‘The Joust’ – Building a Stylized Environment from concept – Georgia Copley
My name is Georgia Copley and I am a 3D Artist from England. I am inspired by games like Overwatch and Ratchet & Clank with a passion for creating stylised PBR environments. I recently graduated university and hope to land my first job in the industry.
‘The Joust’ was created as my final project for university with the intent to showcase a range of my skills, particularly in the area I wish to specialise in. I often look to ArtStation for inspiration and found a vibrant concept by Harrison Yinfaowei named ‘The Arena’.
There was a lot of narrative within the image and I could clearly envision it as a 3D space with an abundance of assets that had room for my own artistic choices. The colours of this piece really inspired me and I hoped I could do it justice.
Harrison Yinfaowei – ‘The Arena’
Jasmin Habezai-Fekri – ‘Sunny Market Entrance’
After creating an asset list using Trello, I block out simple meshes in 3ds Max and implement them inside Unreal Engine. This helps me work out the scaling of the scene, the amount of work I have ahead and whether the project is achievable within my given time frame.
I also list what assets and materials I will need as this organization and sense of accomplishment motivates me. I had multiple goals for this project and new skills I wanted to learn, these included;
⦁ The use of trim sheets
⦁ How to place plants and vegetation using Unreal’s foliage tool
⦁ Further research into stylised PBR workflows
⦁ Industry level lighting
After creating a block out, I decided I wanted to refresh my skills and created a stylised chest which I later decided not to include in the scene. Regardless, this process was essential and a vital part of both my research and development.
For most assets, I often use the same workflow throughout, creating a block out mesh in 3ds Max as a base for the high poly to be subdivided from or sometimes dynameshed. I often bevel the edges of my meshes to enhance that stylised, soft edged look and chip away at these edges using stylised brushes in Zbrush, including Michael Vicente’s brush pack.
Furthermore, I often spend a lot of time in Zbrush trying to break up any flat planes. I find that pushing the sculpt allows for an easier time texturing, as well as a stronger silhouette.
I frequently keep the block out meshes as my low poly assets, however; sometimes these do not have enough vertices to capture the detail from the high poly. If I want the asset to have more detail, I will create the low poly from the high poly sculpt using the decimation tool inside Zbrush.
How I unwrap my meshes also depends on how the low poly was created. If it was created in 3ds, I will first explode the UV’s to prevent any artifacting and will use a range of techniques such as projection mapping, or I will simply stitch the exploded UVs back together.
When I do this, I always ensure the unwrap is completely flat. If the low poly was decimated from the high poly, I’d use Zbrush’s unwrap tool and check in 3ds that there are no issues.
Before baking, I ensure my asset UV’s are split where I want hard edges as this guarantees a smooth bake. I find Substance Painter’s baking tool to be the most efficient and effective at creating detailed, normal maps.
I don’t alter the bake settings often but I do increase the frontal distance to 0.025, the dilation width and the anti-aliasing. I only see a subtle improvement using these settings and it depends on the asset. I check the bake by throwing on a random material to see if there is any stretching of the UV’s or other issues that need fixing.
For most of my projects, I use Substance Painter and Designer to create my materials. I have a base stylized material that I apply to begin with (which I learnt from 3dex’s tutorial) and alter the colours to match those in the concept.
I try to use contrasting highlights and shadows for a more painterly look and often use Adobe CC colour to create palettes that are complementary to the base colour, considering the lighting of my scene throughout the process.
To push the highlights of my texturing, I often desaturate the albedo map of the asset and use it as a base to create the roughness map. I find that this allows the highlights in the sculpt to be caught by the lighting in Engine and create more variation in roughness. For tiling materials, I use Substance Designer as it allows me to iterate quickly until I have the desired result.
The main reference of my lighting was another of Harrison Yinfaowei’s concepts named ‘The King’s Champion’.
For the basis of my lighting, I wanted something warmer than the original concept and found another piece by Yinfaowei with beautiful warm highlights and cool shadows. I loved the contrast of these colours and added both a sky light and directional light with an orange to pink hue to my scene.
I also used an HDRi sunset image to push the skylight and overall scene colour. Lighting is the skill I believe I need to improve on the most. I become easily frustrated with it, however, during this project, I learnt the value in asking for feedback from my peers.
I also asked my tutor for help and he provided a tutorial that I used as a new base to build my lighting from, adding spotlights and rim lights to help push the tower into focus and create that warmth from the sun.
Harrison Yinfaowei – ‘The King’s Champion’
To create the strong contrast of the blue hue in the shadows, I used a colour look up table as well as a blue tint to the sky light colour. I also added some subtle volumetric fog which gave the scene a lot more depth and desaturated the trees in the back. This in turn brought the tower into the foreground.
Before setting up my camera shots, I went through the different buffer visualization modes in Unreal and looked at what I could improve. As mentioned before, I went through each of my roughness maps as I realised they were very flat white to black values.
I also went back to Yinfaowei’s reference and looked at both the concept and my scene in grayscale. This allowed me to see whether I was achieving the right values in my textures and what I could change to help bring assets into the foreground.
Using the unlit mode, I found a lot of my colours were not as saturated as the original concept, particularly the canopies. Changing these levels helped the colours to pop a lot more. I also went back through each of the post process sliders to see if I could make any subtle improvements to the lighting after my production build.
When creating my shots I always consider composition using the rule of thirds tool in the cinematic viewport in Unreal. I try to match up the lines to the asset I want to focus on and use the aperture settings to defocus the background of the shot.
I learnt an incredible amount of new skills during this project as well as ones I need to improve on. I’ve learnt to spend more time blocking out a scene before diving straight in and how to manage my workload better, however, I was really proud of what I achieved in the end.
It was extremely rewarding getting such positive feedback from my peers and other artists that I look up to. It makes me excited to start my next project and I can’t wait to learn even more techniques and hopefully land my first role as a 3D artist.
Thank you for reading this and I hope you’ve learnt some useful tips!
If you have any questions you can find me across these social media links.