Project & Goals
As my experience with Unreal grew I felt more comfortable tackling more ambitious projects and this time I knew I wanted it to be a stylized scene, mostly because I’ve been a huge fan of stylized art and games ever since I started my journey with 3D.
I pretty much browse ArtStation every day and keep new project ideas in collections, so by the time I finished the previous project I had a full list of potential next projects waiting for me to choose.
My main goal was to make a scene rich in detail at every corner and I felt like artwork by Bangzheng Du was perfect for that, especially since I’ve been a fan of souls games for a long time. To be honest, I would enjoy making all of his artworks in 3D because they just look so fun to make, but at the time I was really impressed by that single piece.
I also wanted it to be rendered in Unreal, record some videos, make it feel alive and add some of my own touches to it. Sometimes I find myself trying too hard to recreate the main reference 1 to 1, but it’s not always the best option.
The main artwork was pretty straightforward, but sometimes it was harder to figure out what I was dealing with. For example, some assets were too simplified in illustration and I had to either look for in-game references that it was based on to get a better grasp or come up with something myself. Mostly I just tried to make it look cool and not stress too much about it.
I used PureRef which is a godsend for collecting references.
This was one of the most important parts of this project. I started off by blocking out the biggest pieces of environment in Blender to get a general feeling of the shapes and composition. Lots of changes at this stage happened and sometimes I would redo whole segments, but it’s important to make sure you’re satisfied with the result before moving on to polishing.
To help me out I used a very useful addon called fSpy which was recommended to me by my buddy Filip Bazarewski (check him out). It pretty much allowed me to match my camera in Blender to get a similar perspective as in the illustration which in turn made my block outing phase way easier. Of course, it’s not perfect and sometimes you just can’t recreate illustration 1 to 1, so you have to improvise.
Sometimes I would use an addon called GroupPro which allowed me to duplicate objects and edit them both at the same time. It’s great because you can still keep your modifiers unlike if you used the default method in Blender called “Duplicate Linked”.
For example below the sword would be much harder to edit if it stayed rotated, but thanks to GroupPro I could keep a straight copy and edit it with no issues.
What helped me a lot with exporting was an addon called Batex, thanks to it I could export my assets without worrying about pivot placement. What I would also do a lot was parenting lots of assets to a single asset and then exporting just a parent through batex, so once it’s imported into Unreal it’s just a single asset, but in Blender, it’s still separate so I can tweak it much easier. I saved lots of time working this way.
Just remember to select “combine meshes” while importing to Unreal.
Once I was satisfied with blockout I started working from bottom to top on polishing assets, adding more geometry, setting up UVs, etc. That was probably the most time consuming part of the whole project.
To help with UVing I used UVPackmaster for quick packing and to calculate proper texel I used Texel Density Checker.
To save on time I used a single mesh decal with baked damage on a normal map for most of my surfaces to add a little bit more polish to the scene. You can see on the Blender screenshot that I used it pretty much everywhere I could. Check out this tutorial from Dinusty how to make it.
I still ended up sculpting some assets like rocks, statues and gravestones, but I didn’t want to spend too much time on these since I was still miles away from finishing and focusing too much on a single asset is not the best idea, especially while working on such a big scene. I think it’s best to move forward as fast as you can and come back later if you think an asset needs additional tweaking.
When it comes to brushes I generally use the Orb package, hPolish, TrimDynamic and ClayBuildup. For rocks I highly recommend using TrimSmoothBorder brush with square alpha.
For some of the bigger assets, I used UDIMs to save time (tutorial here). It’s generally not advised to use UDIMs for game asset production because it’s very expensive. In my case, it helped a lot with the seamless texturing of big assets like rocks and dragon.
For characters I downloaded a simple base mesh I found online, adjusted proportions and set up basic armature for posing. Once I was happy with the pose I moved on to making clothes and accessories for every character.
The main shader is actually very simple, all I needed was some color manipulation, tile editing and an easy way to quickly adjust values of other textures like roughness and normal map.
I ended up using simple tileable textures with overlaid color through the shader, so I could get lots of color variations with a small number of textures.
Water shader is very simple, nothing mind blowing.
And here’s waterfall’s shader, what it basically does is just panning texture in Y-axis with some vertex transformation from grayscale texture, again, nothing too fancy. Once I was satisfied with the result I moved on quickly to another thing.
Getting into VFX with Niagara was rough at first, especially for someone like me that never got to do much VFX before, but after working with it for this project I realized it’s actually not that bad! I watched a few videos explaining essential stuff and the rest was just me figuring stuff out from various videos and googling.
If you’re looking to get a specific effect I highly recommend checking out youtube tutorials and just try following them, but adjust settings however you wish to get the desired result.
That’s basically all I watched to help me with making VFX.
Post-process has been something I kept adjusting as the project went on. I generally wanted to have a little bloom, saturation and contrast and I tried to avoid pitch-black shadows.
Lighting was challenging for sure and honestly, I’m not an expert when it comes to that, so this was the step I tried to gather as much feedback as possible.
I had Key Light from the left side, Fill Light from the right side, some lights from the back to help highlight edges of the scene and then used small point lights to highlight smaller areas.
In the end, this setup worked for me, but I can’t say if it’s generally a good approach for this type of scene. Didn’t bake any lightmaps, just Lumen.
I had a lot of fun with this project and I’m very satisfied with how it came out. I hope you find the article informative and thank you for reading!
It was a very time-consuming process for me, especially while working full-time and trying to beat Elden Ring, but I always tried at least to spend 1 hour each day If I could and this is my advice to anyone that struggles with finishing projects – If there’s a day that you don’t feel like working on your personal project I recommend just opening up your 3D software and try to spend 10 minutes modeling and if you really don’t want to keep going after that just take a break and try again tomorrow.
I had days when I just dreaded thinking about opening Blender, but once I did and started working it was much easier to keep the flow going.
Another piece of advice I can give is to always keep looking for feedback on your work and listen to people with experience, join discord groups, share your work and most importantly – do what you enjoy. Lots of thanks to GamesArtist for reaching out to me and giving me this opportunity to share my work and knowledge, if you have any questions feel free to message me at Artstation or Linkedin.