Ramshackle Farm

Environment Breakdown

Vitaly Zaytsev

Screenshot_01-scaled
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Vitaly Zaytsev

Environment Artist

Introduction

Hey there! My name is Vitaly Zaytsev and I’m a freelance 3D Environment and Prop artist.

I've been playing games since childhood, and all my life I've been doing some kind of art, but I never thought about the idea of the profession of a Game Artist.
But I realized that I can learn this myself with the help of available resources from the web and cool people from the art community.

Project

I started doing this project back in the summer, I liked the story of the aliens and the defending farmers in the episode “Suits” from “Love, Death & Robots”, but then in the process of searching for references and from my preferences, I realized that I wanted to make some kind of moonshiner farm from a fictional world.

References

My main reference was Overwatch’s Junkertown map. I loved that post-apocalyptic feel it creates, but I didn’t intend to limit myself to that style.

I didn’t have a specific idea of what I wanted to get as a result, I just imagined the general concept in my head, so I needed to play around with the design of the main idea based on the references.

References

Goals

The main goal I set for myself was to create a complete scene with large architectural elements, using as few materials as possible and using them throughout the scene, avoiding creating unique textures, and since I already knew something about creating trim sheets, then decided to use them to their fullest.

Previously, I already started some projects with Unreal Engine 5 but did not finish them, so I thought that this is a good opportunity to make a finished project and finally figure out the new features that the engine gives us.

For this particular project, I did not choose a modular approach to building architecture. There weren’t so many repetitive elements here that I made the decision to make almost everything unique, but use elements like walls, pipes and windows as modular.

Barn_Pieces

Process

The first step is to block out the general shapes to get the scale: I imported it into the engine to figure out the proportions and figure out what the environment needs to be like to feel right.

Blockout

In the process, when I’m doing the lowpoly and getting the final look, I’m trying to stick to the main rules – expressive silhouettes and cartoonish shapes with curves, this is what I appreciate so much in stylized art in the first place.

Barn_Shapes

Trim sheet workflow

If you’re not familiar with the trim sheets – trim sheets allow you to texture a large number of assets with just one set of textures, they are used for fast texturing of large and small objects such as wall parts, any kind of beams, ornaments on various surfaces, panels, decals, as well as for long and thin objects such as ropes, cables, pipes, rails, and much so you don’t have to make unique textures for them.

Initially, I was inspired by the coolest talks from Thiago Klafke and The Ultimate Trim by Insomniac Games, so I recommend watching them. Also, this article contains a lot of comprehensive information on trim sheets, as well as additional links on this topic.

The main idea is to place the trims along one axis so that they can be tiled. They shouldn’t attract much attention to themselves and have noticeable individual contrasts and spots (such as large chips, cracks, etc.) In this case, the viewer loses the immersion effect, because these elements show how things are repeated. You need to think about this limitation from the very beginning.

For me, this is still a somewhat difficult topic in terms of planning and implementation, but with enough practice, you can understand what can work and what will not be very useful in a particular case.

I wanted to take advantage of trims, so I broke down the whole building into a few types of materials I would need and make them with trims.

Barn_overlay

I didn’t want to make high poly and bake them on low-poly, but earlier I came across Justen Lazzaro’s cool “Ultimate Trim Generator” tool that allows you to do all the work in Substance painter/Designer. He talked about the Ultimate Trim technique in this article.  As a result, realizing what I have in the scene concerning buildings, I knew what trims I needed, and I made several texture sets using the plugin.

I use several planes as a basis for tiling. You can find it in the samples of Substance itself (File – Open Sample) or use your own model – the main thing is to constantly see how the tiling is going and whether everything works well.

Using the plugin, I make the types of trims I need and export the normal information, so that later I can load it again into Substance and use it as the base for baking the necessary maps such as Ambient Occlusion, Curvature and others. You can of course use Substance Painter’s anchors, but for my taste, it is not very convenient.

NormalTiling

After all the maps are baked, you can start texturing. You need to keep in mind that the connections of different parts of the trims in your normal map are your future edges, do not try to dirty them with dust and dirt, as you will most likely need the opposite effect. After a couple of tests, you can figure out how it works.

I spent a few days trying to figure out how normals work in Maya, for me it was really difficult and not obvious since I had never dealt with this.

Here‘s an example:

TexturesTiling

I ended up with some textures like several kinds of wood, metal and tile textures.

RedBarnFarm_tiles-scaled

I’m using Maya for modeling and unwrapping UVs. It has great tools for unwrapping UVs out of the box, but this tool is especially useful – you can layout your UVs in a straightened way in one click and it really speeds up the work.

TexTools addon for Blender has a similar toolkit as far as I know.

MayaTrims
Barn_Process

After I figured out the design and textures, and how my trims will work, I start setting up the scene already in the engine along with the materials.

Materials

Since trims can look quite repetitive, I need to add some variety to them. For this, I used vertex paint and a set of decals.

I recommend you take a look at the Arcane Owl Studio thread, I used their vertex paint shader with a few tweaks.
The guys also tell a lot of useful things, thanks to them. I just made some masks in Designer to add some variety to the textures, these black and white masks add the necessary detail and interest.

EndResult
Barn_FullProcess
ProcessWIP

Landscape and Vegetation

I didn’t plan to put a lot of emphasis on plants, they were just an additional background to complement the atmosphere and composition. As for the landscape materials and foliage themselves, I have very little experience, so this is the right time to try my hand at it.

I sculpted all the materials of the ground and plants/foliage in Zbrush and painted with a basic poly paint. In order not to export anything manually and not to bake on a plane, I used a Zbrush Compositor plugin that allows you to transfer all the maps to the Substance painter with one click and make the necessary changes there.

Pablo Munoz has a demonstration video on how this plugin works.

ZbrushFoliageSculpts
SP_Foliage
LandscapeMats

Lighting and clouds

I have noticed that light takes a very large part of the quality of your composition, assets, and environment in general, it can forgive you a lot in terms of textures, and if you put enough work into lighting it can help you a lot.

The most interesting and exciting aspect of Unreal Engine 5 for me was Lumen, I wanted to see what I could achieve with it. I was very pleased with it as it works very well on its own, you don’t need to tweak a lot of settings to get very good results. I think it’s pretty easy to use and easy to set up even with basic knowledge, this scene has a simple lighting setup and it looks good out of the box with the basic tools that the engine gives us.

Although Lumen is very cool in itself, so far I’ve observed various artifacts and lighting errors, especially related to foliage. To understand how Lumen works and how to use its features, I watched all the videos related to these topics. The most important thing was explained by the Epic Games themselves in their presentation.

I used two main directional lights – one was used as the sun and the other to get some extra richness in the shadows. The trick is to make the value of the source angle of the second light quite large. I saw it in the Slay Workflow video, also a very useful series to watch.

Another cool feature is the real-time volumetric cloud system, which works really well with dynamic lighting. I didn’t know anything about this until I stumbled across a video by William Faucher, and with some tweaking, I achieved this result of lush clouds.

There are a lot of parameters here and you can get confused, but after some attempts, you can achieve interesting results.

Conclusion

This project helped me realize that you need to understand the whole scope of work and divide everything into stages, thinking ahead of the steps. You need to focus on a very specific task for some time, instead of walking around the whole project and thinking about what needs to be done now and thereby slowing down the overall process.

If you don’t enjoy a part of a process and feel like you’re losing motivation, try to switch to another task that brings you the most pleasure and satisfaction. This way you can continue to work, and eventually bring the whole project to the end.

It is also useful to limit yourself in time, to have an idea of when you would like to finish it.

Don’t forget to ask for feedback from your friends or art communities. Sometimes even a couple of words can change your attitude toward the project and you can look at it differently.

Thanks for reading this, and I hope some of it helped you!