25 May 2021

Hansestadt – Environment Breakdown – Tobias Koepp

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Introduction

Hi, my name is Tobias Koepp. I’ve worked in the games industry for about 6 years as 3D Artist and as an Environment Artist mostly on stylized projects. I currently work at Epic Games on the Fortnite Environment Team.

The “Hansestadt” environment started as an idea to recreate architecture from where I grew up in a more stylized setting. Especially when I couldn’t travel home during the pandemic I focused more on finishing this piece with some more influences from my hometown. The result is a little made-up street with Northern European influences.

 

 

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References

Since I wanted to do a stylized take on existing architecture I gathered as many pictures from cities with the Hanseatic architecture to see what they all have in common and what features I have to keep to stay true to the style. I also looked a lot at the Overwatch art style because I think they do a great job of depicting real-life places with a clean and readable style. Some of my references can be seen above. I probably have around 50 images on my reference board and it grows while I am working or while I am getting more ideas.

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Blockout

When I started on this scene my idea was to depict a landmark called the Holstentor which stands near my hometown but I also wanted to show some more of the architecture of the buildings around it. In the real location, there are no buildings right next to it and it felt like a weak composition for me to make in the Engine, so I went a different path.

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I blocked out some buildings and arranged them in front of the landmark to create a square but it felt too organized and again not very interesting. 

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When I arranged the buildings on a street with a slight incline I knew that this composition had the most potential. Out of all of the 3 options, I would probably want to walk around the street more and see what is happening in the alleys to the side or what is up the hill.

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After I cleaned up the blockout a little and decided where things would be I arrived at this.

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Compared with a later shot at the same position I pretty much stuck with the original blockout and just kept adding materials and assets. 

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Speed Tree

As this is a bigger scene I tried to speed up some of the processes and saved time where I could while learning some new skills. This is the first project I used speed tree on. The trees I am using in this scene don’t have to look special, they are just decorations and have a pretty classic look to them so I thought that trying speed tree could be a great opportunity to learn a little more about the software.

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I can still do some more traditional “modeling” by deciding exactly how I want the trunk to look. If I want to go for a more stylized approach I would bend it a little more, if I wanted to go more realistic I would leave it as it is.

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Depending on how big you polycount budget is you can easily take away whole branches while the software still tries to create a dense tree top. Because this is a personal project I used a few more branches than I would usually do to make it look better.

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To give the trees the cared for, pruned look, I felt that the “gravity” setting really helped to make these trees look like city trees.

Speed tree took away the need to model the tree mesh and I could still end up with a mesh that is game-ready and that looks exactly the way I wanted it to look. I was quite surprised how much control you can have if you choose to. The only things I supplied were a texture for the leave clusters that are arranged on planes to save vertices.

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In the end, I used a mix of procedural vegetation and hand-made vegetation. The hedges ivy and flowers were put together by hand.

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Modularity

In big environments, I always try to make a few things look like a lot. I only use 4 house assets in this scene. Most of these are very simple.

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To make them look more unique I would add on more parts like arches, windows, doors, chimneys.

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After that, I would go into the smaller details like lanterns and pipes.

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Adding vegetation at the end really makes the buildings all feel unique even though I am only using a few.

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Simplicity and easy to read

Since there is a lot going on in the scene I chose to keep all my materials relatively simple. I wanted them to be very easy to read on first look and kept all shapes pretty clean and recognisable. There is not a lot of information in these shapes except for their colour and breakups are quite big and graphical. Zoomed in these look almost boring.

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But if you look at them as a whole it really helps not to be overwhelmed by them altogether. It’s clear what is brick, concrete, and ivy.

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I’ve made most of these materials in Substance Designer and ZBrush. 

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To blend in the ivy more, I added a greener brick variation which I think helps a lot with readability.

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On the other side of the spectrum, there are assets that have a more prominent spot in the environment like this anchor statue.

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In cases like this, I would go all-in with the modeling, sculpt, and texturing but if I would do that with every asset I would have never finished this scene.

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Final Presentation

To finish off the project I would set dress some of my favourite camera angles and find a good light direction. You can do that easily in Unreal while holding control and move your mouse.

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It’s also a good idea to set up cameras and lock their transformations so you can tweak the scene while the camera stays in place.

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Adding some subtle movements also really helps sell that the environment is alive. I added some falling leaf particles and a little bit of movement in the branches so even this very static scene feels a little more interesting to look at in the video.

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End Result

Thanks a lot for reading if you want to see more screenshots and videos of this project you can check out my Artstation where you can also find more of my work.

https://www.artstation.com/tobiaskoepp

Thanks to Tobias for allowing us to have such an in-depth look at their process. If you liked this environment breakdown and want to see more like it from other inspiring artist’s make sure to follow us on :

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