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[WIP] Stylised Street Market Environment (UE4])

LJ_Sully
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Hi, I am a third year Game Development student at Falmouth University, specializing in Environment Art. For my most recent project I wanted to try my hand at stylisation, whilst also focusing on techniques like trim sheets, modularity, and exterior scene assembly in Unreal.

In May of this year I went backpacking around Turkey, and was heavily inspired by the street market environments I saw there. The vibrancy and richness of these scenes set on a Moorish architectural backdrop was very exciting to me, so I decided to base my next project on this kind of scene. I went to an area of Turkey called Cappadocia, where ancient cave houses were carved into 'fairy chimney' rock formations. These rock houses were ubiquitous, even inside the town of Goreme where we stayed. I really liked this idea, so I decided to incorporate it into my environment.

First hand reference from Turkey


Along side my personal reference gathered on my trip to Turkey, I also gathered reference from the internet, as I wanted to set the scene in a medieval fantasy timeline. (https://www.pinterest.co.uk/louisjsullivan4/bazaar/). However, by this stage in development I had not really settled on a coherent stylization for the scene, something which I would later realize to be a mistake.

I then started with a simple BSP blockout in Unreal to get a feeling for the composition and structure of the scene. I decided to design it to be like a section of a single-player linear game, in which the player makes there way through a winding street and a stone arched bazaar, into an open plaza area.

Initial BSP Blockout




I started working on a simple modular kid for creating buildings, as well as a couple of bespoke buildings. Once in engine, these started to give me a sense of the feeling of the scene, but upon reflection and crit I realized I needed to define a clear visual style for this world, and stick to that. These buildings were too uniform, and looked a bit more like medieval buildings from a more western setting like France.

Initial Building Sets



One of the biggest challenges of the project so far was the fact I was not working from concept, or trying to recreate a real-world scene, but that I was using reference to create my own environment from scratch. In order to define the scene and it's atmosphere, my friend and fellow student Nathan Bedford (https://www.artstation.com/natbed) offered to do some paint-overs of my blockout. These really helped me figure out the direction to take next with the project, and after seeing these I decided to go back to the drawing board with the design of the architecture, and find a clear style to unify behind.

Nathan's Paintovers



After some research, I found that I really liked the strong shape language and cartoony quality of the Spyro: Reignited Trilogy. Gerudo Village from Breath of The Wild was also a very good reference for me. This was what I kept in mind when redesigning the buildings. I started by creating some brick assets which I could use as trim, whilst also pushing the cartoony shape language I wanted.

New Building Stylisations
                          

I am currently at the stage of pushing this style, and replacing the old buildings with ones more in line with this. I have had crit about the above buildings, particularly the right one, in terms of the brick trim being too uniform and 'neat'. So I am currently working on changing this. I have recently redone the lighting of the scene to get try to capture my desired atmosphere more, and the last thing I did was a very rudimentary colour pass using flat colour materials. 

Current Build: Colour Pass


So this is where I am at the moment! There are still buildings in the scene I want to replace with the new found style I'm pushing. After that I think a fully realised trim sheet and some stylised materials will push this beyond what it is at the moment, which is not much more than coloured blockout. I want to try and nail the feeling of the street before I add the clutter and detailed props like street vendors selling rugs, spices, lamps etc. I also need to look more at the open square area, as I have been predominantly focusing on the winding street section.

Any crit on the project at the moment or what you think I should focus on next would be greatly appreciated! I will update this thread as I make progress.

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  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis insane polycounter
    This is looking really cool! I love the colour palette so far.
  • LJ_Sully
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    LJ_Sully triangle
    Plaster Material [WIP]


    I've been working on a simple stylised plaster material for the buildings. Working on making it so I can change the hue in unreal and get some believable variations. I don't want too much noise or detail for this in order for a good read. Any crit is appreciated!

    Designer Graph
  • LJ_Sully
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    LJ_Sully triangle
    Ground Material [WIP]


    This is the main ground texture for the winding streets in my scene. The idea is that around the edges of the path it will be more submerged by sand, and the central part of the path where more people walk will have the stones more clearly visible. I need to set this material up in Unreal and blend between them to see how it looks, but I am pleased with the result! Thanks to Designer's procedural nature I can go back and change the colour palette and anything else that needs tweaking.

    Designer Graph


    This texture was based off of reference I gathered from Turkey. This particular floor was inside the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul.

  • LJ_Sully
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    LJ_Sully triangle
    Ground Materials Implemented [WIP]

    I've been working on implementing the ground materials into Unreal with landscape blending. I have the basic master material working now so I can blend between the stones and the sand, to break up the tiling and draw the player through the scene.

    The tiles are using the same material with a different alpha for the stone shapes. This is probably placeholder as I plan on authoring a bespoke material for the tiled sections.


  • LJ_Sully
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    LJ_Sully triangle
    It's been a while since I've updated this blog, apologies! Since my last post I've made quite a bit of progress, and posted my WIP environment on Art Station! You can view it here: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/A9GdZV

    Firstly, I updated the slanted house modular kit with properly mapped textures, and a more rounded visual language. I also made a simple window which can be placed on any surface to add interest and break up the tiling.
    I also sculpted and textured a wood beam asset. This is general purpose, but is mainly to stick out of buildings to replicate similar wooden beams in Arabic towns.

    Finally, I wanted to update the placeholder rock house with something more final. Given how important it is in the scene, I decided to sculpt it, and uniquely unwrap it, as in my eyes it is a hero prop.
    I then dressed the scene with these new assets, and did another lighting and fog pass to try and get the dusty street atmosphere I wanted. I am pleased with progress so far, but next I would like to focus on the trim sheet, and use it to create the archways for the arched bazaar section.

  • LJ_Sully
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    LJ_Sully triangle
    Today I've been working on the trim sheet! I used bricks I have already sculpted to get an alternating coloured brick trim, and sculpted the circular pattern trim in ZBrush. These are multi-purpose, but will mainly be used for the arched section.



    I also looked into using a colour mask in Unreal so I could change the colour of these trim parts, to add more variation. This is a really great workflow as it allows you to change the look of the environment on the fly in engine!



    Next I will use this trim sheet to create and texture the archways, and also look at other assets in my scene and where I can apply this new trim.
  • LJ_Sully
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    LJ_Sully triangle
    I used the trim I made yesterday to make the archways for the bazaar section today. I still need to make a tiling texture for the grey bricks, but I'm happy with the result so far!

  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis insane polycounter
    Art style is reminding me of @rohMizuno 's stuff. Check this out for inspiration;
    https://www.artstation.com/artwork/1OOAo

    I think you should be a bit more liberal with your polycount. I'm liking that trim sheet so far! Maybe add some subsurface to your draped fabric, and increase the amount of indirect lighting.
  • LJ_Sully
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    LJ_Sully triangle
    That's great inspiration for art-style, and his 80lvl breakdown is so useful, thanks!
    Yes I totally agree, I'll push the polycount more on curved shapes to get smoother edges, and I'll play around with the indirect lighting.
    The drapes are currently untextured, but I intend to add transparency and SSS:)
    Thank you for the feedback!
  • LJ_Sully
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    LJ_Sully triangle
    I've been working on a stone texture for the arched bazaar section. I think I need to push the style more, and fix some artifacts with the height map, but it's definitely a step in the right direction!



    I've also increased the indirect light like you said, lightening up the shadows has really helped the scene! Thanks again for that feedback:)



  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis insane polycounter
    I would sculpt some brick mesh and insert it into the areas I've circled in blue, just to give that area some depth and get ride of those straight lines.


  • LJ_Sully
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    LJ_Sully triangle
    I think that's a really good idea! I've got some brick meshes I've sculpted, I could recolour them to fit with the grey bricks and use them there.
    I worked on the archways inside the bazaar section today, and made some simple interiors for the shops.




    I need to unify UVs so the bricks are the same size, and I want to author a new floor texture to be more like a mosaic tiled floor. But very soon I will start making the meshes for the objects within the shop (bags of spice, rugs, lamps, fruit, etc) and the shop stands themselves! 

    I've also been working on the open area at the end of the bazaar today. I decided to move the main gate and instead have a waterfall in the center so it pulls the player through the scene. It's very placeholder at the moment, but let me know what you think about the idea and layout!



  • LJ_Sully
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    LJ_Sully triangle
    I've made quite a bit of progress since I last posted. I am focusing on the smaller details and props now that the general layout and materials are defined.

    I made a cloth material with Sub-surface scattering, to be used for the drapes covering both the streets and the market stands. I also created a tiling wood plank material for the shop stands and the jutting window pieces.




    I then started making the props for these shops. In order to get that busy and vibrant feel for this scene I need a lot of unique props to populate the scene. Due to the stylisation I need to sculpt the high-poly meshes in Zbrush to give props that hand-painted feel. A big part of nailing this style is using the Trim Smooth Border brush to get big bevels, and Dam Standard to give some wear and definition. I also used the Orb brush pack (https://gumroad.com/l/nOkHw) and 3Dex's stylised smart material (https://gumroad.com/l/paintertut) to author these assets.



    These props need colour variation in order to not get repetitive, so I am using hue shifts, colour masks, and alternate base colour maps to maximise variation.



    I think this has worked well, and I have managed to populate the scene without having to make too many unique assets. Having said that, I am going to make some rugs, both rolled up and draped, as well as crates with fruit and veg in them, in order to fully sell the busy street market feel.

    I have also done some tweaks to lighting to reduce the overwhelming orange/red of the sun, and make the shadowed areas more blue/purple.
  • Stanley3DArt
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    Stanley3DArt polycounter lvl 2
    Love the architecture/style, having the wooden stalls feel like they're lifted off the ground more would sell the scene a ton more, and the red draping could drop even lower, give it more weight - really great work with the smaller props

  • LJ_Sully
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    LJ_Sully triangle
    Thanks for the feedback Stanley! When you say lifted off the ground, do you mean having trim along the bottom, or making the stalls more like tables with gaps underneath them? I was basing the stalls primarily off of the ones in the Aladdin bazaar scenes:
    Related image

    I agree though, there needs to be something there to push it off the ground. Unfortunately this project was for a university hand-in which I submitted last friday. However, I am going to work on this project more after Christmas, and your feedback is definitely something I'll keep in mind!
  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis insane polycounter
    Increase secondary light bounces more! This is the middle of the day and the shadows are too dark. Also, break up the monotonous repetition of the floor tiles somehow. Maybe a bag of rice or spice spilled over and has poured out onto into the alley?
  • LJ_Sully
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    LJ_Sully triangle
    It's been a while since I've updated my progress. Since then I have handed in this project for my university submission, so it's at the stage of being "complete", although I plan on working on it more in the new year.

    Since then I've created some rug assets, using three different meshes (rolled, flat and draped), but they all share the same UVs. This means I can use one master material, and swap out the colour and normal maps to quickly and efficiently get variation!



    I also made wooden crates to hold produce. I did this by making four low poly plank models in Maya, UV unwrapping them, and constructing the crate out of them. I then sculpted these planks individually in ZBrush and baked the detail. This saved me a lot of time as I only had to sculpt four planks instead of the whole box. In retrospect, I probably could have gotten away with sculpting less planks, and making the crate out of 2 or 3. The fruit is textured with a simple master material with colour, normal and roughness information.



    I updated the large square area by making a new tiling floor texture using the same substance designer file as the stone walls for the bazaar. I just altered the size of the bricks, and reduced the height and AO. I then used the sculpted bricks as steps and trim, which has turned out to be a trim element I think works really well, and unifies the scene.


  • LJ_Sully
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    LJ_Sully triangle
    In order to make the waterfall, First I created a tiling water material in designer, using this tutorial as a guide: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNLE42VlfqE&ab_channel=3dEx. I then created a simple mesh for the waterfall in maya after measuring how big it would need to be. I gave certain UVs a bit of stretch at the top and bottom of the waterfall to make it look like the water flows faster there.



    I then used the textures to create a material in Unreal which had UV panning controls, a white edge foam, and simple refraction. This was a good start, but it needed some particles to bring it alive. I made a duplicate of the waterfall which had another material on it, similar to the water but only with foam. I then used vertex painting to make the foam only appear at the top and bottom, where the water goes over the edge, and then hits the basin.



    This was my first time using Unreal's particle system, so I knew it had to be relatively simple. Luckily, the stylisation let me do that. I used a simple blue polygon sprite to make the foam particles, with variants for: foam on the surface of the basin going outwards, foam going down the waterfall as it gets more disturbed near the base, and foam coming off the top of the waterfall. Instead of fading out, I made the particles scale over their lifetime so they shrank away. Overall I am really pleased with the final result, and I'm glad I took the time to make this centerpiece for the square, as it really brings the environment alive!
  • LJ_Sully
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    LJ_Sully triangle
    I knew as soon as I started this project that I would want a hand-painted skybox, as it would sell the style and inform me of the lighting. After looking at the colours and mood present in my scene, I thought a light purple sky would work well, and contrast with the oranges nicely. I was very fortunate to have my close friend Matt (https://www.instagram.com/lordregretti/?hl=en) paint the skybox for me. After looking into different methods, we decided on using a dome with a rectangular UV to make it easier for Matt to paint the skybox and avoid seams. To begin with, he had the clouds painted on the dome, but this became problematic as the clouds were too big, and stretched up to the top of the sky. We ended up settling on having the clouds mapped to a separate, smaller dome, which I could then rotate to give a 3D parallax effect to the sky.



    Because this wasn't a dynamic skybox, I had to fake the sun. I did this by creating a very simple emmisive material which I applied to a sphere, and placed in the sky where the directional light was coming from. This gave me control over the colour, brightness and size of the sun in the sky, which I ended up making bigger to emphasize the cartoony aesthetic.

    After that, I used the meshes and materials I made to dress the rest of the environment, so the clutter of the shops was present everywhere whilst trying to avoid too much repetition. I updated the trim texture to have a wooden lattice section which I used for any windows, to avoid the plain black material I had been using before. I did new lighting passes, pushing the ambient purple light seen in the skybox, so the shadows and highlights had a clear purple/yellow contrast. 







    Whilst this seems drastic in the detail lighting mode, Once the materials are visible it works wonders unifying them with the environment, and gets those purple shadows seen in the likes of Aladdin and Prince of Egypt. I also think even without textures, the three main areas of the environment (street, arched bazaar, waterfall square) each have a distinct feel to them. This was important to me, as I wanted the player to be able to orient themselves in this environment despite it's cluttered and sometimes claustrophobic nature.

    Finally, I used Unreal's sequencer to make a simple cinematic for the portfolio. I tried to go through the environment as the player would have hypothetically done, thus showing the design decisions I made to pull the player ultimately towards the waterfall square. The submitted portfolio piece can be seen here: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/nQ5yJo

    Thank you to everyone for watching this project develop, and for your useful feedback! I do want to polish this project up after Christmas, so any crit is still very much appreciated :smile:
  • LJ_Sully
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    LJ_Sully triangle
    Increase secondary light bounces more! This is the middle of the day and the shadows are too dark. Also, break up the monotonous repetition of the floor tiles somehow. Maybe a bag of rice or spice spilled over and has poured out onto into the alley?
    Yes I agree, I think at the moment the skylight has a good level of secondary bounces, but the sun needs more to balance out the purple. This scene isn't meant to be the middle of the day exactly, more like late afternoon/early evening, but I think the time of day is having a bit of an identity crisis at the moment. Like you said, with the sun at it's height there should be more indirect lighting, But I want to make sure I don't lose the "cool" shadowed areas.

    I also agree with the repetitious tiles. I have since placed rugs out to try to break the repetition, but I think spilled rice/spices is a great idea! I could use a mask with vertex painting to make it only appear in the cracks, and then make a mesh for where the spilled rice piles up.
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