[WIP] South American wetland environment

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Ozz14 polycounter lvl 2
Hey everyone, I'm still working on this scene which I completed for the cgma Organic worldbuilding course. I know it needs more work and trying to gather feedback on what I should focus on. Its a kind of large outdoor scene so going over the lighting and asset placement takes a good amount of time so this project is a lesson in not rushing to finish  :#... anyway, thanks and if anyone has any comments they would be greatly appreciated

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  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter lvl 6
    The shadows seem a little too dark for how bright your sky is. Turning up your sky light intensity or indirect lighting could help. Also do your plant materials have translucency turned on?
  • TheGabmeister
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    TheGabmeister greentooth
    I think working some more on the lighting and post-processing will greatly improve this scene.
  • Alex Javor
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    Alex Javor polycount lvl 666
    What is your reference?

    The first and most pressing issue that occurs to me is the scale of everything seems off. Tree's too small. lily pads too large, etc.

    Second thing is you are trying to make it look realistic but with very low resolution assets. So it looks like last-gen tech. Seeing too much individual leaf cards and polygonal tree branches. You can use a lot more polygons. Just make use of LOD's and billboards.

    LODS and billboards aren't just important for performance. They are what make up your midground and background. So i think it's good to take time to make sure they look good. Don't just use auto solution or tack it on as "optimization."

    I'd recommend double checking ecology of your  scene. Do big ferns grow in direct sunlight? Where does fog gather and why? Do palms belong here along with kapoks? I mean I don't know the answers but it just feels a bit off to me.

    Lighting could be improved a lot. Use your ambient sky sphere to keep from having such hard shadows. What time of day is it? What's the atmosphere like? What's it feel like on your skin if you are there, and why?
  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis hero character
    It's really noisy. Maybe try creating some points of interest and reducing the complexity of other areas. This is looking more like a South American jungle than the American wetlands. Your tree cards are also a little too obvious atm. Good luck!
  • Brain_Slave
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    Brain_Slave polygon
    There's way too much shadow contrast, the water is really dark and opaque. These are the first things that comes to mind.

    I'm totally agree with the comments above, you might want to work on the scene lighting.
  • Ozz14
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    Ozz14 polycounter lvl 2
    The shadows seem a little too dark for how bright your sky is. Turning up your sky light intensity or indirect lighting could help. Also do your plant materials have translucency turned on?
    I think working some more on the lighting and post-processing will greatly improve this scene.

    I have dynamic shadows on my foliage and static meshes which might be making the shadows darker than they should be. Its heavy on the frame rate of my scene and useless since its not going to be an interactive environment, so I think turning off dynamic shadows and redoing all the lighting and skybox should help. Also no, I don't have translucency in my master foliage shader, only SSS in some of the plant instances. thank you

    What is your reference?

    The first and most pressing issue that occurs to me is the scale of everything seems off. Tree's too small. lily pads too large, etc.

    Second thing is you are trying to make it look realistic but with very low resolution assets. So it looks like last-gen tech. Seeing too much individual leaf cards and polygonal tree branches. You can use a lot more polygons. Just make use of LOD's and billboards.

    LODS and billboards aren't just important for performance. They are what make up your midground and background. So i think it's good to take time to make sure they look good. Don't just use auto solution or tack it on as "optimization."

    I'd recommend double checking ecology of your  scene. Do big ferns grow in direct sunlight? Where does fog gather and why? Do palms belong here along with kapoks? I mean I don't know the answers but it just feels a bit off to me.

    Lighting could be improved a lot. Use your ambient sky sphere to keep from having such hard shadows. What time of day is it? What's the atmosphere like? What's it feel like on your skin if you are there, and why?
    You're very right, there's a discrepancy between the next gen realistic look im going for the overall scene, and the MMO-like level of polygons I'm using on the trees and leaf cards. This is partly because in the class I made this for, i was so busy learning shader stuff for the rocks and terrain that I neglected making really great looking trees. I will definitely do a second pass and also make them a bit more big and epic looking.

    It's really noisy. Maybe try creating some points of interest and reducing the complexity of other areas. This is looking more like a South American jungle than the American wetlands. Your tree cards are also a little too obvious atm. Good luck!
    Okay, I will try to make some areas of rest for the viewer, thanks!

    There's way too much shadow contrast, the water is really dark and opaque. These are the first things that comes to mind.

    I'm totally agree with the comments above, you might want to work on the scene lighting.
    I think this is because of some funky stuff going on between the values i tweaked in the post process material fighting against the LUT i made in Photoshop? I will try to redo that. I'll also play around with the water- unfortunately this specific shader I got from unreal doesn't seem to allow any translucency, so I might have to find another.


    Thank you to everyone for the feedback so far, its really helpful. Looking forward to sharing the improved scene :)
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter lvl 6
    You don't necessarily need to switch from real-time lighting to baked lighting. Real-time lighting can look really good if you know how to set it up well.
    One thing I like to do when working on the skylight's brightness levels is turn off the sun/directional light for a little while so I can see the effect of the sky. The skylight by it self should still brighten up the scene quite a bit. Kind of like how the world looks on an overcast day, but with more of a blue tint than grey.
    Also what software are you using? 
  • Alex Javor
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    Alex Javor polycount lvl 666
    I dunno if this is a correct AAA thing to do, but one little trick I did in my game was turn shadows off for like half the environment models. When you are going through playing the game, you'd never notice, and shadows eat up a ton of performance.

    That may not be the thing to do for portfolio work, but I am just trying to make a point that there is lots of little ways you can scrape out a bit more performance, so don't be afraid to do what you gotta do to get the fidelity you want to see. With some effort you can whip it into shape if you need to.


    There's a lot of really clever solutions in this devlog. I've been learnign a lot from it.
  • Ozz14
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    Ozz14 polycounter lvl 2
    @JamesBrisnehan using unreal!
    @AlexJavor that guide will definitley help with my LODing! I'm considering just taking all the branch cards off my trees and putting them on again with a more ordered approach like the one in that article.

    So I scrubbed all my lighting and fog that I cobbled together over the course of the 10 weeks when I made the initial scene. Just focused on the directional light, skybox, and skylight one at a time- and I already think it looks better. My problem with performance was that I had way too many spot and point lights scattered throughout the scene all casting shadows, so I turned those off.





    I tweaked the fog, color grading, and skylight to go for a dawn/sunset feel. I also pushed back the shore and trees on the right to give more space for rest. I'm still not sure what to do with the water, I like the reflective look but I also like the detail in the choppier original version.



  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis hero character
    Can you post your reference images?
  • Alex Javor
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    Alex Javor polycount lvl 666
    One point I thought was valuable in that eastshade devlog was about how the most important work on your trees is in the silhouette. I was going to say, "the left side of your image is a bit messy and hard to make sense of", but I think the more precise thing to say is that the tree silhouettes are the major cause of the problem.

    Don't take me as expert, I am doing some similar work at same time and learning along with you. A couple things I been starting to do that I think make a nice look :

    Only use a couple trees to start with and make sure they have a strong, distinct silhouette. Place them for good composition. If you need a thick forest, place the next layer of trees in a position so that you can not clutter your nice foreground trees. You can use DOF, fog, or lighting to help make "layers" of foliage (for instance, have the further away trees become a bit darker, or pick up color from fog, and intentionally blur out). This helps to keep it all from looking like a big green clump. You can also try giving lots of hue variations to your trees to help them stand out as individuals.


  • Ozz14
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    Ozz14 polycounter lvl 2
    @Ashervisalis - These are some of my references for the plants and river-

    Achieving the look of the overgrown trees has been a pain because the vegetation is SO damn thick, I can't tell where vines and ivies begin and trees end. Its near impossible to identify the species or pick out the silhouette of individual plants. I really like that dense, not-navigable look though, because this is a scene where I'm imagining the player floating down the river. Its just proving hard to recreate in 3D.





  • Ozz14
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    Ozz14 polycounter lvl 2
    One point I thought was valuable in that eastshade devlog was about how the most important work on your trees is in the silhouette. I was going to say, "the left side of your image is a bit messy and hard to make sense of", but I think the more precise thing to say is that the tree silhouettes are the major cause of the problem.

    Don't take me as expert, I am doing some similar work at same time and learning along with you. A couple things I been starting to do that I think make a nice look :

    Only use a couple trees to start with and make sure they have a strong, distinct silhouette. Place them for good composition. If you need a thick forest, place the next layer of trees in a position so that you can not clutter your nice foreground trees. You can use DOF, fog, or lighting to help make "layers" of foliage (for instance, have the further away trees become a bit darker, or pick up color from fog, and intentionally blur out). This helps to keep it all from looking like a big green clump. You can also try giving lots of hue variations to your trees to help them stand out as individuals.


    That's great advice, I'll try that!
  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis hero character
    Check out the composition of your reference images;



    Now check out the composition of your image;

    A glaring issue I see is your image is way too busy. There are too many directions and spots for me to look at, and nothing really meshes well with the rest of the image. It's quite obvious you want the large mountain in the middle to be a focal point, but I'm here checking out the paw prints, the boat, the tree in the top left, the sun spot in the sky, the giant lily pads, etc etc. Here is my advice;

    1) Make the distant tree line flat. Have your mountain protrude from it as THE focal point. Keep the bridge, and keep it leading the eye straight to your focal point. Keep the boat, but point it in the direction of the focal point. Maybe pull it up onto shore, closer to the camera. Someone had to get out of that boat and they did it in the middle of the river.
    2) Make your shorelines more simple. Don't have your river curve around the mountain, just keep it going to the left.
    2) Get rid of the pussy paw prints.
    3) Severely reduce the number of lily pads. Bunch up your plants and grass into specific areas.
    4) Your dirt ground material needs a lot of love. The textures of the plants also look really old school. Look at the colors of your reference image. Look into color theory a bit. Your tree cards are really noticeable, and the dominating tree in the top left looks super low poly and jagged. None of your foliage is blending in with each other.
    5) Make your clouds more white.
    6) The entrance to your bridge is super high.

    I really like the roots you have on the left, where I highlighted in yellow. It's another focal point which unfortunately takes away from the focal point of the mountain. If your distant shoreline was more straight, you could have a lot of those kind of roots & trees lining the shore and it would add nicely to the picture.
  • Ozz14
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    Ozz14 polycounter lvl 2
    Hey everyone, just posting a WIP as i am still polishing this thing. I worked on a lot of the feedback given here and then some. The tree anatomy on some of the trees is still sub-par, but I added in a new broad leaved plant which I think gives some welcome variety, you can see it on the right side in the main composition. I'm going to work on my grass next, I made the mistake of only having one grass mesh that I was transforming instead of having multiple meshes, so hopefully that will help the foreground

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