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[WIP] Futuristic City Street - UE4 Environment

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kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
Hi all! I've begun working on a new environment by Koko Liem in tandem of being a mentee of @Lucas Annunziata through the Mentor Coalition. My goal is to use this space for progress updates and critique throughout the process.

The original concept, with permission from the artist:

You can find their work here: https://www.artstation.com/kokoliem

This piece inspired me by having a lot of nice futuristic, chunky aspects that remind me both of Overwatch and Valorant, while being more unique in the approach. There are a lot of opportunities to experiment with different shape languages, tiling textures, alpha cards, and bits of modularity. Any feedback as I go is really appreciated, as this is my first big environment I've tackled with a better grasp on 3D.

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  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    Here is a quick snapshot of my progress over the last few weeks before meeting with Lucas for the first time, in the most condensed way I can think of sorting it out lol.



    Here is the most recent Maya view of my scene that Lucas saw today:



    I met with Lucas today, and the first apparent thing is that I went too deep with my blockout too quickly. I'm assuming it was out of excitement and wanting to show progress. A concern was that I hadn't really resolved all my proportion issues yet. I also went *way* too deep with my beveling too soon, which is a good lesson to keep in mind for the future. I got a bit too granular with the modeling all the intricate parts of it all, so that's something I'm going to be addressing, as well.

    My goals for this week include:
    - throwing in mannequin-unreal-man into the scene to work against
    - pull back on the beveling/get rid of it almost entirely at this point
    - simplify smaller meshes
    - fix proportions more deeply
    - come up with a material list to plan for the future/inspiration or what i think the materials are in the scene
    - reimport into unreal with the confidence that everything is looking perfectly how i'd like it to look
    - implement a grid system

    I should be posting updates throughout the week. Any additional feedback is welcome! It's pretty early but I'm trying to get a good base to work from later. Things may change a good amount but for the better.
  • ThisisVictoriaZ
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    ThisisVictoriaZ greentooth
    Great progress so far, I think this is a strong start!!
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    Great progress so far, I think this is a strong start!!
    Thank you! :) 
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    The first thing I want to tackle, which is my biggest problem at the moment, is inconsistent proportions. I decided to start with the part that's one of the more main focal points of the scene and one of the closer parts to the camera view. I went ahead and stuck in the mannequin-unreal-man into the scene to help me, and I started aligning the bigger parts to the grid. I also was removing bevels as I worked on things if they didn't affect the silhouette in a major way.

    Here are some of my comparisons after working last night and this morning on it:


    There are small tweaks I'd like to adjust still, but I think this is a step in the right direction. 



    of course, as expected, this throws a lot of the rest of the scene off. but, if one thing is messed up, it causes problems across the scene as I try to line things up, so it must be done! I won't be getting the camera 100% accurate to the concept but I would like to get this as close as possible, and every silhouette informs the silhouette next to it. One thing that I've been thinking about is that Lucas mentioned "if everything is chunky, then nothing is", so I really need to be able to capture the chunkier parts as well as the more delicate parts. I still have a lot to do, but if I can knock out the righthand side of the scene blockout-wise then I think that's a good start to this week's progress.

    There's nothing like thinking "okay, this is fully ready to show for progress documentation" and then finding something ELSE to note or something wrong with the scene. I've already noticed two more things after making notes, so, this has a long way to go! Whew!
  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis veteran polycounter
    After checking out your artstation, I have no doubt this will turn out great!
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    Yo thank you @Ashervisalis! It's a bit of a jump off from my handpainted work, so I'm hoping I can bring the same quality level here as those works.
  • InvaderRoxas
    This looks so fun! Keep the updates coming, I'd love to see how it turns out. 
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    Thank you @InvaderRoxas! My plan is to at least work on it little by little every day or every other day, so I'll definitely keep posting updates :) 
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    First round of material ideation. I realize it's *incredibly* messy, in the future I'd like to have one that just has inspiration photos for the material creation process. With some materials I'm just like..."I've seen that material before, but god help me, I can't remember the name of it or if it's even technically correct for this thing!" so some are more vague than others. Even notes that I have may not being the final material I go for but it's good inspiration to find the right fit. Any suggestions are helpful!


  • iansmithartist
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    iansmithartist polycounter lvl 11
    Your tweet appeared in my timeline and glad I checked it out! Thanks for sharing your process in detail it's really inspiring,
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    Yo thank you @iansmithartist! I'm glad it's inspiring, that means a lot.
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    I've been slacking on updates, as this week as been pretty busy! Last night my focus was more on more alignment. The more I tried to hold onto different parts that I had blocked out, the more I realized that I was just shooting myself in the foot. I've been removing bevels and simplifying meshes, although I'm not 100% done. I'm aiming to have them completely simplified tonight before meeting with Lucas tomorrow. 

    Just to revisit my "to-do" list, here's what I've been able to accomplish:
    - throwing in mannequin-unreal-man into the scene to work against
    - pull back on the beveling/get rid of it almost entirely at this point (basically done, will be by tomorrow)
    - simplify smaller meshes (basically done, will be by tomorrow)
    - fix proportions more deeply (WIP, really hoping to be 80-90% of the way there by tomorrow)
    - come up with a material list to plan for the future/inspiration or what i think the materials are in the scene
    - reimport into unreal with the confidence that everything is looking perfectly how i'd like it to look (aiming to get that done tonight)
    - implement a grid system (not everything can align easily on the grid but it does exist! and the major buildings are snapped to it)

    I've decided that, although I can't get all the angles 100%, the easiest way for me to gut check myself is to continue the alignments in Photoshop. just gives me a better idea of how to improve. I'm really struggling to make things align in the middle part the most. Here's my current update:


    And here is an update on how it looks overall. I think it's a lot closer to the concept, it did lose some of its "drama" but that's something that I think is okay for now. I think it's more due to the lighting difference, lack of bevels, and the camera, but I'd rather get it closer to the concept at first and then maybe get the drama out of the camera settings or Unreal adjustments. There are also some random floating blocks, just another part of WIP that hasn't been cleaned up yet lol. I'm trying to get the pillars right, then I'll start on the roofs. Here's to getting a lot of coffee tonight and kicking this things butt for tomorrow! :) 


  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    So tonight, I finished up the majority of what I could blockout wise and threw it into Unreal. Went back and forth a lot with camera angles for a bit, because, like it was warned, the angles just don't align from Maya to Unreal! But I got to a place where I could make it mostly work and just tweak things here and there.

    While working, I did start narrowing down things like "hey, this could just be a prop that I can manually adjust" versus what I could not. I gathered up some things so far that have a zero'd out pivot and can be manually placed (even including the little mannequin in engine just to have more flexibility, but of course that credit goes to the Unreal peeps):


    Even though my Maya scene now looks like this...


    (which is a bit more chaotic and missing some things that are actually in the main scene or have things I'm not exporting - I'm looking at you, high poly box), and now my Unreal scene looks a bit like this:


    The lighting is pretty damn off - didn't really mess with it at all today - and at one point I messed up and deleted a chunk of my materials, so it's kind of a shit show in that respect, but overall I'm pretty dang happy with how it's coming along. It's lost a lot of it's initial blockout drama from my first pics, but honestly, that's just more opportunity to play with the camera angles later, because I think I can bring it back. And some of the dramatic feeling was more from the bevels making things feel more real, so I'm hoping that comes back when I start texturing.

    I have another meeting with Lucas Annunziata in the morning, so I'll be updating this on how that goes and what my goals are for this next week. I think I successfully accomplished all of my goals this week, although I would've liked to play around with finding more material inspiration or just trying things out in designer, but I'm a *bit* nervous to start all of that, so I'll leave that for the future. 
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    Today was all about wrapping my head around trim sheets. I made a first iteration of one, but I'm not really feeling great about it. I'm having trouble wrapping my head around how I'm approaching it. It's one of those things that in theory I understand, but in practice I get tripped up pretty easily. I also looked into some tutorials just to help me wrap my brain around trim sheets and materials in general, and have some photos to share from today. Today is kind of a "sketch dump" day, where I didn't really make any tangible progress but I learned a fair amount, and struggled a fair amount. Pretty psyched about how my texture experiments are coming out, though I highly doubt I'll use any of these for this project.


    (Left long rectangle one had the trim sheet affecting it, right had no material - compression makes it hard to see the slight curve on edge)

    Some material things I played with on my own:

    Played with these in Designer, I was more happy about this one without the color, but I was trying to match the color to my concept a bit for the brick in the mart building. The grout is really bright - but it looks much different in engine, much weaker.

    Got Thiago Klafke's material tutorial here and played with it really quickly, loved how effortless it felt and how it wouldn't take too much more to bring it to feeling more "finished". The following is in Unreal and Marmoset, respectively, with a normal map, AO map, and a slight color thrown on (some rou/met values default to marmo, I'm sure, too).

    It's really tough to wrap my head around texturing in a modular way. I'm starting to understand what helps make tiling textures work, but they're not my strong suit yet. I think what I've grasped from Thiago's tutorial will ultimately help me with the bricks more than what I did in Substance, because it feels too on the realistic/flat/boring side while the method he uses is more simple and has a lot going for it.

    Any direction for trim sheets info is appreciated, though I've been swimming through the waves of tutorials. I think it's one of those things I'm just going to have to experiment more and more with to understand fully. The tutorials I've sat through are helpful, some are information overload...and some of it is I just want to learn how to use *only* normal trim sheet maps that vary from the main texture. My head hurts even trying to think about where the disconnection is in my brain lol! I plan to have more updates soon, but they may be slower as I go into figuring out textures.
  • Lucas Annunziata
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    Lucas Annunziata polycounter lvl 10
    eyyyy look at that.

    Is there a reason that this is angled? If you want that kind of shape you could always just make the shapes straight, map your uvs straight, then skew your geometry. It would make it more reusable and easier to work with.



  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    eyyyy look at that.

    Is there a reason that this is angled? If you want that kind of shape you could always just make the shapes straight, map your uvs straight, then skew your geometry. It would make it more reusable and easier to work with.



    ahh I didn't think of that! I was looking at this part of the pole base. but the skewing idea is much better.

  • Minos
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    Minos polycounter lvl 13
    Very cool progress Kate, awesome to see this coming together :D Love to see detailed WIPs like this!
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    Thank you, Thiago! Really appreciate that :D 
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    This week has felt so very long! I feel very behind on progress but I know things will start to go slower as I start experimenting with texturing. Today I found some time to start experimenting with the plaster of the mart building, and I'm surprisingly pretty happy with what I was able to come up with. I also plan on combining the brick in there, not sure if I'm going to vertex paint or work with a decal yet, though - especially because the hinting of brick is so minor and I don't want it to be distracting or too much.

    Here's a snippet of what the building looks like with my plaster material:

    I feel like it captures a nice light painterly effect without overdoing it. I did most of the work in designer, combining some grunge + other texture nodes and then I brought it into 3DCoat so I could paint the seams a bit better and have a cleaner transition between the lighter parts and darker parts, as well as to tone down the contrast of the texture. Here is my plaster texture next to the brick one I shared a few days ago (albedo only):

    With the UV coordinates that I set for the building combined with the unwrap of this Unreal cube (for both materials), its a lot easier to see where the tiling is, but on a larger scale it's not as noticeable, and has a nice gentle painterly feel to it. The bricks are just a first pass, though I'm happier with the normal maps and AO maps more so than the color map for it. It has some painterly details but not as much as the plaster, which I think is acceptable.

    Here's a zoomed version of the two. If the material were used more toward the camera I'd worry about the tiling more but it doesn't seem to be a big deal:


    Work has me so damn tired! Plus getting a new bike and trying to get out on it every day or every other day has me beat, too! I'll post more progress soon, thanks for checking this out so far. Yay for progress!
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    At the end of this week I worked on a decal sheet, because my head has a hard time figuring out normals in Maya. I'm a lot more used to them in 3DS Max, but I'm hoping I'll be able to figure more out this weekend. Here is my preliminary decal sheet:

    Trying to find the right translations was pretty interesting. I found a website where I could roughly draw the Chinese character and it would give me rough estimates of what I was going for. There is one character that's hiding slightly behind a bush in the concept, I couldn't seem to figure that one out. I think I'll just work on having the bush cover it like the concept, because I don't want to stray from what it could really mean.

    I started to get them placed on their individual meshes:


    And then I started playing with lighting a little bit more, but I'm not very satisfied with it - the lightmaps are a bit chaotic so I should sort those out on the bigger objects. I'd also like to start on a glass shader soon just to have an idea of what that'll be like. I wish I could block the fog volume coming into the Mart, but I haven't figured out how to do that. It seems like most tutorials are for in game blocking only. 

    Some goals for this week:
    • First pass at cement ground texture
    • Work on master material outline
    • Import updated meshes in that are now separated
    • Continue placing decals
    • Figure out normal trim sheet more and keep reading through tutorials
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    Finally wrapped my head around the normal only trim sheets! I need to adjust some of my trim sheet still, but most of my day yesterday and some today has been importing some objects in with bevels from the trim sheets. It's super exciting to finally understand something like this! Thanks to Lucas for helping walk me through it more in depth yesterday. We also went over some of my materials, so I'm going to make some adjustments to those too.

    Here are some small snippets of the bevels! ahhh!! So exciting:

    I feel like I've only scratched the surface of beveling but I'm hoping to knock it out this week and keep working on textures. 
  • JamieRead
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    JamieRead greentooth
    Been enjoying watching the progress on this.
    Great to see you discovering the magic of trim sheets :) So powerful!
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    Hey, thank you @JamieRead! I appreciate that! Trim sheets are amazing...I'm so glad I finally am wrapping my head around them.
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    This week has been flying by - most of my work has been just doing trim sheet work! I'm starting to really understand the difference between how close the edges align to the trim normals and how that can make bigger, more obvious bevels vs. not. I think I can say I've made a good chunk of progress this week, but nothing too much to break down so far, so I'll just share some renders.

    Most recent render, where I've been playing around with lighting a bit, and slowly getting my materials sorted from the main master material I've started:


    And then my more favorite renders, detail and base lighting renders, respectively, to show the normal maps really working! (+ the unintentional alpha maps peeking into the detail map, haven't figured out how to easily hide that in this render yet without touching the mesh):



    It's funny that some of my favorite areas are the least important to the frame of the scene, but they're just the smaller details that I know will really push this piece further than what I could've done even a few months ago. I've mostly wrapped up a lot of the trim sheets on the left side (mart + beyond), now I'm working on the middle chunk, stairs/sign/orange focal points, and have a slight coverage of the right side.

    I've hopped around a bit but the middle will probably be the longer part just to get things sorted. My goal is to have it all done before the end of the week, I think I'm pretty on track. I'd work on it more tonight, but my hand is tired of unwrapping!

    Thanks for checking this stuff out~
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    Today I did more trimsheet work, glass experiments, and played with a second camera angle view. It's more reminiscent of my original angle, which not as accurate to the concept. It feels way more exciting and accentuates the building silhouettes more. I'd much rather look at the second view, so I think that tells me that I need to consider straying a bit from the camera angle in the concept now that everything is relatively locked down (or at least blocked out). 



    I don't know how exactly what I did to make it happen but everything got a bit yellow today from me playing with fog and glass, so I should look at that tomorrow. My goal is to get the first round of trims pretty solidified after work tomorrow, and maybe have a material party!
  • Lucas Annunziata
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    Lucas Annunziata polycounter lvl 10
    This is really coming along great. The decals are helping to sell the scale within the scene. Are your metals set to metallic in the shader? They are currently looking more like plastic. Make sure you've got some reflection probes in there too!
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    @Lucas Annunziata Yay! That's good that it's working well together. The metals are set to metallic but they do have a hint of spec in them, which I can take out to help sell it more. I only have one reflection sphere in it right now, but scattering 2-3 throughout the major focal points would probably serve me much better.
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    More lighting adjustments, some new beveled areas, new pipes - it's all starting to feel a lot more lived in! I'm sad today is my last day I meet with my mentor Lucas, and I wish I hadn't been too busy during the week and had more tangible materials or something to talk about, but sometimes life just gets busy. I don't think I would've made this much progress without knowing I have a meeting each week with someone I respect, and I've learned a lot so far. I feel much more secure in my pipeline than I used to, and I'm able to look at Overwatch or other games and say, "oooh, this makes sense now." I'm really looking forward to what this is going to turn out looking like. I don't even feel halfway there and I'm already like, "wow...I can't believe I did this!" So, here's my update for today, looking forward to getting to work on it a bit later.


    I'd love to play with some foliage, so if anyone has any recommendations, that'd be great - I'm just going to google my way into a foliage hole soon! I'm not the most unconfident with it, but I'm not used to doing foliage with Maya. I miss the bend modifier in Max where it was easier to adjust bends and curves without being destructive. I'm sure I'll figure it out in Maya though :).
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    With my last mentorship session yesterday, we dipped into post processing (lightly), reflections, fog, and some camera angle adjustments. I still worry that I'm a bit heavy on the blue, but over time the lighting will become more clear, I think. I'm pretty dang happy with how this progressed within a day!



    I had an atmospheric fog, but added a height fog as well; got my numerous reflection captures placed, adjusting the lighting, gave a bit more breathing room to the ground. Added a slight bloom and vignette and some very light depth of field with the camera settings. I also made the glass a bit more blue. I kind of reworked my trtim sheet so I need to go back and fix some areas that are now a bit askew, or metals that are lookin a bit funky from stretching :P I really want to hop into foliage next, I did another test bush but it's so flat, I know how I'll need to approach it to make it not look flat but I'm just a bit nervous for making it look like it fits within the scene (or maybe just...not flat - unlike the current hehe).

    I still have a long way to go but I'm feeling pretty good about where it's at right now!
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    I've been super burned out over the last week. I don't want to lose steam but I really need a break between ending the mentorship, having an art test for a side gig, and normal work (which I'm also a bit burned out on aside from everything). Tonight, I really wanted to get some brick changes in, but I kept getting upset with how it was going and ultimately gave up. I have a look in my head that I just want to get out in Designer, but tonight isn't the night. So, I decided to do something small. I thought I could experiment with the roof since that would be easier to model and revisit later to make it look spiffier. I'm actually pretty happy with how it came out.



    I managed to get this look with box modeling and turning it into a normal map. Here's what the mesh looks like near where the panels are:


    It'll need some work to make it look blended better, I think, and to break up the repetitive look between the two roofs. I'm pretty happy I was able to at least figure out an idea in the meantime. I'd also like to play with the scale more.
  • InvaderRoxas
    Nice to see your process with the roof, I think that looks great! I totally get what you mean when it comes to burnout, and it sounds like you have a bunch going on which is only going to make it more difficult to manage. Been trying my best to fight off burnout between school projects and work myself, and it can be a challenge! But I think it can help to not force things, like how you did with it just not being the day for Designer. Going for it another day ultimately can have a much better turn out in the end lol. Either way, wishing you the best and looking forward to seeing more of this! 
  • Jean_Pierre_Seiler
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    Jean_Pierre_Seiler polycounter lvl 2
    Just stumbled in.
    I really love the presentation of the WIP's and to see how the scene evolves, thanks for sharing!
  • kateblacks
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    kateblacks polycounter lvl 2
    I've worked on a small update the last few days, playing around with more VFX/animation thingies. I've been mixing wind with a normal map to try to get some fabric movement. I also learned about nCloth within Maya, although the result I got was a bit different from the concept. I may go back and redo it but I think this version gives me a good idea of what it may look like in the end. I also kind of like how it gets caught on the edge of the air conditioners. It gives it a sense of heavy-ness (but not too heavy) that makes it feel realistic. Especially because fabric answers to no man and does whatever the heck it wants in accordance to it's physics. I do want to figure out how to portray what it's being held up by. Maybe another balcony, maybe a pipe with the edges tied, who knows right now. Something to think about though.


    It's crazy how the little things are making the scene feel a whole lot more cohesive. Here's a still of where it's at now even with just a few tweaks over the last few weeks:


    I messed with my normal map so some things aren't mapped correctly **i pretend i don't see it** and I'm trying to explore some texture ideas here and there but I'm not sold on anything 100% yet. I'm mostly just trying to combat burnout and getting a bit sick. But I still think this is coming together so nice and quick that it's a bit unreal. I want to get into foliage soon so I can throw out my current iteration that.....only serves a purpose of being a silhouette lol. I've been gathering up all the different foliage sculpting tutorials, so I'm hoping for the best. It would be nice to get something in, even if it's not final, just so I can see how it changes the space. I'm used to doing handpainted foliage, and I think it's super intimidating to bring that into Zbrush, but I 100% really want to learn how to make foliage feel more alive because it's *so* important to selling scenes like this. It's subtle but so good if it's done right.
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