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[Finished] Stylized Sea Coast Temple

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LumoBlaze polycounter lvl 2
Hey all!

I started working on another environment again, this time I wanted to work within a lot of things that make me extremely uncomfortable. I've spent some time learning some key concepts since the last time I posted, so it's time to iterate and improve upon them. I learned about Modular Kits and Trim Sheets, as well as a few ways to make foliage. So without further ado here's what I've done so far.

I gathered a butt load of reference from other stylized games that I'm seeking to emulate (It mostly consists of Darksiders Genesis, More recent WoW, Fortnite as they have really good shapes, Sunset Overdrive, and Overwatch.) So clear shapes with a little bit of grungy noise to it.

I created a couple trimsheets to play with, one for wood details, and another set for stone details.
I left these maps as grayscale (mostly) for as I'm going to attempt to mimic a technique used on sunset overdrive to further push the painterly feeling, by having brush stroke masks on a world aligned texture that will allow me to easily paint different colors onto each mesh.

From there I slapped together some basic modular props I can use to put together a scene and feel out the space
At this point I realized that my props weren't exactly looking too stylized, so I went back and did the brushwork you can see on the textures above. I wanted to go for a very tentacle feel with some of these variations, so each object is available with optional tentacle stonework. Which ended up correcting it.
In my opinion I absolutely nailed the wood. Trimsheets are so powerful. It's honestly thanks to Morten Olson's talk on the technology behind Sunset's environments that brought me this far with trimsheets. That and Polygon Academy's four part series on them. I would highly recommend anybody watch both of these series.

From there I made a lone tiling texture, not much to see there, and a fence on a spline mesh, and started playing with blockouts and compositions.
While I thought these were interesting, the lighting was blown out and frankly it felt like it lacked intrigue. I attempted to play more with the verticality of the space but it never read "Sea Cavern with a temple" So I went back to the drawing board and came back with this


I'm not really feeling the lighting yet but we're getting there. Let me know if you have any points or direction, tomorrow I'll be making the cliffs to make the scene feel more cave like. I'm thinking I can get away with a couple of base meshes to make up the walls, with some tiling textures and some vertex painting to create some interesting variation. I think I'm on the right path with this one though.

Looking forward to hearing your feedback!



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  • LumoBlaze
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    LumoBlaze polycounter lvl 2
    Today was a lot of texture work and a lot of creating rocks for a convincing cliff face. I took a lot of looks at Fortnite's Desert assets, as they provided me the strongest direction into how I should go about doing this process. At first I thought I should make one large, huge mesh to enclose the area. Horrible idea. Don't do that. (Or if there are reasons you should please let me know. I am inexperienced for now.)


    So I sculpted some nice looking rock shapes, and then decimated them to high hell. I'm not planning on making normals for them as they're all going to mesh together using a world aligned texture and a little bit of shader magic.

    I made some textures (grayscale for similar reasons) to create some variation in the shapes. I wanted to use a lot of Squares and Triangles to keep a more stylized and consistent with my sculpted textures. They're not 100% in line with how I hand sculpt, so I may have to go back and make these as sculptures at a later date.  Overall they're going to serve a purpose and will look wonderful when lerped together on a height blend normal map/with vertex paints



    I also played with the composition quite a bit! I wanted to make the temple and it's entry way a bit more of a focal point, I've never lit the inside of a cave properly before so I spent a couple of hours just playing with the lighting to try and achieve a desired result. I found adding a rectangle light that doesnt cast shadows on the surface of the water really helped to make the scene brighter without ruining the feeling of the piece. But the rocks on the left are completely lost, so I have to figure something out. I also might fake some light shafts somehow. Once I apply the texture (Shader in progress) I'll have a better feeling of the overall scene. I do like how your eye follows the path down towards the large point of contrast with the giant dark triangle.

    I think I'm marching in the right direction with this project, and I'm learning a lot about creating props to fill out a level's geometry.

    Tomorrow I'll finish my rock shader, take out some more placeholder assets, and start to make a bit more of a dynamic feeling temple layout. The plan is to have it carved into the side of the cliff so I have to make it out of more, individual rocks. I might take the roof off to let more light in, and then add some flora and fauna on the side of the cliff to give it a hidden, abandoned grove feel

    Cheers all.
  • LumoBlaze
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    LumoBlaze polycounter lvl 2
    So I made my shader and at first really wasn't feeling the results I was getting. So I did some research, consulted the wiki, and looked around to see how others were making their caves and it turns out, I had the philosophy right, but the execution wrong. So I spent almost the entire day playing with the shader and the placement of the rock

    The shader isn't quite complete, it needs something on the Z World Aligned (I'm thinking either a moss, dirt, or sand) to break up the shapes even more with some strong contrast, because when the Z clashes with the XY it looks pretty rough.

    Its quite gross. So I'll be tuning it a lot more when I play with it on Sunday. I can adjust the scaling on the X and Y, as well as all the colors, as I'm sticking with my painterly shader. I'll probably play with it's projection a bit more as well.

    Do you guys have any advice for making caves? I feel like I'm moving in a direction but spinning my wheels a bit.

  • LumoBlaze
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    LumoBlaze polycounter lvl 2
    So I have to ask you to trust my word in that I got the MacroNormals working conceptually using Distance Fields based off of This Thread and this page from Megascans
    However it broke as soon as I added my next piece, Moss growing on the upwards normals of every mesh.

    However, with this fun grass shader (still a work in progress) came the seams once again. So while I spent all morning working on the shaders, I think it came out nicely. It still needs a lot of work, because it's for some odd reason not taking Vertex Color as an alpha when I have theoretically rigged it up that way. Debugging is easy but it is still debugging.

    I have to replace the temple's placeholder assets next, and then create the center platform. I worked with the lighting a bit more but it's lacking any sense of intrigue, which means I need to tell a more compelling narrative with the scene itself. I have a concept in mind so it should be something I can fix.

    Tomorrow is more shader work and replacing placeholders
  • LumoBlaze
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    LumoBlaze polycounter lvl 2
    Alright so I did more work and realized the cliffs aren't working. So I took the time to work out a better pipeline for rocks and a better flow. So I did a bunch of research and made the best stylized rock I could make. The colors are placeholder and it's missing its moss, but I wanted to make sure the rocks could work together with the current normal bending shader, look fine, and took the painterly shader well.

    Overall it holds up well, so I'm taking the time to slow down and make it the best it can be as I work more on a modular kit of rocks I can use to put together a convincing sea cave. Sedimentary layers and a bunch more rocks are next

  • ThisisVictoriaZ
    Hi! Great job on this so far, I think it defiantly reads sea cavern with a temple. The pillars and fencing especially look great! 

    One thing i might change would be that I think you may have too much moss in the scene, I would try to leave out some areas of rock because from the view where you're looking down on the scene it almost looks like everything has a green blanket over top of it. Hope this is helpful, keep up the good work  B)
  • LumoBlaze
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    LumoBlaze polycounter lvl 2
    One thing i might change would be that I think you may have too much moss in the scene, I would try to leave out some areas of rock because from the view where you're looking down on the scene it almost looks like everything has a green blanket over top of it. Hope this is helpful, keep up the good work  B)
    Thanks for the advice! I'm going to work on getting Vertex Painting on the moss tomorrow to hopefully expose more rock faces from the top and sides :D It's good to know that it's translating as a big ol blanket, messing with the shader should fix it hopefully



    I worked on another rock to add to the cliff faces, they're all running on 512x512 textures, and if it lags I'm going to have to find a way to combine all the rocks into a single 2048x2048 map and see if the fewer draw calls would help. But that's hypothetical for the future. My new rock pipeline is working really nicely, but I'm still slow with using some features in zbrush that I've never touched before. I'm hoping to do be done on the rock sculpting tomorrow, I think this will give more interesting forms for the walls without making things too noisy thanks to the combining of edges and the unified color map

  • LumoBlaze
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    LumoBlaze polycounter lvl 2
    I haven't updated much this week, simply because I've only been sculpting rocks and finetuning my shader.

    Alright so iterating on the feedback given I have fixed my broken moss. It's still broken but, with more forward functionality.

    The moss can be painted on and off which is super nice. It needs some tweaking to its contrast and I should probably switch it to a height blend but, it works.
    Another example.

    I also sculpted more rocks to replace the older, lumpier ones, and while the shapes are better they're not fully there, and I think its just due to how the moss is implemented.

    The melding works REALLY REALLY well within this kind of environment where the cave walls are a lot smoother, so I think I need to play with it a bit more. Merge distance can only affect so much ya know? The shaders lies will only get me so far. I had to correct the painterly layer as well, since it was only applying itself to the top of the mesh which was a bit bizzare. Thankfully Luos' World Aligned Texture MFs really saved my bacon on this one.

    The moss REALLY breaks a lot of this though. You can see it shading incorrectly around the edges with some extreme shadow. So correcting that is on the todo list, as well as trying to simplify my walls to move together correctly.

    Its coming out a bit better though I like the direction we're going. The initial props seem super out of place now, so a lil moss shader and they'll be back in line. Adding vegetation (Soon tm) is another solid step

    I think the big thing I'm learning from this though is I didn't have a super solid concept to start on, I had a lot of reference, and that reference has 100% helped, but not having a solid foundation on the concept has been causing me to be indecisive about a lot of my decisions. I also shot on too grand a scale with this one. So I think my next project is going to be a small prop that somebody else has created.
  • LumoBlaze
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    LumoBlaze polycounter lvl 2
    Today, I played with the shader a lot more. As it would happen my Macronormal shader completely disregards the normal map which for rocks is not the most ideal thing. Upside, the paint and texture conveyed the rock acceptably, downside, the lighting engine did not. So I stripped the shaders of the melding properties, and it looked a lot better, however I then saw a lot of obvious seaming.

    I do enjoy this look a bit more, they're a tad too shiny but that's something I can easily fix within the shader itself. But I am no longer willing to accept good enough, I crave power.
    So I decided to get to work attempting to re-implement the melding, because I think it's a cool effect and it helps sell the idea of one, unified rock created by erosion.


    So it mostly functions like most of my shader experiments. It relies a lot on the forms of the rocks and of course, distance fields. So the rocks that make up the rock face need to be repositioned but, we're getting there. Slowly but surely. It's still a bit too shiny though.

    I'll see you guys on monday! With hopefully 50% less sheen
  • ThisisVictoriaZ
    Wow that looks waaaaaaay nicer! Great job!
  • LumoBlaze
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    LumoBlaze polycounter lvl 2
    I tried a different flow just to see if I liked the lighting better, and frankly knocking out an entire wall helped dramatically but cost me that temple feel, but I think I know where to go from here thanks to some critique from a couple of friends.

    I sculpted some bizzare creatures sitting in some chairs, so what I'm planning on doing is bringing the roof height down to just one pillar height, and making the pillars share the same rock textures with the purple intentionally kept. From there I'm going to make a new roof piece to line the top, and push the sculpted objects into the back and align them four on each side of the door.

    That's the plan for tomorrow but this is what I've been iterating on this week.

  • LumoBlaze
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    LumoBlaze polycounter lvl 2
    Alright I decided since my work has kind of slowed due to my contract working picking up that I will update this on a weekly or biweekly basis.

    I Trimmed stuff down a bit more, I opted to get rid of the green triangle in the back and instead work more within the rockface based off the reference I have.


    From there I watched Unreal's new video on how the Sky and Atmosphere system works and while I have a long way to go on my implementation of it, I think overall this new lighting direction I've taken fits perfectly


    I decided it was time to start on one of two hero props, two large hooded statues to imply a sort of religious connotation


    The unified rock shader lets me add to their bases to break up the fact that they are in essence the exact same prop but by chopping off the arms and hollowing out the stomachs, I hope it starts to talk about what happened within this temple in ages long passed. I have to replace that center platform as now it sticks out like a sore thumb
  • ThisisVictoriaZ
    I love the two hooded statues, they are so cool and add a lot to the mood of your scene! As for the center platform I agree that it sticks out against all of your new geo, maybe a path made of rock/stone would look better? Also it might be cool if you had lanterns or some other sort of lighting on the path itself, leading you into the dark cave.

    Keep up the hard work :)
  • LumoBlaze
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    LumoBlaze polycounter lvl 2
    I love the two hooded statues, they are so cool and add a lot to the mood of your scene! As for the center platform I agree that it sticks out against all of your new geo, maybe a path made of rock/stone would look better? Also it might be cool if you had lanterns or some other sort of lighting on the path itself, leading you into the dark cave.

    Keep up the hard work :)

    Thanks for the kind words :D I've replaced the path with a stone bridge, I tried one out of natural rock but it sadly didn't really work out. To save time, I used an old trim sheet
    I played a lot more with the lighting, but it got too moody, so the next day I decided to run back through and make some support props and redo the lighting
    A couple of pots and a lot of braziers later, however I felt all the fire would be distracting within them, I considered crystals but that felt a bit too whimsical and mystic for this. So I opted to shift the approach


    I added scaffolding and mobile lamps to make this feel more like somebody is exploring an abandoned temple. This was something I was thinking about from the start, so now it's time to pull it all together. the Scaffolding will need to be replaced (because its base geo with the rock shader on it) but overall I like where this is going.

    I need to make some debris
  • LumoBlaze
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    LumoBlaze polycounter lvl 2
    Alright so I think we've reached a final product, I just need to correct that one shader.

    Overall I learned a lot, especially how Blender deals with recalculating normals, the swap from 3ds max to blender was not a graceful one.

    Some takeaways
    • Macronormals are a super cool concept that I picked up from Halo, and then attempted to recreate in Unreal 4. It come with some mixed results. I was forced to use distance fields, which came with a whole host of side effects which were a little bit shit. I'm sure I could debug why given the time but there were just a lot of issues.
    • Trim Sheets are powerful and godly, even if criminally underutilized for this project. In the end I ended up using the same trim sheet for the bridge and benches, as well as every prop NOT made out of the cliff face. I only made three in total and I think I got my use out of them.
    • I'm still sculpting and iterating too much on rocks, and I'm still scoping my projects too high. I need to bring myself back to basics and work up from there, as my lack of fundamentals is starting to show. 
    • GDC talks are wild and the painterly shader I managed to steal from Sunset Overdrive carried this project, A LOT.
    If anybody has any final feedback I'd love to hear it so I can maybe touch up on sunday, otherwise I'm just going to do some last minute shader tweaking and be done with it.

    Looking forward to the next project! Cheers.

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