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[WIP] Frozen Lake Environment in UE4

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oxumrn polycounter lvl 3
Hello, guys!

My name is Xenia Biriukova, now I'm taking a course on CGMA and I'm so excited to share my process with you. 

For this course, I decided to create a frozen place far away from Earth. The main focus is a great waterfall that forms a small lake in the middle of the frozen Pinetree forest. The only thing that left alive after global cooling is a GreenHouse on the top of the waterfall. Around this place, there are small heaters, that help travellers to find the road to the Greenhouse and also to warm them. Inside that place, humans preserve summer Pine Tree forest, and it’s glowing with warm and green from inside. But it’s roof is poor, and frost begins to leak from outside freezing green plants. If I have time, I want to visualize that dramatic moment of losing “last hope” on this frozen planet.

I have experience working with a human-made environment, but this is my first organic environment.
Also, this is my first post, so I appreciate any feedback, please, welcome c: 

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  • oxumrn
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    oxumrn polycounter lvl 3
    [WEEK 01]

    This week I did the layout of the game environment, research the biome, and determine the main focal point of the scene.

       BLOCKOUT

    Due to creating Blockout, I tried a few options. Started from the simple flat composition with Greenhouse in the center of the lake, I really liked the comfy feeling of a small environment, but it turns out to seem boring and not challenging. So I changed my mind towards decentralized composition with diagonal paths and elevation differences. 

       MAP

    On this map, I planned the critical path for a hypothetical game character to run through this environment. There are a few small focal points (small heaters) on the road and the big one (Greenhouse) on the top of the waterfall

       REF BOARD

    At this stage of the process, I tried to figure out the main mood and shapes of the scene, cause I think the overall feeling is the most important part of the artwork.

    For the next update, I'm going to transfer Maya Blockout to UE4 and play around with Landscape sculpting and base lighting scenarios. Also, I need more research on the biome to get a straight direction on art creation.

    Thank you for reading this post!
  • oxumrn
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    oxumrn polycounter lvl 3
    [WEEK 02]

    This week I defined my main biome reference. It's a great lake Ladoga located in Karelia ("Land Materials" pic). Thinking of the mood of the scene, I chose "frozen sunset" as a starting point. I'm really inspired by all those sunset colors that can be reflected by snow and ice.

       UE4 BLOCKOUT

    I recreate my Week 01 Blockout inside UE4 using Landscape Tool and a few proxy meshes to define Ponts Of Interest. There are some composition tweaks, I changed the direction of island rock to support the main flow of the scene, and also thought over a waterfall structure. 

       MATERIALS
    I decided to split my scene into four parts for now: shore, lake, waterfall cliffs and pine woods.
    So, I organized my expectations about materials and blending between them. 

    This is my first time working with such a complex organic environment. So defining rock modular systems and determining biome references wasn't the most simple part of the planning, but I organized this scope thoughtfully! There are a few references from Ladoga Lake and my texture list for the Landscape Shader.


    Lake is a big deal for me, so I choose to blend four layers on it. Here is my texture list for the Frozen Lake Blend Shader and also the top-down view of water/ice/snow flow. I have a plan to use a pretty tesselated geo plane for the lake and create a complex transition blend between textures using vertex paint as much as possible.

       LANDSCAPE SHADER. PART 1

    Here I have a pretty simple basement for the future Landscape Shader. 
    I really like to deal with shaders, so I tried to optimize it a bit, using MaterialFunction for each material. Tho I could add some specific parameters for different materials and not overload the main MasterMaterial.

    For the next update, I'm going to sculpt a lot of rocks! Beginning with the shoreline.

    Thank you for reading this post!
  • oxumrn
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    oxumrn polycounter lvl 3
    [WEEK 03/04/05]
    The Adventure of one cliff


       SCULPTING

    So, I decided to create a fully 360 hero rock for the smooth shoreline structures. I sculpted it in Zbrush, using mostly ClayTubes, TrimDynamic, DamStandart, and StandartBrush with alphas from Megascans. I needed to have a "smoothed by water" look but at the same time to preserve the "rock feeling" of the mesh. I spent around 4-6h on this high poly sculpt from scratch. I think it's okay for the first time practice c:
    Then I did quick decimation also in Zbrush to get my lowpoly, it turns out with 11k tris and one UV shell.


    Besides, I was making boulders (without unique bake) and tiling textures for the shoreline and surroundings to support the main huge shapes.
    I'm pretty happy with the result, and the most interesting part starts with texturing!

       TEXTURING


    For the texturing Hero rock, I baked Normal, AO, and Cavity in Marmoset, then I textured it in SubstancePainter, it's quite a common pipeline for me. The next time I want to try a fully SubstanceDesigner pipeline from bake to textures.
    The textures are pretty simple now, it's enough for the overall feeling. The main part of the texturing this huge rock takes place inside UE4 using advanced shaders. 



    Hero Rock is quite a big mesh, so I needed a few tiling textures to give it more quality and texel density. One of the tiling textures set I did in Zbrush and then tweaked it in Substance Designer, the other one is fully procedural.
    Great thanks to Daniel Thiger and his Rock Creation Techniques, it helps me a lot to get common with SubstanceDesigner rock creation pipeline.

       SHADER
    I'm the big fan of UE4 shaders lately, so it was great fun to work on it c:

    My shader consists of the complex main material, blended with snow by the SlopeVector feature. And also blended with two other materials by vertex color painting (red and green channels). Each material has its settings for tiling, BaseColor, Roughness, and Normal.
    For the M_LargeCliff I'm using tiling texture set as main texture inputs and blending it with DetailNormal and UniqueNormal baked from sculpting. I decide to use the tiling texture set instead of a baked one because I can tile them to achieve better quality in BaseColor and Roughness. Also, I have two other materials to blend: one for the washed outline near the water and the other one for moss on the top of the cliff. 


    I think it's not the final version of that shader, I need to have more space for variability. Because I need to fill the whole environment with a small number of unique rock shapes and reuse it a lot. 
    Also, I have plenty of ideas about optimization. For example, now I'm thinking if it's better to use the only color and grayscale mask instead of using the whole textures set. So for the washed outline, there'll be desaturation node and color tint, overlaying base color by grayscale mask values. And for the moss stains, the same setup because most of the time cliffs will be covered by snow and I don't need so many details on top. 

    Now I have a lot of work on textures and shaders for the Lake, another hero rock sculpting already planned. Besides, the next two weeks are dedicated to Foliage and I'll figure out how my Pine Forest need to be done
    So watch out for the updates! 
    Thank you for reading c:
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