The Launch – Environment Breakdown – Pawel Ptaszynski
Hello, my name is Pawel Ptaszynski. I’m from Poland but currently living in the UK. I’m a self-taught 3D artist, currently working as a 3D Prop Artist at Rocksteady on Suicide Squad. Previously, I was at Frontier Developments for over 5 years working on Elite Dangerous and Planet Coaster.
What goals did you have in mind when making the Environment?
I wanted to make something in Unreal Engine 5 using Lumen and play around with Megascans. It was very important for me to have fun while working on a personal piece, and being a big fan of near future and post-apocalyptic aesthetics, I was looking for very specific concept art. I found an amazing artist, Ismail Inceoglu, and one of his work pieces checked all the boxes.
What software did you use?
My main 3D modeling software of choice is Blender. For texturing I used Substance Painter and Photoshop for creating more specific masks etc. I used Zbrush for my boolean-to-dynamesh technique (explained here). I used Megascans for foliage, Metahuman for characters, and finally brought everything together in the UE5 Engine.
For organization and better progress tracking I used Trello. It really helped me to focus on individual work and remember what there’s left to do. I started with the concept on my secondary screen and broke it down into each element that I would need to work on, creating cards in Trello for each task. They were not set in stone and I modified them as the project was progressing.
I started by creating UE5 project with a preset landscape. I placed the sun in the correct position and added any other necessary components like Exponential Height Fog, Post Processing etc.
After finishing my Trello list and setting up my UE5 scene, I started working on gathering references for everything I thought I would need. Some things were added later, for example, wind turbines, which weren’t on the concept, but felt like a nice addition.
I planned it out so everything except the city buildings would be Highpoly modeled and bespoke textured. Some assets, like the food truck, were “force perspective” which meant they are only supposed to be seen from certain angles. For more efficient workflow, I decided to focus on the areas included in the camera shot, such as the front of the food truck. The fact that the scene was at night with a lot of shadows meant I was able to hide stuff that was never meant to be seen.
I started modeling by blocking out the buildings for the background of my scene. The buildings were split to 4 categories:
- wo massive buildings that were the key focus of the city,
- large buildings that were placed by hand in specific places,
- small buildings which I used with foliage paint in UE to populate the city,
- medium which I used to support and break the silhouette of the small ones.
At the very end of production, I unwrapped all of them and used a tileable texture to give them emissive lights and roughness response where it was visible.
Over the next couple of days, I spent my time populating the scene with foreground details. I created all the necessary blockouts from my list. My goal was to spend little time on each one, but position them accurately and with correct scale.
For the rocket launch smoke I wanted to experiment with smoke physics in blender and converting it into a solid mesh, which in hindsight didn’t work out. I was not satisfied with the result and I could just sculpt it from scratch but oh well… It worked for a blockout 😉
In addition to using the smoke physics as a blockout, I was able to re-use it as a 2d transparent texture for some of the smoke in the scene.
It was time to start gathering Megascans for the scene. I got different foliage, small and big rocks, materials for the ground, and puddles. It was a very fun step of the project and it was evolving throughout.
Progressing through the scene
Through the next couple days I slowly built various things simultaneously. I spent some time on lighting – setting up different colored lights on the left side, adding some more lights inside the city, and lighting up areas which were too dark with artificial light. For example: lower right part of the scene. At the same time, I was also adding more detail to blockout models one by one. It was time to start doing some highpoly modeling.
The food truck became the biggest asset in this scene, not because it had to be, but because I had the most fun making it. I spent a lot of time looking for references because I didn’t want it to look like any modern food truck, but like something from the ’50s. After some time I found a Russian company that was making and renting these amazing food vans.
Following the main concept and implementing my own ideas, I wanted it to look run down but still operational; flat tires indicating it was placed in this spot at some point a long time ago, but but it is slowly breaking down. I wanted it to look maintained with old and new technologies together, like the post-modern AC unit, contrasted with a futuristic power generator and waste unit. It now serves as stationary street food point. When it eventually breaks it will be left alone, with no one to clean it up.
I also wanted to add some bullet holes as this is in the middle of some old road in the wastelands, so I did quick sculpts and rendered them in blender using the Z information using this great tutorial.
AC unit, power generator, waste unit etc. each module needed some extra love so I gathered references and modeled them one by one.
For the cloth pipes I’ve used SimplyCloth in Blender.
Overall the whole asset was a usual hardsurface modeling process with retopology, Uvs and texturing in Substance Painter.
I made two LCD screens in photoshop, one showing live news about the rocket launch, and the other further in the background was just an advert. Both screens were old with dead pixels.
Finishing up rest of the models
I finished up rest of the models with typical hardsurface workflow, making highpoly for each one, baking them on lowpoly Uvs and texturing in painter.
I took the old smoke blockout and sculpted more details to make it more “explosive”
When making the city I wanted an effect of pollution and fog in the center of it. Simple point lights and procedural fog wouldn’t work because of the scale of the city (it was the size of an actual city). I did some quick tricks with gradient textures, and used a simple alpha circle texture for fog and pollution and a second texture for beam lights.
I modeled and textured a quick and simple tileable city wall texture, as I wanted to avoid plain looking blocks.
Characters weren’t the main focus of this scene, and because I’m not an character artist I was on the fence if I should include them in the scene or not. In the end I’m happy I did because they add a bit of variety. My first plan was to photoscan myself into the scene which was very exciting because I’ve never done any photoscaning before, and the idea of putting myself in a 3d scene was very cool.
After a couple of attempts I quickly figured out it was a lot harder than I thought to scan a whole human outside of a studio setting… Many different artifacts, missing geo and very long wait time for everything to calculate made me give up on the idea. I’m still happy that I tried it out because I’ve learned something new – what to do and mostly what not to do… I want to try more photoscanning in the future with smaller objects but that was the end of it for this scene.
My plan B was to use Metahumans, which came with it’s own challenges like rigging them into position. But because of Unreal Engine implementation it was quite easy to put them in the scene. Metahumans are well documented on Epic website.
One of the things that was missing for me was a road next to the food vans. After all, how did they get there? Just sitting on a desert in the middle of nowhere didn’t make a lot of sense. I grabbed a material from Quixel Bridge of an old road, created a simple mesh and used UE spline to put it in the desired space.
Using a spline I created and added some wires running on the ground through the food vans somewhere out of camera.
All that was left to do is to place cameras for different shots for Artstation and tweak Post Processing and minor placement of assets. Foliage and other elements was an ongoing process throughout. I was often taking screenshots of daily progress and self-reviewing them by looking at each element.
Thanks for reading this article and if you want to check out more of my work and future work here’s my Artstation page https://www.artstation.com/pawel_ptaszynski
Feel free to send me a message if you have any other questions about the process of making this scene!
Thanks to all my friends and colleagues who were giving me feedback when creating this UE scene!
And special thanks to my wife for her feedback and taking hundreds of photos of me for photoscan that didn’t work out 😀