Lunar Hoax – Environment Breakdown – Joseph Edwards
Hello, my name is Joseph Edwards, and I recently graduated as an environment artist from Southampton Solent University. I am currently interning at Atom Republic, working on seasonal props and environments.
My first thoughts around the idea of doing a scene based on the faking of the lunar landing were in late 2019 and I have wanted to do it ever since. Although I do not believe in the theory, I have always found it to be an interesting topic. My final major project for university was the perfect time to put my ideas into motion: it gave me the opportunity to spend a substantial amount of time dedicated to the research and production of the scene.
My goals for the project were to create an environment using Unreal Engine 4, with a focus on improving my skills in lighting, composition, and visual storytelling.
Idea and references
When I have an idea for an environment or prop, I always start by looking on both Artstation and Sketchfab to make sure the topic is not already saturated: if it is not this can really help your work to stand out. After this, and if I am still happy with the theme, I get started with the research.
When doing the research for this project, I thought that it was important to look at references from a wide range of sources. These included looking at museum websites and Haynes’s manuals about the landing, which gave me detailed images and reference points about the Lunar landers’ construction which I might otherwise have missed.
I also had the opportunity during this project to go to a warehouse and take some pictures of the kind of materials used in the construction of this particular style of building. This also gave me a great insight into the kind of visual narrative I could include within the project.
I also wanted to spend some time looking at some fictional references as these kinds of environments can often be closer to what a viewer expects in comparison to the real thing due to the impact of pop culture. I looked at a selection of films about the moon landing including First man, Apollo 13, and Capricorn 1. Capricorn 1 was a perfect film to look at as it focused on the faking of a Mars landing. I also looked at a selection of games including The Division 2 and Call of Duty Cold War to see how they were constructed artistically as well as technically.
Finally, when it came down to researching the theme, I looked at what the conspiracy theorists thought had happened to improve ‘realism’ and the visual narrative of the piece.
Block out and composition
One of my main goals for this project was to improve my skills and knowledge in lighting and composition. I began this research by looking at resources, beyond games, to improve my overall knowledge. I read ‘Light for Visual Artists’ by Richard Yot, a great book for demonstrating the power of lighting and how the direction of light can really assist in changing the atmosphere and emotions of a scene. This book also covered contrast and how it can be used to direct the viewer’s eye towards the main components of the scene.
I also looked at examples of photography to see how artists in this area effectively use composition to create a visually pleasing image. I watched ‘Photography Foundations: Composition’ by Ben Long on LinkedIn Learning. This taught me about the techniques of leading lines, balance, and perspective. After watching this tutorial, I went out and did some black and white photography, focusing on composition, to help me implement what I had learned, engraving it on my mind.
One of the major challenges I came across when blocking out the environment was dealing with the immense size of the lander in comparison to the props that would be found on a film set. The lander is about 5.5 meters tall which, if not careful, would take up a lot of the screen, making the image feel unbalanced. In my final block out, I resolved this by placing the lander in the background while using foreground elements to direct the viewer to the lander by using the rule of thirds and directional lines.
Planning and making assets
After finishing the block out, I started to create an asset list with an estimate of how long each piece would take. This helped me to organize my time more effectively and made it a lot easier to keep track of my progress. When adding times to my plan I always slightly exaggerated how long it would take in case any minor issues came up. I also added sprint goals that could be removed if there were major issues.
Throughout the scene, I used multiple workflows to make effective use of textures and topology. For areas like the floor and wall, I utilized tiling textures with vertex painting to improve realism and reduce repetition. I also used some damage and texture decals to improve detail and reduce art fatigue. To make the surface more optimized I shared textures whenever possible. For example, all 3 of the brick texture sets use the same normal texture as there was no/minimal difference between them. All the tiling textures were created in Substance Designer.
A lot of the more significant and set dressing props within the scene were created with a high low poly baking workflow for the modeling and then had unique textures made in Substance Painter.
I used ARM textures for my AO, roughness, and metallic maps and I built my master material around ARM textures instead of individual maps.
For some of the props I also experimented with UV masking as I wanted to try it out with future projects in mind. This included an experiment into the difference in file sizes and the difference in shader complexity when using a master material. I found that it was possible to get a similar level of detail on standard environment props with UV masking while using a lot less file space and still obtaining a similar level of shader complexity. If you want to learn more about this workflow, I recommend looking at Hamish Ames’s tutorial on UV masking which can be found on his Artstation.
Master Material, Vertex Painting and Dithering
By creating master materials for my different texturing approaches, I was able to quickly apply textures to the scene and alter them using parameters to help blend them into the environment better, adding variation. If you would like to learn more about making a master material, I would recommend looking at the video by Ryan Manning called ‘UE4- Creating Master Materials’. By using this video, I was able to adapt the knowledge he provided to create a range of different master materials for a variety of uses, including ones built for vertex painting or UV masking.
Conclusion and Thanks
I feel that this project is the one that has challenged me the most. It has made me think a lot more about the composition of the environment and the importance of planning a project beforehand to optimize the pipeline and improve the visual quality.
Thank you for reading my article I hope you have found it useful. This is my first time writing something like this, so I hope that it makes sense. Special thanks go to both my university lecturers and Timothy Dries as well as the Beyond Extent and DiNusty Discord channels for their critique along the way. Feel free to contact me on Artstation or LinkedIn if you have any questions.
Thanks to Joseph 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 :