12 January 2022

Sewer Monster – Environment Breakdown – Harshith Harsha

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Introduction

Hi there, I’m Harshith, a self-taught 3d environment artist from India, Currently, I’m studying final year of my bachelor’s in Multimedia and I’m super excited to share my first ever breakdown article.

Sewer Monster Project:

At first, I had an idea to create a large playable environment for my portfolio, but I’m not confident enough at that time, to create a large level. Then I decided to create a small piece at first to improve my artistic and software skills. In that process, I found a great piece by
Phil C, the ambiance and storytelling inspires me a lot.

Phil-C-Concept

References

References

Here is my pure ref board, since I’m going with the concept it is much easy to collect references, based on key elements, so I collected different images of sewers, pipes, cables, old tunnels and even from the artwork of The Division 2 game. Reference is the key to any piece of art.

Planning

Planning is also one of the most important aspects of production. Even if your making small diorama planning helps you a lot. I use an application called “Miro” which helps me to plan my production workflow, I even planned a weekly schedule to speed up my production process.

Planning

Blockout & Modelling

In the early stages I use simple shapes to do a simple block out of the entire level in Maya, to get a better scale and composition of the scene, later I exported the entire thing into UE4 to set basic lighting.

Blockout

Right after blockout, I hopped back into Maya to create final models and UV’s. Everything is a simple geometry nothing complex. I make use of mesh decals for the tunnel edges rather than sculpting the entire edge of these huge models separately.

Tunnel-Models

Materials

Most of the main props are done, before going any further I decided to take a break from UE4 and hop into Substance Designer to create a selection of materials for the scene. The main reason for choosing substance designer is because of its procedural
nature, so I can go back anytime and iterate as many times I can.

I started with concrete material because it covers the majority of my environment. I started with macro shapes by combing cloud noise with some grunge maps, later fine-tuning it by adding micro details like pebbles, cracks, scratches, at the end, I got three different concrete materials(smooth, rough and one with exposed iron bars) which I later blend them together in UE4 with simple vertex blending shader.

Materials-Concrete-Graph
Materials-Concrete

For pipes and cables, I wanted to create a trim sheet because it is more flexible than texturing individual assets. I made a rough blockout of my trim sheet in photoshop, which gives me a basic idea of how the trim looks like what should I include in my trim sheet. later I used substance designer to create the trim sheet which is fairly simple, if you want to create a trim sheet inside substance designer here is an awesome tutorial by Nvidia Studios youtube channel.

Materials-TrimSheet-Blockout
Materials-TrimSheet-Graph
Materials-Trimsheet

Blueprints

Blueprints are the visual scripting inside UE4 and they are completely node-based. In this scene, blueprints play a major role and it makes my job easy because, all the tunnels, pipes, cables and even trash on the floor are made with blueprints and they are all procedural. For this project, I used three different types of blueprints.

  • Firstly Simple spline blueprint, uses a spline mesh component to spawn static mesh along the spline which we drew. it is similar to the pen tool in Photoshop but in 3D. If you guys want to create this blueprint you can watch an awesome youtube tutorial by Ryan Laley in which he explains greatly.
  • By varying the first BP a little bit, I created another one, which also works in a similar way but instead of spawning static meshes like a continuous chain, it creates space between each static mesh instance.
  • The third blueprint is kind of different, it scatters a bunch of static mesh instances randomly within the given bounds, which you can clearly in the demo video here.

Scatter BP

Scatter-BP

Decals and Setdressing

Decals are the overlays that we can add to our environment like leaks, cracks, stains, Blood, etc and they can drastically increase the level of detail of our scene. If anyone is wondering how a decal works and how to set up one here is a video about
it by WorldofLevelDesign. Most of the decals in my scene are from Megascans, Textures.com and even some are from google images. Here is the side-by-side comparison of my scene without and with decals.

Decals-Showcase

For set dressing purposes, I modeled a bunch of assets to populate the scene I used Maya to create both the low poly, high poly and UV’s. Later they were textured in substance painter and the texturing details are based on the size of the assets in the scene, for example,┬áthe arc welder is kind of a hero prop in my scene so I put a lot of love while texturing it, but when it comes to the plastic bottles they small and laying in the mud if it is the game you would barely see it when you are running through the level. So they are having fewer details.

When it comes to the texturing process of these assets I started with macro details like the base layer and gradually started building up all the micro details like grunge, leaks, Roughness Variation, Dirt and so on.

Challenges and Feedback

There are not many challenges at the beginning with respect to composition and lighting, because I’m going with the concept, but the main difficulty that I faced was the overall scale of the scene. In Phil’s concept, there is no such a problem because it is having a human character in it and it is a great reference for scale, but when it comes to my scene there is no such thing and also the big iron fence (in the below image) which is, used to stop monster, but in my scene, it is looking more likely used to stop humans and due to that the whole tunnel is feeling like 3m in diameter whereas it is actually 10m in diameter. I solved it after getting feedback from awesome people in Dinusty Empire.

Feedback-Before

Another challenge I faced was storytelling, to convey that monster is living in the sewer since I cannot simply add the monster character. So later I came up with an idea to add some type of elements like a newspaper about the rumors of monsters, blood, and scratches on the wall, to make feel the presence of the monster.

Story-telling

Feedback is the most important step in any art creation, working on the same scene for weeks, makes us to skip all the small details, a new set of eyes helps us a lot in finding these small details which we are missing and as an artist, we need to expose ourselves a lot. Like being active in online communities, servers, etc. They are also great sources to learn a lot of new things from fellow artists and also get good feedback.

At this moment I want to tell you about Dinusty Empire hope you guys know about it, after getting feedback for my scene from the awesome people in the Empire, it changes drastically as I mentioned above.

Lighting

The whole scene is baked lighting no dynamic, the lighting itself is fairly simple there is a directional light, skylight, and aside from that, I used a couple of point lights with shadows turned off to fill the dark areas and I also faced a little difficult to get right ambience and lighting because it is baked lighting so I need to rebuild every time I made a change and it took a lot of time to get final lighting.
I cranked up some parameters like light bounces and lighting quality to get the desired look and if it is a game I would definitely reduce them because it will increase memory cost a lot, you can see some of my lighting settings below

(Bonus tip: After baking if your scene looks darker even after increasing the intensity of your light source, it is most probably because the albedo value and brightness of your materials also contribute to lighting. You can check this video by William Faucher in which he explains clearly about this)

Lighting-Settings

Final Thoughts

I’m very happy to see how the scene turned and creating blueprints takes me a lot of time than I expected because it is the first time for me working with blueprints and even with the lighting I keep on tweaking it till the end, the scene took me around three to four weeks to complete even with planning and reference gathering and I learned a lot of new things during this process.

I really want to thank all my friends and people in the Dinusty Empire who gave me feedback, it really helped a lot. and a huge thanks to Game artists for giving me the opportunity for writing this breakdown article.