Surveillance room – Building a scene with Megascans – Neel Parekh
Hi everyone, my name is Neel Parekh and I’m a Junior Environment artist at Sumo Digital in Pune, India. I joined in May 2019 and it’s been almost 2 years now! Since then, I have been working on an unannounced title that is set to release on PS5, XB1, PC and Switch. It’s been an amazing experience so far!
While browsing through the concepts, the artwork by Antoine Boutin really caught my eye: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/EQelA. I was amazed by the lighting and the mood and thought this might be a really good concept to recreate in the unreal engine. The main goal behind the scene was to have an atmospheric scene. From the start, I was clear enough that I want it to be more “Cinematic” and less “Game-ready” as I integrated Raytracing into it.
As I progressed, my direction changed a bit from the concept and I wanted to go for a messier vibe. I wanted the scene to be grungily filled with leakages, cracks, peeled plaster flakes.
Below are my color pallet and ref board.
Asset production was really simple straightforward process. Almost all assets are extremely simple, nothing fancy or complicated. They follow simple modelling practices. I have used face weighted normal wherever I felt it was necessary. It saves a lot of time than the traditional High poly to low poly workflow. The walls are just simple modular assets with Texel density set to 10.24px/m
I have also relied on Megascans and marketplace assets to save some time. Modelling every single prop and creating every single texture just consumes a lot of time and energy which could be used somewhere else. I wanted to spend my energy on lighting, mood, set dressing, getting the holistic approach. I wanted to populate my scene with filler props like beer bottles, cans, decals, chips packets. I found an amazing pack that gave me the props I needed. I think it’s perfectly fine to use these when you’re working alone.
Texturing process was pretty straightforward too. All the props have unique textures. Walls and floor use tileables from Megascans.
While texturing props I start off with base materials and then add in the unique details. While texturing I start with creating the macro/bigger details first as it does 50% of the job, this gives the 1st pass to the textures. Later as you move ahead in project you can always go back and add more and more details. I think it’s important to stay consistent and keep on moving while creating an environment.
For the corners and edges, I wanted to reproduce the similar feeling of the concept. Leakages, cracks are just the decals found on Megascans and textures.com. The wet areas on the floor are actually the bloodstains decal! I just changed the colors and roughness value to make it look like water! Due to the leakages, the plaster turns flaky. I achieved this effect in the shader by vertex painting.
After finding the base materials in Megascans I blended them together in my own shader.
1st one being a clean plaster wall, 2nd Moldy wall and 3rd Flaked paint ceiling.
MF represents material functions. These are like a group. So instead of having all the textures of 3 different materials in a single graph, I grouped them into 3 Material functions.
MF 1 and MF2 is blended by a world-aligned mask, I can control the tiling, contrast and opacity of it. MF3 blends with these 2 via vertex painting(R) channel. In some areas, I needed to show wetness. This was done by vertex painting (G) channel. The base color from the initial output is multiplied by color and plugged into the input of the final material attribute. Roughness, in the same way, is lerped with the initial input. Both of them have green channel of vertex paint as alpha.
This helped me to achieve the look I was going for. In the same way, the floor was blended with 2 materials and the rest was done via decals.
Coming to posters I really wanted to add in the detail of being torn from the sides, over the course of time it has peeled from certain places. Here I decided to model the mesh itself and then paint out the torn part via opacity in substance painter.
This is my favorite part when it comes to environments. I believe the way props are placed in a scene tells a lot of stories. It gives the environment a back story. It answers the 5W’s Who, What, When, Where and Why?
If the place is extremely shabby, untidy, has trash everywhere it pops up questions like what has happened there? Has this place been deserted for some time? Was it not maintained?
If there is broken furniture was there a fight going on? Was there an explosion that took place?
It gives the environment a much-needed personality.
I looked at a lot of division 2 artworks on Artstaion. They have amazing set dressing and propping.
In my scene, I wanted to show that the person operating in this room doesn’t care about maintaining the place. The walls and floors have accumulated dust and gunk overtime. The corners of the room is where most of the trash has accumulated. The contact dirt near the furniture shows that it has been there for a long time. The wall plaster has peeled off from certain places indicating the wetness overtime. The walls have cracked away from the top. All the leakages and cracks were done via multiple decals.
While working in a specific area we make sure to have everything in the vicinity. Cigarette boxes, teacup, cola cans, food packets, everything is near his desk and doesn’t care to throw it away. The few cigarettes are out of the box, he even ashes them on the table. The posters have torn and peeled away from the sides. The water is flowing in the room from behind the door and the character has recently walked over it and subtle footprints helped me to achieve that feeling. The broken mesh fence, cloth at the bottom, lying cans, cardboard boxes, beer bottles, fallen table on the ground just adds to the disturbing vibe.
These are the really small details that sell the environment as a whole.
Setting up the lighting was really interesting. I am by no means a lighting artist and my setup may not be 100% accurate, but it got the mood I was looking for. Since I also wanted to be more cinematic, I cared more about getting that right mood.
The main source in the scene is the tube light. The monitor screens have an emissive texture applied to them. These are just CCTV images I found on the internet and applied them into the emissive channel.
I started off by adding a spotlight which became my primary light source. I did not want to bake the scene so I kept it to moveable. Spotlight gave a really good start but it lakes the slight burn on the ceiling.
I ended up using a point light too. The point light had extremely low intensity just enough to light up the surroundings and cast shadows turned off so that scene doesn’t get multiple shadows from the same areas.
Another spotlight was used to cast some highlights on the edge of the metal wardrobe. It was used to give a rim light effect.
A point light in the center and back of the camera was used to illuminate the foreground area and the door.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on a 3070FE card and wanted to try out raytracing for a while. I was amazed by the performance of the card!
Since I was new to Raytracing inside Unreal Engine, I first went through the entire documentation online. It’s an amazing resource.
Here are the settings I played with. Beware these are extremely heavy and only turn them on while previewing and taking renders.
While creating the scene, moving around in viewport, I set the Raytraced GI to Final gather instead of brute force, the quality goes down a little bit but the FPS doesn’t take a massive hit.
Coming to the post-production, I did my color grading inside Photoshop. I took a screengrab, adjusted levels, contrast to pop out the image. Later I exported the settings out in the form of Lookup Tables (LUT).
This method just gives me more control over the grade.
Getting the holistic approach was the main challenge for me in the scene. It probably wasn’t until the walls, ceiling and floor details. I tackled these things in the last.
The environment took about 3 months to finish working on and off along with a full-time job. Setting your goals for the project early on is really important. It can be anything from modelling skills to materials or lighting. In my case, it was lighting and showing off my environment art skills. Some of the models may not be 100% accurate but when placed in a scene it works just fine. In future projects, I may spend more time on the assets and nail them.
I would also like to give a huge thanks to the Dinusty Empire.
(https://www.dinustyempire.com/) for the great feedback!
The artists over there are just amazing when it comes to helping people!