Flower Still Life

Prop Breakdown

Robert Röder

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Robert Röder

Foliage Artist

Introduction

My name is Robert Roeder and I've been working in games since 2018 starting as an Environment Artist at Ninja Theory and working on all aspects of Environment production.
Later I specialized in foliage creation when I started working at Build a Rocket Boy which has always been something I gravitated towards.

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Project

This project started as an exercise in creating flowers with SpeedTree and Substance 3D Designer and evolved into a full bouquet after making a bunch of roses at first and then deciding to transform it into a full project for which I took inspiration from still-life paintings.

At that point, I started gathering references of flower paintings to decide what types of flowers I needed to make and thought about what sizes, shapes and colors I would need to create a rich and full composition.

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Blockout

After deciding on a set of flowers I would like to have for the bouquet I created a very quick version and threw them into Speedtree to let it randomly create a very rough bunch of flowers with lots of overlap and quickly aligned them a bit better to get a feel for what else I might need or what would have to change to create a better composition.

Soon I realized I was missing smaller flowers to break up the sizes even more as I only had medium or big flowers at that stage.

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To have a rough representation of the colors I wanted I created very simple gradient strips and assigned them to the strips of geometry SpeedTree would create with its frond generator and then just changed the shape of the strip along the spline to get as close as possible to the actual shape of the petal.

Refining Textures & Shapes

The next step was to create proper texture atlases for the petals, leaves, seeds and stalks and again started by searching for high res detail images to recreate them in Substance 3D Designer.

I also made use of the atlases created by Megascans to sample colors from them if applicable which also helped to figure out the true albedo of petals as it is very difficult to do based on the translucent nature. I could have just used scans and photos to generate my textures but I wanted to see how far I can go with a completely procedural approach and created my own network to generate the textures.

After generating a basic graph to create each component of an atlas I exposed all necessary inputs and combined them all in a new graph to keep things clean and iterate faster. This way I could create variations of each petal very quickly without having to go back into the original graph to tweak minor things.

With the atlas completed, I went back to SpeedTree to create proper cutouts for the leaves with a more reasonable Tri count. As I wasn’t too concerned about performance I pushed for more detail to get rid of any facetting when the geometry bends.

I decided to create some of the more complicated flowers separately without the stalks and leaves to have better control over the shape of each petal because of how the forces like curl and twist would affect the geometry differently when placed on a stalk that is bent and rotated.

This meant I had to export a set of flowers as FBX from Speedtree and then put them all together in a file where I had the vase and stalks already set up and simply replaced the procedurally generated flowers there.

For some of the petals I also used Maya to make my own cutouts and petal meshes there as I needed a very specific shape which I couldn’t achieve inside Speedtree. This also helped to speed up the software as it didn’t have to calculate the geometry for the flower and just used a custom mesh.

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Bouquet Setup

The first step was to import the vase not just for reference but also to use it as a collision mesh for stalks as I wanted it to feel like the vase is overflowing and had flowers hanging down the side.

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As I mentioned before I had a rough layout already done and just needed to add a few more flowers to fill in the blanks but I didn’t want to rely on a fully procedural generation so I decided to create Zones and give a generator to each flower and match them to the previous layout but now with easy access to each stalk, flower and leave generator.

This way I could easily add another flower if I wanted to without having to worry about it randomising them again.

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Final Composition

The Unreal composition was comparatively straightforward as I imported the flowers and vase separately and went to the Megascans Bridge to find an old table and a wall texture and imported all of it into the scene to light it with a simple rectangle light as a main source of illumination and another light to slightly brighten up the darker left side together with a weak skylight to fill in the blanks.

Lighting

Every day I was working on the project I made sure to update my scene in UE and create a screenshot of my progress.

Foliage can be quite tricky to set up for game projects or just simple renderings inside a game engine like UE4 and 5. Beyond making sure to use a masked material with Foliage and Two Sided enabled it is quite important to adjust the vertex normals correctly to create a smooth appearance.

For that, it is possible to manipulate the normals inside of SpeedTree depending on the kind of flower/leaf.

The most important adjustments I find are the Parent Puffiness Amount and Anchor. The latter will change which node is taken as a reference when adjusting the normals. For that, it helps to turn on Normals by hitting (N) and changing the amount.

In the Unreal material, I created a simple TwoSided Sign and multiplied it by the Normal output and plugged that into the material slot with a switch to turn it on and off for certain flowers. This has the effect of inverting the back-facing normals to create smoother lighting which can be applied for certain cases of normals facing the wrong direction and creating undesirable dark spots.

Normals

Advice

As advice for artists, I would always say to check references rather than relying on pure imagination. It helps a lot to set up a board with images that will shape the project and also
help focus on the key aspects of the scene.

Something I see sometimes is a lack of focus and inconsistent quality in portfolios. Having a variety of projects that tackle different disciplines can be a strength but also detrimental depending on what you are looking for.

As a generalist having variety is great but if you’re looking for a specialist job then it’s better to hide or remove these artworks. Also, removing old projects from your portfolio is the necessary evil and that can be hard to see objectively but your worst project will pull down the whole portfolio. Also, having a few outstanding projects is always better than having a lot of middling projects.

Getting feedback on your work in progress is important to not pour in a lot of work into a flawed aspect of the project as well as taking a break from time to time to not become blind as after a few days you will see everything with fresh eyes.

My last point is to lock down the composition as early as possible and take screenshots once a day to track progress on the project.

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