Ancient Discovery

Environment Breakdown

Raza Muhammad

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Raza Muhammad

3D Artist

Introduction

My name is Raza Muhammad. As of now, I'm working at Epic Games as a 3D Artist. I began my career as a graphic designer in numerous locally set up advertising agencies in the year 2012.

There, my enthusiasm for portraying and creating artworks for Films & Games emerged, and I began to learn 2D and 3D design.

I continually felt like I required some education to uphold this enthusiasm of mine, so I got admission to an art institute. After wrapping up my graduation in Communication Design, I got a job in a Preproduction Studio as a Junior Concept Artist.

From there, I constantly started practicing online for the entertainment world, and then I applied for a 3D artist position at QUIXEL, which is presently Epic Games.

Goals

My fascination with mysteries fueled my interest in spending my free time watching documentaries about the Mayans, Aztecs, Incas, Anunnaki, Sumerians, and others.

The primary goal for this project was to develop an ancient and old-world space, resembling a sanctuary that was used by people for pilgrimage and recently uncovered by archaeologists. Consequently, I initially planned to create a modular kit that would seamlessly integrate with Megascans assets.

Tools

  • Unreal Engine
  • Davinci Resolve
  • Zbrush
  • Substance 3D Painter
  • RizomUV
  • Quixel Megascans
  • Quixel Mixer
  • Maya
  • Marmoset Toolbag
  • Photoshop
  • Pureref

Reference & Inspiration

I am very much inspired by places like Chichén Itzá, Temple of Xochicalco, Uxmal, Ellora Caves, Khambhalida Buddhist Caves, Ta Prohm Temple, Lohagad Fort in India, documentaries like Saqqara Tomb, Baraka, Samsara, and the games we got for this era like Uncharted series, Tomb Raider.

Other than that, I painted my initial concepts for the main gate and other monuments.

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Initial Concept

I first sketched out the main idea, dividing the location into sections for different purposes.

Then, I quickly painted some props. I kept it simple since this was just a starting point for the later modeling stage.

Blockout

The utilization of Megascans significantly contributed to the rapid blocking out of the structure, providing engine-ready models. This gave me the advantage of swiftly conceptualizing my idea and exploring the environment to grasp an overall sense.

Additionally, for further blocking, I employed basic shapes from modeling tools, always mindful of the location’s scale.

Modeling & Sculpting

Having finalized and been satisfied with my concept, I chose to proceed with ZBrush, which was the initial 3D software I learned in this industry and where I feel most at ease.

I initially created some 2D designs in Photoshop, then imported these designs into ZBrush using text and SVG options to start modeling the basic shapes. Following this, I sculpted and refined each asset, considering them complete once I was content with the overall design.

In my creative process, I switch between carefully planned curation driven by a clear vision and a more spontaneous approach.

Sometimes, I arrange elements with precision to construct a visual narrative, while other times, the artistry unfolds organically as I rearrange objects until a harmonious balance is achieved.

UV & Baking

After completing the design phase, I transitioned to the technical aspect of these assets, creating mid-poly versions.

Because almost everything was static in this scene, I used the decimation master to create midpoly versions of these assets and conducted unwrapping in Rizom.

Subsequently, I utilized Substance Painter for the baking process.

Tileable Textures

For this project, I also wanted to learn and create tileable texture.

So I watched a bunch of tutorials and after that decided to jump into Quixel Mixer & played with it until I was satisfied enough with the design.

Texturing in Substance

Substance Painter excels in texturing up to 8K resolution, but for my project, I opted for 4K textures for the kit and created a unified shader in Painter.

I incorporated Quixel Mixer for creating some tileable surfaces. Additionally, Megascan assets were invaluable in filling out the scene, as my focus was on modeling only the hero objects that would be prominently featured in the camera’s view.

I used textures from Megascans to create a smart material in Substance Painter which I used in all the props I modeled with a little bit of tweaks and adjustments.

Megascans

Since I only wanted to model objects that were the main focal point in the scene, Megascans was a huge help.

I almost ended up using every mossy resource that they have in the collection. Here are some asset previews that I used in this project.

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Terrain & Foliage

I began by crafting the terrain in Unreal Engine using its landscape mode, where I applied a basic forest ground material.

For the vegetation, I utilized the free-to-download European hornbeam set from the Unreal Marketplace, complemented by broom creeper ivy sourced from Megascans & other plants and grass which were essential to enhancing the overall look in the whole scene.

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Asset Placement

Having painted the concepts for this project, I had a clear vision for positioning my assets, and I designed the modular kit for flexible placement.

This phase was both enjoyable and challenging. I started positioning my assets within the blockout structure I had previously created in Unreal. The entire process felt like playing with a Lego set, figuring out the optimal arrangement and shape language.

This project was a tremendous learning experience for me, covering aspects like storytelling, camera work, the Sequencer, Movie Render Queue, lighting, rendering, post-processing/color grading, and building an entire location from the ground up, among other skills. Consequently, I chose to focus more on the artistic elements than the technical details, saving the latter for my next project.

Polish & Final Pass

Finally, I reviewed the scene to identify any areas that needed improvement. The foreground area felt overly plain, prompting me to enhance it with more foliage along the pathway.

Furthermore, I introduced additional trees in the mid-ground to alleviate its flat and lackluster appearance. To fill in areas that seemed empty, I heavily utilized ivy and other vegetation, then adorned the entire scene using Unreal’s foliage brush.

I refrained from using decals or vertex blending, as I had already reached the time limit I had set for this project.

Lighting & Rendering

The opening shot serves as the initial glimpse into the scene, providing a comprehensive view of the setting to lay the groundwork for the story that unfolds.

My favorite and final part of the process is lighting and rendering, which I dedicated several days to perfect. Eager to master manual lighting setups in the engine without depending on HDRI, I turned to YouTube for education, absorbing numerous tutorials, especially those by the renowned William Faucher on lighting and rendering.

Having previously focused on static images, I was also keen to explore camera techniques and understand the sequencer’s operation within the engine.

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Color Grading

Color grading proved to be an enjoyable phase, largely because I had been watching numerous movies, documentaries, and TV shows, which gave me a clear vision of the desired final look of the shot, despite my inexperience with DaVinci Resolve.

As I began learning the software, I quickly grew fond of the wide range of features it offered, even in its free version. I adhered to the basic principles of managing clipped blacks and bleached whites.

Following color adjustments, I incorporated a camera shake and film grain to attain a more cinematic appearance.

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Conclusion

While working on this project, I found myself deeply engrossed in every detail and aspect of it. Each night, I would envision the entire location in my mind before falling asleep, replaying each angle and perspective.

This constant reflection led to numerous questions about the place: its scent, the sounds of its surroundings, the culture, and the activities of those who visit.

From a filmmaker’s perspective, I pondered how to capture the essence of this place effectively. This experience reinforced a vital realization: the process itself is something to be thoroughly enjoyed and cherished.

Deciding when to stop and declare a project finished is always challenging. While there was room to invest more time, I reached a point where I felt comfortable and satisfied with the results, having thoroughly explored and played with various elements.

The learning experience throughout this project was immense, and every moment of the process was genuinely enjoyable.

As I concluded the work, I pondered on the name, and “Ancient Discovery” felt fitting. I hope you all appreciate it, as validation is something every artist seeks at some stage.

I am extremely pleased with how the project turned out and deeply grateful for the encouraging words and feedback from my family, friends, and the wider community.

Although I recognize there’s a considerable journey ahead in my quest to become a standout environmental artist, I’m excited about what the future holds, including the upcoming projects and opportunities.

The path to excellence in artistry, or any profession, is often filled with challenges and can be daunting. Yet, it’s important to stay patient and keep pushing forward. By taking things one step at a time, achieving your objectives is possible.

I extend my heartfelt thanks to Games Artist for giving me this fantastic chance to write an article, and a huge appreciation to you, the reader, for spending time with this.

I sincerely hope this article has been informative and enjoyable for you!