[WIP] Palm Tree Forest - a study on vegetation and landscapes in UE4

greentooth
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TheGabmeister greentooth

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Original Post:


I've been wanting to improve my skills in creating vegetation for some time now. I found these Palm tree forest photographs taken from Thailand. I really like the lighting and the simplicity of this scene, so I decided that it would be a great vegetation study to recreate this scene in UE4.



My goals are the following:
1. Learn the basics of vegetation workflows (leaf and grass card creation, ZBrush sculpting, SpeedTree, etc.).
2. Learn Unreal Engine's landscape tools.
3. Setup a scene with fully dynamic lighting.
4. Switch to Blender 2.8 as primary 3D package.

I'll share with you some of the things I'll learn while creating this scene.

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  • TheGabmeister
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    TheGabmeister greentooth
    For the blocking of the scene, I used some generic palm trees that you can grab online. I placed them around the scene to get a feel of what the trees would look like near the camera. Will definitely replace them with optimized trees later.


    My plan is to hand-place the trees near the center of the scene. Afterwards, I'll use UE4's landscape tools to populate the areas farther from the camera.

    For the background landscapes, I used Blender's built-in landscape generator (A.N.T. Landscape add-on) which gives some decent results. Interestingly, the add-on has lots of presets. I used the Mountains 1 & 2 presets for now.


    I slapped a placeholder world-aligned grass material on the landscapes and distributed them around the scene to block the horizon in UE4.




  • TheGabmeister
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    TheGabmeister greentooth
    Added temporary grass to fill the scene. For now, I'm using the Grass Tools to populate the landscape with grass without doing any manual painting. The colors and lighting are still work-in-progress.



    Just discovered that there is a SpeedTree Color Variation function that makes it easier to add variety in each grass instance.



    Here it is in action:


    The edge of the scene is just a billboard of trees surrounding the play area. It still has some visible seams which I'll fix later.


  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis hero character
    Hey, your trees are to straight up and down. In your ref, a lot of trees are angled a bit. I think there should be more variation in height as well. I think you should also make your ground less flat. Keep up the great work!
  • TheGabmeister
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    TheGabmeister greentooth
    Hey, your trees are to straight up and down. In your ref, a lot of trees are angled a bit. I think there should be more variation in height as well. I think you should also make your ground less flat. Keep up the great work!
    Okay. Will work on that next :)
  • Alex Javor
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    Alex Javor polycount lvl 666
    I'm not sure about the placement of that background billboard. In the ref the entire middle part of the image fades into obscure dark fogginess. All visible palm fronds go along the top of the image. That billboard is looking down on the tops of trees from above, and the result is it ruins the composition. I think it's not quite the right thing but at minimum it should be placed hire so it's not like we are at top of hill looking down a steep slope.


    I not an enviro artist but i been doing tons of level/world building in unity lately and one workflow that helps me a lot is to separate out my workflow by art principles. Meaning, first I use no-texture models and just place for composition. Then I start working with lighting, focusing first only on values. Then lastly I introduce the color. And then lastly lastly i tinker wiht the screen effects like fog and depth of field.




  • TheGabmeister
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    TheGabmeister greentooth
    I'm not sure about the placement of that background billboard. In the ref the entire middle part of the image fades into obscure dark fogginess. All visible palm fronds go along the top of the image. That billboard is looking down on the tops of trees from above, and the result is it ruins the composition. I think it's not quite the right thing but at minimum it should be placed hire so it's not like we are at top of hill looking down a steep slope.

    I not an enviro artist but i been doing tons of level/world building in unity lately and one workflow that helps me a lot is to separate out my workflow by art principles. Meaning, first I use no-texture models and just place for composition. Then I start working with lighting, focusing first only on values. Then lastly I introduce the color. And then lastly lastly i tinker wiht the screen effects like fog and depth of field.
    Thank you for the advice. I'll definitely incorporate your tip on separating workflow by art disciplines in my future projects. Right now, I'm still learning how to properly use the landscape / foliage tools as well as fog. After this scene, I will probably do another vegetation study to further polish my workflow.
  • TheGabmeister
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    TheGabmeister greentooth
    I did some testing with volumetric fog. Quite a difficult beast to tame. I used the Proceedural Foliage Tool to distribute the trees. Added some slight slopes along the ground as well. 





    It was a tough balancing act between the fog, directional light, and post-processing settings to get a good result. The volumetric fog acts almost like a light source and can easily make the scene look flat. A technique to achieve stronger light shafts without heavy global fog is stated in the Volumetric Fog Documentation:
    1. Keep the global fog density low, but crank up the directional light VolumetricScatteringIntensity and put the ScatteringDistribution setting up near .9.
    2. Keep the global fog density low, but increase it in certain areas with Volume particles.

    One limitation I encountered with Volumetric Fog was the ability to adjust the starting distance. As seen from the reference, I wanted to make the light shafts appear only after a certain distance from the player. Unfortunately, the Exponential Height Fog Documentation states that this is currently not supported.
    "The Volumetric Fog currently does not support Start Distance, Fog Max Opacity, and Fog Cutoff Distance. In general, it cannot match Exponential Height Fog since it has non-physical behavior."

    The only option available is the View Distance which clamps the maximum distance to render the volumetric fog.



    The other workaround is to manually place light shafts. I might consider doing this once the other components of the scene are done.

    I'll work on the trees next.
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