‘Our Secret Mind’ – Creating an Environment from concept – Dustin Ducey
Hi, my name is Dustin Ducey and I’m a wannabe Environment Artist from Canada. Looking for the opportunity to work in the video game industry.
My goal was to create an environment in the Unreal Engine to further my skills in lighting, texturing, and modeling, and to add another art piece to my portfolio.
About the Project
I found the original concept by Quentin Stipp while browsing ArtStation. I picked it as my next project because the scene is very simple, it’s two rooms with about a dozen objects and one major light source. There is also a strong sense of a story in the original concept which helps.
The first thing I did was block out. I have a manikin model that I use for all my environments, it’s about 1.7 meters which is important because I compare everything I model with the manikin. I do this to make all assets of the environment look and feel to scale.
Once I have the majority of the environment blocked out, I set up a camera in UE4 and line up what I have to the original concept. I also put a point light in the scene where the main light source will be.
Once I have a block out of the environment I start looking for reference. I use PureRef for organizing all my references, it is free and really easy to use.
Next, I started working on the largest surface areas first. That means the floor, walls, and ceiling. I made all my tileable textures in Substance Designer, and used reference off google. An important rule to remember is to work from big to small, that applies for everything, from your textures to the overall environment itself.
You can think of it as a pyramid split into three parts, there’s the base, the middle, and the pointed top. Unorder to build the pyramid you can’t start with the details at the top you need a strong base to work from. This is why I made the rooms first because it’s the base of the entire environment. And it helps me scale everything within the rooms.
The big alien sphere with all the tubes in it was the next thing I started working on. In the concept, there is some alien text or wavy patterns accost the upper half of the sphere.
I didn’t exactly know what it was and I didn’t want to bother the concept artist with my questions so I started painting some gold alien text across the model. This wasn’t working for me, the alien text felt out of place on my model, so I went back to my references and added some small vents instead.
The couch is the most complex asset I made in this scene. It’s funny because you only see like half an armrest in the final render. I used a cushion alpha I found online in Zbrush to get that bumpy effect. Then in Maya, I used the quad draw on the high poly to get the low poly. I then brought the model into Substance Painter for baking and texturing.
Modeling the other assets is pretty straightforward, find reference, model in Maya, paint in Substance Painter, import to UE4.
Lighting is something that can make or break your hole environment. A great video to watch is an Unreal Engine Masterclass on YouTube. I always come back to this video if something doesn’t look right with my lighting, I’ll leave a link.
The light models have an emissive texture on them so they glow in the scene and I have one point light next to them to actually light everything. There is also a very weak spotlight behind the camera.
Here are some links to videos I used to help make the glass material in UE4
Some of the final things I add to the environment where the chunks of drywall, dust, and wood chips.
These weren’t in the original concept but I thought if you ripped a hole in your ceiling in real life there would be drywall bits and dust everywhere.
When I add smaller assets to the scene, I usually keep them in the corner or edge of the wall. I imagine where the people in the scene will walk and where they might have cleaned up.
Overall I try and make the environment feel lived in, the smaller details are what tell the story of the scene.