This project being a school project, we had a subject to respect, the theme was “Planet Alien” and the goal was to create an environment within a universe that does not exist or at least something that we have never seen yet or discovered.
My choice wasn’t too difficult, I’ve always been a huge fan of the Star Wars Saga and knew right away that this was an environment that I wanted to create. My favorite episode is Rogue One, the choice of the desert was not very complicated, the planet Jedha is one of my favorite planets and you can really feel the experience and the war there, that’s what I tried to transcribe in this project.
As for references, it is essential to have them, especially if you are like me and have trouble imagining things, this can be very useful to you.
I use PureRef to organize my ideas, which I advise everyone to use, it’s a great tool. I also choose not to have too many references, for fear of getting lost, I try to get to the point and not take too many images.
All of the modeling of the scene was done in Blender, I’ve been using Blender for several years and it’s a software that I particularly like, for its speed and facility to use. I started with the big ones, and ended up with the small details, which is often what is advisable to do.
I started by blocking the bulk of the environment, the terrain and the reactors, that’s what you see most in the scene. For the reactor, I modeled a set of metal plank and iron bars, to try and reproduce this destroyed and dilapidated effect (this part was not the easiest).
Once the bulk of the scene is finished, I can move onto the smaller models, like tents, crates, droids etc.
One thing that I can advise, is that you integrate your props as you go, to give you a better idea of what it can do in the engine. The vision in its 3D software and in the engine can often be quite different, and often watching your scene build as you go in the engine can even give you new ideas, which I often do.
For the UV part, nothing exceptional, everything is also done in Blender, the cutting and UV tools in Blender are very powerful and easy to use. I use a small uv packing add-on (UvPackmaster) which saves me a lot of time.
Sculpting and Vegetation
There wasn’t a lot of sculpting in this project, only the rocks and the tree, the sculpting is not my favorite part, that’s why I try to spend the least time possible, to focus on the rest.
On the other hand, vegetation is surely one of my favorite parts, Vegetation Artist is a job that I would love to do a lot, I love working with nature, flowers and trees, especially since I love using Speedtree, which is for me a very complete software, difficult to understand, but a real pleasure to use when you know the basics to make your own vegetation.
I created three different kinds of bushes, taking inspiration from desert vegetation. The alphas and textures come from Megascans. If you’re interested, I could do a more in-depth tutorial on my workflow in Speedtree, and integration in Unreal in the future.
The hardest I would say is to keep the correct polygon/quality ratio, which can be quite complex. To see how it looks in Unreal with the animations, I invite you to go see my post on my ArtStation.
Texturing in Substance
Except for a few items, all props have been textured using Substance Painter. It’s not the hardest part of the project, but I would say it’s the more artistic part, you need all of your colors and textures to match together in the scene, to make it look seamless and realistic. You can do this by switching to “Unlit” or “Base Color” mode in Unreal, which only shows the colors flat, which is a great way to see if your entire scene matches well.
For my part, I opted for a set of rather dull colors, yellow/brown and grey tones and the vegetation as it brings a touch of color in the scene, as I said in my last interview, it is very important to add touches of color in your environment, it catches the eye and beautifies your scenes.
For the texturing part, I’m going to focus on the tent, which is for me the most interesting props at this level in the scene.
For the tent, I put together a fabric texture with a set of tear alpha, to give it a worn look. Do not forget to change your shader in Painter, and switch it to Alpha Blending, in order to visualize the opacity in the viewport
Once done, you just need to paint your alphas in a black mask, activating only the opacity channel, and setting it to zero.
Within Unreal: Materials
We can now move on to Unreal, the first part that I will cover here are the materials. I used 4 Master Materials and 1 Sharpen Material for my entire environment: Main Master Material, Foliage Master, Planet Master, Blending Master and the Sharpen Material.
Master Materials principal:
This is my main material for texturing the whole scene.
It allows me to put my textures imported from Painter there, and have some settings for changing roughness, metallic, etc.
It also allows me to do the animations of my tents, flags and all the cloth on the stage. I have for that bake the position map of my tents in Painter, and made it move on the geometry in Unreal, for that it works correctly, you must have a minimum of geometry on your mesh, in order to apply the deformation correctly. If you’re like me and aren’t a big fan of Shaders, there are plenty of videos on Youtube to help you out.
This is my material that allows me to control the vegetation.
It’s pretty straightforward, the SimpleGrassWind allows me to control the strength or intensity of the wind on vegetation.
This is the material of the planet, for this one I invite you to watch the Underscore youtube video which is very well explained:
This is the material that controls the rocks, it allows me to blend the sand on the rock, and always on the top of the rock.
I integrated a function that allows me to control the axis of appearance of the sand, here at the top.
Unreal Engine tends to make the images a bit blurry, so I use a material to sharpen the whole scene (it should be used in moderation); it is placed in the “Rendering Features” part of the Post Process.
Using Splines/Track Creation
The use of Splines is very important in Unreal, and especially in this project. It allows you real-time modularity of your pipes, tracks, etc.
In this project, I used it a lot, I used them in particular for the construction of the road, and all the cables of the radars on the ground.
For more explanation, I refer you to the excellent Quixel video on the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9LTdMD45nc&t=3157s
I started by creating a simple portion of a path in Blender, very basic. I put a minimumal amount of geometry on it so that the displace applies correctly in Unreal.
Once your mesh has been created with the pivot point correctly placed and the mesh correctly oriented (here on the Z axis), you can move on to creating the spline in Unreal. Here, is a classic spline blueprint, I decided to create it according to the size of my mesh, to have no distortion, once the mesh is completely created, the spline will automatically create the next mesh, you can edit the resolution of your spline, as well as the length of your mesh.
You now have your spline created in Unreal, you just have to apply a material on it, I used my Main Master Shader for that, with a displace and normal map of Megascans.
Small tips, in order to add realism, use the material’s blending function, it will allow the track to blend well with the sand below.
You can now create as many paths as you want, the system is exactly the same for the radar cables, you just have to change the mesh.
The lighting here is rather simple (a little too much, that’s one of the points that I can improve in the scene). The scene here consists of main directional light as well as three spotlights which will allow certain touches of color in certain places.
I also added a sky atmosphere to add depth to the sky and an atmospheric fog to add depth to the whole scene.
Also to add, the light here is fully dynamic, using the DFAO I can have quite precise and realistic shadows, I also use the functions of the skylight and the post process to adjust all that.
A very good thing to do (which I didn’t do here) is to add a touch of light with different colors to catch the eye, like fire, an explosion or a light of one color totally the opposite to the colors in your scene.
Once your entire scene is finished, we can now move onto the finishing of lights, colors, etc.
For my part here, I used a custom LUT map made in Photoshop, it will change the contrast, exposure, saturation in order to give a better appearance to the whole. I subsequently adjusted a few parameters in order to finalize the whole.
With LUT Map:
This step is to be done with delicacy, you must not put too much value here, at the risk of distorting your scene, I advise you to ask for an opinion from an eye outside the project to help you.
Rendering and Cameras
The final part is to put your cameras down to create some interesting renderings, I am not at all good at doing camera renderings, but I have tried here to do my best. The only advice I can give you here is to try to create a general shot of your scene, and several shots of near parts that you like or that you find interesting (I used my track here for example). You should also not render too much, it obviously depends on the size of your scene, but generally, 3/4/5 renders are sufficient.
For the final screenshot, I advise you to skip the scene in 200% and to make a High-Resolution Screenshot by 2 to have the best quality possible.
I really enjoyed doing this project, I learned a lot from it, and I hope to teach you a few things from this article!
I would like to thank Games Artist and their entire community for giving me the opportunity to write this article, I am very honored.
Thanks for reading and see you soon!
Please find my Artwork here.