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Quiet Tuscan Street (WIP)

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JamesBrisnehan polycounter
Hello everyone. I'm James, a long time follower, first time poster. I have decided to post the progress of a portfolio project I am working on in an attempt to keep myself motivated and focussed. 
I am creating a Street scene in Unreal 4 inspired by some paintings of Italian towns I found online. I like the vibrant colors and the abundance plant life in those paintings, and I want to capture that feel. I would post an image of one of my inspiration images, but I'm not sure what kind of copyright laws it has, I think some of the images are from jigsaw puzzles actually.

So far I have a concept sketch and a block-out completed. The block out is made with BSP's in unreal with some temporary lighting. The two far buildings ended up a lot closer looking with the focal length I chose in unreal, (about 45mm. I know that's not a real world lens option) but I like it better that way.





I am open to critiques, tips and tutorial links. I Part of the goal of this project is to become more comfortable with Unreal and Substance designer, and to learn more about them. I will post an update every week (give or take a day) if anyone wants to follow along.

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  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J high dynamic range
    Quiet Tuscan town has to have a fountain with a statue in the square back there. Both of these photos are from a small town in southern Italy (not tuscany but it looks the same anyway), I can't remember the name. Montescaglioso or something like that. Unfortunately I don't have good photo's of the streets, just this square, but in general the streets are quite narrow and oftentimes uneven as these towns are usually built on hills and the roads were not originally designed for cars. 

    So all that said, I think closing in your buildings and perhaps adding some unevenness to the road and perhaps even a bit of windiness would give a little more of an authentic feel. 




    not in town square, but lots of statues like this exist there. being situated on hills, its possible to find lots of nice panoramic photo opportunities with nice sunsets. Something you consider incorporating


    (last image isn't my own, from google search. This shows the typical breadth of many roads. Also, in summer time everybody puts flowers out and it's veyr beautiful)
    Image result for tuscan street
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    Yah, Bigtimemaster, that last image you posted is the kind of thing I am going for. I love the green and flowers contrasting the stone and stucco. You're right about making the street more uneven. I will definitely need to do that.

    I like the statue fountain idea, but I already have a lot of work ahead of me for everything I want to do. I may add a centerpiece like that when I get closer to finishing the scene. Maybe just the fountain. The human form is not a strongpoint for me as an artist.

    Thank you for the ideas.  :)
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    This week I felt like working on some tiling textures. So far I've made 3 different stone materials and a couple of stucco materials in Substance Designer.


    For the stone materials, I built in the ability to change the level of weathering and age as exposed parameters. The plan is to instance them into other materials (such as brick, cobble stone, and stone tiles,) and use 'flood fill random color' to create some brick masks. Then I can use different instances of my stone materials, set at different age and weathering levels, to get a varied and hopefully natural look. 


    For the the stucco materials I am planing on blending them with the brick in Unreal using vertex painting. I will also replace the damaged stucco behind the cracks and openings with brick.


    I am not sure if I have these materials quite right though. I thing I might tone down the red color in the second stone. I was going for kind of a red pumice look for the aged version. It looked cooler while I was making it. Let me know what you all think.
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    I worked on the sandstone texture this week and got it to a place I like it more. I also created a texture that I can use as stone, concrete, or mortar.  

    Then I started building up brick and cobble stone textures. This is my first pass. Not at a place I like them yet. I am trying to learn how create things fully in substance designer. I will need to look up some tutorials on how to build up organic and realistic shapes.

  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    I've been having trouble finding time to work on this project lately, but I did manage to watch some substance designer tutorials and update one of my brick textures. Next I will apply what I learned to the other textures and start getting things into Unreal.


  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    I took a closer look at my reference and decided to work on my brick texture more. I have also started replacing the BSP blocks Unreal with static meshes.  




  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    Sorry I didn't post an update last week (for anyone following along). I spent most of my free time looking up tutorials and working with UV's so I didn't have much to show in an update. This week I managed to make some progress. I made a new cobble stone texture with sand and moss to blend in, in engine. However all three are hard to see from the screenshot camera angle. I also updated my stucco texture. The images inside the windows are temporary.






  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    I took a little time off after the last update then I started working on a floor tile texture. I have also been playing around with different ways of building and UV-ing the roof in a way that can easily be duplicated across all of the buildings, without looking like is has been duplicated a bunch of times.

    https://static.wixstatic.com/media/9b71e8_6a7cb5c0a3774880bada4e490cb8c4d2~mv2.jpg/v1/fill/w_600,h_363,al_c,q_80,usm_0.66_1.00_0.01/9b71e8_6a7cb5c0a3774880bada4e490cb8c4d2~mv2.webp

    (I am not sure how this URL linked image is going to look. The image upload button and attach file button don't seem to work this week.)
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    It has been a while since the last update. I have been making progress, but I keep forgetting to post anything. Since last time, I have created some new textures in Substance Designer and started detailing the buildings. I still have a long way to go, but little by little, I'll get there. 




  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    In substance designer I created a fully modular wood grain texture with exposed parameters so I could change the look quickly and easily. I then referenced it in three wood materials, a floor, ceiling, and a weathered trim with 3 color variants. Then I started building doors windows an shutters.  




  • Carabiner
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    Carabiner greentooth
    Materials are looking very nice, good work!
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    Thank you @Carabiner. I am having a lot of fun making the materials. Climbing up Substance Designer's learning curve was well worth the effort.
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    I keep forgetting to post updates, but I have been making progress. I finished modeling the buildings, and continued working on smaller assets and decorations. I also made some textures in Substance Painter, like wrought iron alpha, assorted metals, table cloth, and curtains. Next I want to put all of the stuff I've made into the level, but first I unfortunately have to start building the level over from scratch again. A while back, my old laptop kicked the bucket, and I had to replace it. Luckily I had back-ups of everything. At least everything except the Unreal map file. Oh well, little by little, I will eventually finish this thing.  

     

  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    I found some GDC talks by Epic Games guys and I have been working on the lighting in my scene. It takes a long time to bake, but the scene is starting to look less horrible. I might bump up the sky light intensity though, and play with the indirect lighting settings some more. Next I will flush out more of the background buildings, do some vertex painting, and start working on plant life.

    Also, something seems off about the cobble stone. Does any one have any thoughts on how to make make the cobble stone look better? I am open to Critiques and tips.



  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J high dynamic range
    Hey nice progress.

    I think the road looks a bit too muddy. Kind of medieval. Maybe just tweaking the textures could alleviate that. Make the mud part more rough and give more luminosity and color to the cobbled stones. I think you are going for a just-rained look? Maybe a tighter pattern of stones with less mud inbetween would be better in that case. Just because so much mud really darkens the scene and makes it seem medieval.

    I think a touch more color variation from building textures -- or maybe tweak the post process -- could help get rid of the drabness that makes the overall scene feel a bit glum. Perhaps raising the ceiling on your sky could help a bit too. Everything seems to feel a bit compressed and moody to me.

    Here is some photos I took years ago in and around Matera. That's not in Tuscany but it looks similar anyway. This was a sunny day obviously but just notice the subtle but distinct variation of colors.



    Fun fact, Matera is where Mel Gibson filmed Passion of the Christ as it has a very ancient look similar to old Jerusalem. Up until the '50's iirc the city was extremely poor and people still lived in literal cave's along the outskirts of the city.




  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    @Alex Javor, Thanks for the advice I'll definitely add some color variation to the buildings. Also when I was making the cobble stone texture, I was going for stones set in concrete, but you're right, it comes across looking a lot more like mud. Looking back on my main texture reference image (see below) I realize it looks flat and muddy there as well. I might look around for some different cobble stone reference to start with.


  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J high dynamic range
    I think that reference is fine. Maybe just a matter of the lighting. Having the directional light come from viewers  9-11 o'clock position may help spread a little light on the street and also give some more shape and sillhouette to the buildings, I wonder?

    I guess my main critique is just that overall the scene feels a bit dark and moody and kind of "muddy medieval peasanty" more than "quiet, idyllic tuscan street" right now. I don't have the enviro art experience to say exactly what is causing it, so don't go and rework your textures just cause I said so. May be just a small change in lighting could be the difference.
  • truemkar
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    truemkar triangle
    Final shots is very pretty and soft. So delicate lightning, great job!
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J high dynamic range
    Oh damn! Looks 100% differnet and better IMO.
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    Thank you both, I'm glad its getting better. :smiley:
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    Hi everyone, I'm back. I took some time off of this project to participate in the Artstation challenge from this summer. Then spent all of fall and most of winter finishing and polishing that scene. (I probably should have picked a simpler concept to start with, but oh well.) https://www.artstation.com/artwork/1nyZN8 Now that that's done it's time to turn my attention back to this project.


    So recently I've been working on the foliage. I took the plant parts I built back in June and arranged them into some 3D Models above a plane and then baked everything down. Including masks, height maps, alternate colors, and thickness maps. Then I loaded all of those bakes into substance designer to essentially composite things into a full material. I left the flowers mostly white so that in unreal, I can make some different instances of the material with different colors multiplied on top of the flowers.
    Now that I have the plant materials done I can start building all of the low poly foliage models and get them into Unreal.


    I building the plant models got kind of tedious, so I took a break to work on the terracotta pots. Here is a shot from substance designer of the pot trim sheet, and the pot models in a test Unreal level. (I do test out and trouble-shoot new assets  in a mostly empty level to  because the full level takes sooooooo long to build the lighting)
    The plastic hanging flower pot doesn't really have a texture yet. Still working on that one. The two hanging clay pots in metal baskets make use of the all-purpose metal trim I made months ago. The same metal trim that's on the railing. I might decide to make a material instance of the pots to get some color variation later on. 


    Here is what the scene looks like now. Other than lighting updates, the main thing added is the flowers above the cafe. They are called Bougainvillea. I haven't 100% decided on their color for the pergola section, but magenta is good for now. Also I've been thinking about changing out the sky texture. The one I have been using looks great from every angle, except for the main shot. I've downloaded a few new textures from https://hdri-skies.com/ and hopefully one of them will look perfect.


    Well that's all for now. Let me know what you think, and what can be improved.
  • Carabiner
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    Carabiner greentooth
    Wow, those new flowers look great! They really add to it.
  • Auldbenkenobi
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    Auldbenkenobi polycounter lvl 8
    You're really pulling this all together, seriously nice work!
  • teodar23
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    teodar23 interpolator
    good progress so far!
    but in the main shot the overall scene color is too pink-orange-y and if that's what you're going for, great. but if you are after some really-real-realism i suggest maybe desaturating it a bit or add some color variation in the lighting. also, there aren't any dark spots where light wouldn't normally reach. i liked the previous version more:

    the latest version looks like its dynamically lit, i.e doesn't have that nice bounced light feel. not just the main shot but the whole level. i presume you increased the diffuse contribution in lightmass?
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    @Carabiner, and @Auldbenkenobi thanks, It still feels like there is a long way to go, but I'm glad it's looking good so far.

    @teodar23, Hmm, you might be right. Looking at it now, the rosy/pink lighting doesn't match my reference as well as the previous iteration. As far as the shadows, I didn't mess with the diffuse contribution as far as I know, but I have been trying different values for indirect lighting intensity, volumetric scatter intensity, and fog density. For me, lighting in Unreal ends up being an experimental, trial-and-error kind of process. With any luck I'll find all the right values eventually. Ha ha. Thanks for the critique. 
  • dpadam450
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    dpadam450 polycounter lvl 8
    Looks good. I think the lighting needs some fixing as suggested. Maybe more intensity for the sun. Looks like you don't have any SSAO or other AO. (underneath tables should be darker etc)
  • teodar23
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    teodar23 interpolator
    "lighting in Unreal ends up being an experimental, trial-and-error kind of process"
    truer words were never spoken :P
  • Minos
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    Minos polycounter lvl 13
    Excellent work! Really like how it turned out :D 

    One comment is that I think the textures look a bit too contrasty. If you tone it down, your lighting will do much more of the work and the scene will read a lot better :)

    Great job!!
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    @Minos, Good idea I'll try that out. Thanks.
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    @Eric Chadwick, Good suggestion, I'll try that out, thanks.
  • snorrow
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    snorrow greentooth
    Man... I would love to be there  :o
  • ThisisVictoriaZ
    This is absolutely gorgeous! I don't think it looks weird but if you want it to feel more "alive" you could consider adding more props, like watering cans, street signs, or coins in the fountain. Little things like that can help the scene feel like people actually live here
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    @snorrow, me too. Some day I'll be able to afford a vacation in Italy

    @ThisisVictoriaZ, Thanks. I've been thinking of adding signs and other little props, but I also can't wait to finally finish this scene. Ha ha. It will depend on how motivated I feel when I'm done placing all of the foliage.
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    @Eric Chadwick, I went to change the sky light color today but found that it was already set to grey-ish blue. I remember now that I chose the color by sampling the sky dome, so I have no idea where that magenta hue is coming from. Maybe the bounce light is going crazy from the magenta flowers? Ha ha, so weird.
    Luckily, I found a setting in my post process volume to suppress that hue a bit.

  • Ryno
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    Ryno polycounter lvl 15
    Too much colour!  Back off your colours in the abledos, or the lighting.  And give some eye rest with the textures.  Just a little bit of white or off white stucco with less noise will really help you out.  Right now the scene is nearly glowing with color/contrast intensity, and the golden lighting is amplifying everything, especially with the bounce light picking up the oversaturation and amplifying it.

    Overall composition is nice, and should work out well.  Some of your materials are reading really well!

    Try to neutralize your pallet a little, then do an ambient blue sky with a very subtle gold direct light.  It should help! 
  • Eric B.
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    Eric B. polycounter lvl 9
    "too much color!"  ? nah.   Art is subjective bud.  I suggest; provide service within the paradigms provided instead of trying to change them.

    I think it's on its' way to being a great piece of work.
  • June
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    June node
    Hi James, 

    Sorry I am almost three months late to this post. I am really new to the world of 3d environment art and enjoy reading this thread so much. I just have a small comment on this image -- the direction of the texture on the small street looks a bit unfit to the segment of the street space (which may already be taken care of by now). Otherwise, I love the nice work!
    https://us.v-cdn.net/5021068/uploads/editor/9v/n0pzkpy20vqf.jpg
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    @June Oh yah, that texture was lined up with the buildings a little further down the street. But you're right, in that screenshot it does look kind of weird. That should be easy enough to fix though.
  • JamesBrisnehan
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    JamesBrisnehan polycounter
    Ok I am finally finished. . . At least I hope I'm done (I really don't want to have to do another light bake). 

    So. . . since last time, I created signs and sandwich boards to make all of the little shops feel more like shops. I took screenshots of all of the shop-looking buildings and even did a couple of paint overs to help me visualize what kind of shops I wanted them to be. Then I did a bunch of research and spent a lot of time getting to know translate.com to (hopefully) make it authentic. 
    I have a bookstore, an antique shop, two restaurants, two cafes, two taverns, a barber shop, a hotel, an art gallery, a bakery, a flower store, and an ice cream/crepe/candy shop. Designing the signs was actually a lot of fun. I kind of felt like I was back in my high-school graphic arts class, ha ha. Finding some awesome free fonts helped immensely. The sandwich board texture is just images from google shoved into a texture atlas. I reused the wood trim and metal trims for all of the other pieces.
    Oh, also that thing in the bottom right corner of the sign texture that looks like a flag is actually just some material swatches for the Barber Poll. 

    Aside from the signs, I made a ladder and some small table props as well.



    After I finished with the decoration pass, I loaded some one-poly flower petals and leaves into the foliage brush and covered the town in petals.
    Then I worked on final camera placement shot selection, and really let my inner armature photographer run wild. Which left me with far to many cameras, so I had to trim the number of cameras down to 21 for the final polish and color correction phase. (Yes I know it's still a lot, but I cant bare to part with any of these.) The final step of hand placing mid-air petals and leaves for each camera is done, so I think this scene is . . . finally. . . done.
  • teodar23
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    teodar23 interpolator
    Really nice! Looks like a painting.
  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis high dynamic range
    Damn dude, you put a heck of a lot of work into this. Awesome job.
  • JamesBrisnehan
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