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Environment Breakdown

Viktor Colpaert

viktor-colpaert-main-01
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Viktor Colpaert

3D Environment Artist

Introduction

Hi there! My name is Viktor Colpaert, and I’m a full-time 3D Environment artist working at Airborn Studios.

Currently, I work on some of the environments for Overwatch 2, which is like a dream come true as it’s one of the few games that I still regularly play.

I started working on the “Go Home” personal project even before I got started at Airborn back in 2022, so it's come quite a long way.

Software

I’ve been making all my projects in Unreal Engine for a while and decided to start using Unreal Engine 5 for the first time to make this project.

At the time, I had recently started using Blender a lot more for modeling. At first, this was just because all other software is super expensive, but it’s grown on me, and I’m really happy I made that switch.

I still just use Substance Painter and Designer for texturing; I’m not familiar with much other texturing software, and these are just really good.

Inspiration

After the last personal project I made, I wanted to make something that had a similar Ghibli-esque look but with a bigger scale to it. I wanted to make something similar to my last project but make it just a little better.

When I came across the artwork “Go Home!” by Lok Du, it kind of clicked.

I messaged him over ArtStation to let him know I wanted to translate his work into 3D. He responded that he hoped to see it as soon as possible; little did I know it’d take me over 2 years to finish it.

Blockout

I wanted to create the environment as closely to the original concept as possible. Using PureRef, I overlaid the concept on top of my Unreal viewport and blocked out the environment with simple volumes.

Then I exported the level from Unreal as an FBX file, imported it to Blender, and used it as a reference for how I would model and scale the assets. This was something I mainly did for the larger assets in the scene.

Modelling

All of the more organic assets, rocks, and trees were sculpted in Blender and then textured in Substance Painter.

For the man-made structures, I started with a mesh that will have harsh edges and a tileable texture.

Then depending on how close to the camera view it is, I’ll add in loose pieces with unique textures, tiles, bricks, etc.

Mesh_Grayscale
viktor-colpaert-buidlings-01

You can tell a mesh is low-poly when it has a lot of harsh edges. So working these away is the main obstacle to making it look nice.

These loose pieces can sometimes be made using the already existing tileable texture; the roof-tile shingles are an example of this.

Then to bring it all together, I added a decal texture under the roof overhang to fake some shading.

Below is the result.

Mesh_Textured

Most of my other tileable and trims:

viktor-colpaert-materials

Materials

For most of my materials, things were pretty straightforward. I made a couple of trims and tileables as well as a bunch of unique textures. Most of the organic and all of the non-organic meshes were made that way.

For the foliage materials, I also added some wind effects which gave a lot of life to them. I’m not amazing with material nodes myself, but there are lots of great tutorials from others that I followed and then tried to adapt a little bit to fit my scene.

One of these tutorials would be from PrismaticaDev below:

Foliage Wind

This one is great for adding directional movement to your trees and other foliage. For the foliage on the ground, I just stuck to a SimpleGrassWind node.

I also played around a bit with water shaders; it ended up not being super visible as it was also not that pronounced in the concept. But I still had some fun making some of these materials nonetheless.

Waterfall

My waterfall material was pretty simple, just panning textures of foam that then went in front of a more detailed water shader.

The waterfall was a lot more pronounced in earlier iterations, but I ended up covering it as it was too distracting and not detailed enough to be so focal.

My somewhat hidden waterfall:

hiddenWaterfall

Landscape & Terrain

A lot of time also went into making the landscape material, adding different color variations for the grass and making different types of ground material.

In the end, it allowed for a lot of freedom and ease when it came to setting up pathways and making the landscape feel unique.

Doing it with RVTs to blend the materials of the landscape and the meshes in it together also creates a more coherent scene.

Below is my Landscape material and Material blending:

landscapeMaterial
materialBlending

Finishing touches

The final assembly of all meshes, materials, and other smaller assets always takes forever. I placed a ton of fog planes, most of which were created following this tutorial.

The main reason this one is great is that it shows some settings to make fog planes fade in and out depending on camera distance. In other words, ideal for sequences with big camera movements.

I also added some dirt decals to make the tiling of the pathway texture a bit less obvious.

Below are some of the decals in the scene:

dirtDecal

Clouds

One of the assets that made the scene come together was the clouds. These were based on this great tutorial by Tyler Smith.

The tutorial allows for a lot of customization, letting you create clouds with a lot of freedom. It’s overall great for clouds with more intent.

Animation

It was already quite late into the project that Steffen offered to make the characters for the scene, but I was super happy he did. I had originally not planned to have any characters in the scene, but I think having them there just breathes a lot of life into the environment.

To animate the sheep, I used marketplace assets; for the shepherd, I used a Mixamo animation and changed the pose a little bit.

The characters had a slight outline to them in the concept, and I felt that adding it to the scene would set them apart in a nice way. To get this effect, I mainly followed the tutorial of Evans Bohl.

It’s pretty straightforward and allows for a lot of customization.

Lighting

Besides some point lights and rect lights, all of the scene’s lights are movable. I have two directional lights set up, one high-intensity light with an orange-yellowish hue and another low-intensity light with a blue tone.

The skylight has an intensity of 1 and a yellow hue, as the scene is pretty evenly lit in the concept I needed a good skylight to fill up the dark spots.
I found that the best results came from setting it to stationary.

The exponential-height fog has a blue color and a higher density.

I mostly wanted the fog to be in the back and to affect only the large windmill and giant trees, so I set its starting distance quite far.

I placed a ton of other points–, rect-, and spotlights to achieve a look that stays close to the concept but also just to make the models look more appealing.

A lot of these lights were in the foreground and a couple of them were in the background. Post-processing was used to disable auto-exposure and to up the saturation a little.

The below images are the 1st Directional light, 2nd Directional light & ExponentialHeightFog.

I didn’t include the skylight as it has no changes other than the ones I already mentioned.

The below image is the unaltered scene then an image without additional lights (spot-rect-point light) & finally without skylight.

Conclusion

I think the biggest challenge to me on this project was its scale. I took multiple long breaks from working on it, and by the end of it, so much time had passed that some of the early assets didn’t hold up that well anymore.

Lighting it was also quite tough; the shadows in the concept proved quite hard to emulate in 3D, and a lot of back and forth went into making it look true to the concept while still looking somewhat realistic.

Despite all that, I’m super happy with how it turned out, and it feels great being able to look back on all the different aspects that went into creating it.

I am super thankful for all my friends and coworkers who gave me feedback and motivated me to finish it. I’m looking forward to making more stylized environments although the next one will be a bit smaller.