candles don't give off a whole lot of light but you could always take some artistic license and have them brighter (may not be necessary as you have a good amount of lighting coming from the ceiling and being dispersed throughout the cave).

    The central island looks awesome, has a mystical feeling to it, fitting in line with the original source material!
  • pistachio
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    pistachio greentooth
    Lighting/color grading is the bomb, I can always go for that ICO vibe.
    Grass/dirt needs more work and geo detail (for a first pass it's cool)
    BG ruins closest to us starting to look good but it's darker in the original. Depends how accurate you wanna be there but it amps up the focal point. Also pretty roughed up in the original
    Foreground is gonna need more rubble.
    I'm not an env artist, take this with a grain of salt.
    It's definitely shaping up.
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    @WillPowell Thanks. I will try to make the candles and post an update soon

    @pistachio Yep, those are all on the to-do list. Ha ha. I'm just doing things a bit out of order because lighting was starting to get fun. Thanks for the feedback though.
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    Hello again. 
    I have sculpted the candles and textured the statue. And I'm noticing some thing weird. My textures look great in substance painter, but not great in Unreal, and I'm curious if anyone has any ideas as to why. In Unreal it looked splotchier and noisier. I had to remove a couple of the grunge maps that looked really good on it in SP. And I noticed that some of the UV seams are showing up in unreal in the light map. I have a fairly dense light map resolution for it though. Maybe It would look better if I do a full 'production' build. Maybe Iray will always look better because of the way it renders things. Or maybe I'm just nit-picking and it's all in my head. I don't know. At least the candles look cool in unreal with the subsurface scattering, even though the flames are over exposed.

    Substance Painter's Iray:


    Unreal light build on 'high' with grunge maps removed:





  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    In other news, I built the low polly and  UV'd the boat. I also decided that the hypothetical Druid Monks needed short wooden style docks to help them get up out of the boats and onto the tall stone docks. 

  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    Got the boat and docks textured and placed.



    The boat docks and rope all share one texture set that tiles horizontally in some parts like a trim texture. The Dock is also built in a modular system.


  • Jakro
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    Jakro greentooth
    You're killing it man!  B)
  • icegodofhungary
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    icegodofhungary greentooth
    Good atmosphere and good assets.
  • CybranM
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    CybranM greentooth
    Looks really nice so far, keep it up :smile:
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    @Jakro , @icegodofhungary , & @CybranM , Thanks guys, I'm glad you like how it is turning out.  =)
  • Taylor Brown
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    Taylor Brown ngon master
    Damn, beautiful work to wake up to
  • Necrodark
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    Necrodark polygon
    Aweosme stuff dude! slow and steady as they say  =). I would really love to know how you handled the lighting on such a big interior scene as i have a project with a similar scenario and i've been struggling with it for a while, looks like you're using volumetrics to fill out the cave? anyways beautiful piece!!
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    @Necrodark So after a lot of experimenting and test bakes, this is what I came up with. It's probably not the best way to do things, but it's the best I could come up with from my very limited experience lighting in Unreal. . .

    First off this guy has a great volumetric fog presentation if you haven't seen it yet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xd7-rTzfmCo I pretty much followed his example for the fog. I even followed his break-neck-speed mini tutorial on particle clouds he does half-way into the video. I then played with all of the settings in a trial and error kind of way until I got what I wanted. You can kind of see the clouds behind and around the mountain in my scene.

    The cavern is pretty much lit by 3 main lights. A sky light with an HDR from HDRI-skies.com plugged into it's cube map slot, and two over-sized spot lights mimicking the sun. I originally tried to get an actual directional light to be the sun, but it just wasn't working the way I wanted it to.
    The smaller spot light is the sun (see image), the bigger one helps out the sky by adding more fill light (or indirect lighting, or bounce light) and giving me more control over the fill light. 
    In order for either of the spot lights to be visible I ended up having to change the intensity units to unit-less for both of them. Otherwise I would have to figure out however many billion lumens or candelas they would need to be to even reach the ground. Unit-less seemed to just fill the entire length minus the falloff. I set the Sun spotlight falloff to almost nothing, since sunlight's normal falloff is like out past Pluto. I wanted a lot more falloff for the Fill spotlight so I could mimic bounce light getting weaker the further into the cave it got.
    I then turned the indirect lighting intensity way up to make the light bounces a lot stronger and effectively fill the entire cavern with a soft ambient light. Then I turned the indirect lighting intensity down again when I realized how much the 'Preview' bakes were miss-representing that particular setting's effect compared to the 'Production' level bake.
    I then changed the volumetric scattering intensity to control how much light would scatter through the volumetric fog. I wanted a lot for the Sun spot light to get cool light shafts, a lot for the sky light to fog up the ugly corners of the cave, and almost none for the fill spot light keep the docks and hillside fairly visible. I made the Sun spot light yellow, the sky light blue, and the fill spot light green which gave the fog some interesting color gradients. But I had to knock down the indirect lighting saturation because bounce colors were getting a bit out of hand on some objects.
    Oh, I also had to turn the source radius and source soft radius on both spot lights way up (2200-2500) to get really soft shadows. Basically to the same diameter of the cave opening. Otherwise I would get 2 shadows from one "Sun". Ha ha.

    Once I filled the cave up with the main lights, I added extra lights around to help match the concept (like the mountain's back-light) and add some things what I wanted for the scene (like the sea entrance, camp fire, and candle statues). The mountain back light is kind of interesting actually. It's two massive point lights with almost no light intensity (unit-less 0.1) but a ton of volumetric scatter intensity (38) and a falloff of 5. Those point lights don't really light the scene much, but they blow up the fog and particle clouds like crazy, and cast the mountain in a silhouette like in the concept.




  • Necrodark
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    Necrodark polygon
    @JamesBrisnehan

    Wow man, I cant thank you enough for that breakdown! Thats a really creative way of solving the issue of lighting such a big scene. I think my problem is that im relying too much on lighting everything with just a directional light and so im losing a lot of control over the overall lighting on the scene, so i will definitely have to try out your method of using spotlights with unitless intensity. I also recently discovered UE4's localized volumetrics tech and have been toying  with it in another scene so I'll play around with that too to add some depth to my scene.

    Again, thanks alot for the response, it's really a good example of thinking outside the box.  🙌
  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis insane polycounter
    This looks beautiful!!
  • JamesBrisnehan
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    Ok, I think I'm pretty much finished. I just have to finish putting together colse-ups and breakdowns, but I have some decisions to make on what to show/not show for wireframes and appropriate tri counts. (More on that below)

    Here are the final screen-shots from UE4. I decided to add some extra movable lights for each camera to highlight and enhance each shot. The extra lights do things like boost the reflections in puddles, help visually separate objects from the background, increase the SSS in foliage and add volume to the fog. However what looks good for one camera looks terrible for others, so I had to turn them off/on for each camera. Ha ha. Totally wouldn't work for a playable level, but might be ok for cut-scenes or something. I also ended up having to completely re-bake the lighting with different settings for the henge at the top of the level for those last couple of screenshots. Filling the main cavern with enough light to look good a sea level blew out the lighting at the top. So much that even post process effects couldn't fix it.
    But at any rate I got my screen shots to look the way I wanted.













  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    ... Final UE4 Screenshots continued:














  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    Made a W.I.P gif.


  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    For the hero prop close ups, I thought it would be fun to build little dioramas in Marmoset for them. I also captured some 360 HDRI's of my cave scene to use in Marmoset's IBL system. It was surprisingly easy too. (If anyone's curious this is how  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCaeXK1mx48 )








  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    Questions for for you guys, could use some opinions. . .

    I would like to know your thoughts on what are appropriate polygon densities when trying to impress potential employers.
     While putting together these breakdowns I started to realize how inconsistent the poly densities are. Some assets are super optimized while others are pretty dense. This is for a few reasons. When I first started this project, (months ago) I went into it with the plan of not holding back so much. Spending polygons more generously to get better looking assets. As time went on though, I started to fall back into the habit of modeling things as low poly as I could. Also the assets that I sculpted first and retopologized in Mudbox were much higher poly than the assets I modeled Maya. Mudbox's auto re-topology tool gave some terrible results if I set the target polycount too low. So decided to leave things like the candle cluster at a . . . medium poly density, set up LOD's in Unreal, and called it good enough, so that I didn't have to spend tons of time hand retopologizing things. And sometimes I just forgot to keep an eye on the polycount because I was having fun modeling, like the large and medium ferns.
    But now I'm seeing these poly totals side my side in a new way. like how the 6 inch candle cluster has a higher count than the 3.5 meter boat, I'm second guessing some things.

    Now, on to the burning questions...

    -Are the higher poly assets too high?
    -Are the lower poly assets too low?
    -Are the poly counts fine as long as I have decent LODs and distance culls? (which I think I do.)
    -Would adding descriptions to the images explaining the reasons/decisions for the inconsistent poly densities help?
    -Would going back and optimizing things better be worth the time/effort?
    -Should I add info about texture map resolution for these assets?
    -What else would be a good Idea to show in the breakdown section when I upload this scene to artstation and my website? LOD's? Quad Overdraw? Substance graphs and UE4 Mat. Editor graphs? High-Res Sculpts?













    Sorry If I'm being silly and over thinking this, but I've never actually had a paying game-art job, and I would very much like to change that. If anyone could could help me out with some of these questions I would really appreciate it.
    Thank You.


    Still to come: Renders of material balls in Substance Designer for my tiling textures.
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    Here are the renders of the tiling materials from substance designer. I'm going to call this one a wrap. Thanks for watching everyone.





  • TheMadNomad
    The Final Scene Gave me chills .Inspiring Work  :+1:
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    @TheMadNomad Thanks, I'm glad yo liked it.  :)
  • DavidCruz
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    DavidCruz polycounter lvl 8
    Really nice environment to look at.

    Feel like a "fly" through with some ambiance might go along way if you post anything to A.S.S (art-station site).  (if you haven't already, i didn't look) as for some of your concerns i think you've done a decent job.

    (i am no environment artist so idk what is good or bad there) but by the looks of a few of those counts you are correct in thinking some art too high compared to others(the rocks look lazy, and i can confirm after attempting rocks, oh boy! :) ), even though taking your time to make every piece "perfect" in regard to triangle counts is the best practice to get into. 
    This is a portfolio piece i hope that a viewer interested in your work would understand this immediately and if you do not do this in production then it should be fine, ('do not overload with triangles.').

    Mentioning that you agree somethings could have been done better should be enough when speaking about the triangle counts.  Just next time keep that in mind and or do what you do not want to do 1st or when you feel like it might help more than forcing yourself.  It is what i do, when i feel like it i will when it comes to P.P's. (portfolio pieces XD )

    If you have posted this already how was the response?

  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    @DavidCruz, Thank you for the advice, and for taking the time to answer the questions I had. 

    I wrapped up this project a few months ago, and already posted everything to Artstation, my website and Facebook. Before I finished it, I did reduce the poly count of the candles, the statue's face and the large and medium ferns by like 25% (I know it's not much, but it made me feel better at the time, ha ha). Yah, you're right the topology for rocks could have been a lot better, although I didn't want them to be too low poly, since in the environment they are about 4-8 meters tall. Maybe someday I will take the time to optimize everything better, but I have other things on my to-do list for now.

    There wasn't much response when I posted it on Artstation, I got a few likes, but not a single comment so far. I got a few comments on Facebook, but that crowd doesn't know much about topology, so they were mostly just talking about how they liked moody lighting, ha ha. So far you are the first person to provide the advice and constructive criticism I was looking for back in January. 
  • teodar23
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    teodar23 greentooth
    Its a shame that you did not recieve any feedback in time, but dont take it personally, your scene looks great. And i noticed that posts with more mistakes get more feedback. So theres a compliment in that. As for AS, you wont get c&c there, only praise.
    Regarding your polycount, it doesnt matter, as long as you dont use milions of polygons for really small objects. Its a portfolio piece, not an art test. I think you used polycounts in a decent way, using uniform distribution and adding more where was needed, and also in hero assets like that statue.
    So, good job man!
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan interpolator
    Thanks, @teodar23 I appreciate the input. It is funny how this project I finished months ago is suddenly being talked about now. Oh, the unpredictability of the internet, ha ha.
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