The Ruined Church

Environment Breakdown

Ju Jinhwan

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Ju Jinhwan

Junior Environment Artist

Introduction

Hi everyone, I'm Ju Jinhwan, a Junior Environment Artist in South Korea. I've been studying Environment Art for the past year and a half, and I'm in a position to start my career recently.

Personally, I'm very interested in constructing the atmosphere and level of the game, and I'll be passionate about learning and growing a lot of different skills for realistic expression in a virtual environment.

Overview and Goals

‘The ruined church’ is my third personal game 3D environmental project.
Before I started this project, I had main goals for this project:

  1. I wanted to study natural materials such as rocks and old broken stones.
  2. I also needed the experience of making statues into high poly modeling.
  3. I want to experience building gothic architecture of huge size. So I chose a 2D original artwork containing an old ruined church and reconstructed the environment scene based on it. And I focused on showing the dry atmosphere of an old church in the Alpine region.

Software

  • Unreal Engine
  • 3DS MAX
  • Zbrush
  • Substance 3D Painter
  • Substance 3D Designer
  • Gaea
  • PureRef
  • Megascans

References and Inspiration

I was thinking of finding a combined image of a ruin and a church.

Since there was no image of a broken church as much as I wanted, I searched for the image from the beginning, thinking about how broken and expressed the building would be.

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Sketch and Blockout

As I started working on blockout, I recognized that balanced arrangement and composition are really important in 3D artwork. While expressing the outside and the inside at the same time, the scene should be composed to achieve the goals.

I had a plan the outside of the building was composed of rocks, trees, and assets such as broken stairs, and the inside of the building was intended to be composed of statues.

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Church Exterior Modelling

Before constructing the broken church, I wanted to create a complete church building. I designed complete church modules and later produced only the connecting parts of each module to assemble the broken church.

The task of composing modules for a massive structure was entirely new to me, and it wasn’t an easy process. I first undertook the task of determining how to divide the structure into different modules.

I proceeded to model the entire church building, contemplating what the repeating modules were and how they would come together.

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After planning the overall structure of the church, I proceeded with the work step by step, focusing on one module at a time.

Within each module, I determined which parts should be textured with tiling textures and distinguished where high-polygon textures should be used.

I then proceeded with the work based on these considerations.

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I combined architectural elements using tile textures for buildings and unique high-polygon textures for decorations, gradually completing each module.

Afterward, I assembled the finished modules into a complete church model.

Church Stone Tile Materials

To construct the expansive walls of the church building, I created three stone tile textures and blended them. The tile textures were sculpted using Zbrush, and I utilized Substance 3D Painter for the texturing process.

I structured the material nodes using ‘Linear Interpolate with Height Map’.

After using tile textures, I created several low-poly stone meshes to represent the stone wall more three-dimensionally.

I strategically placed these stone meshes on extensive surfaces and corners to avoid monotony in the depiction.

Church Roof

The roof representation was also carried out similarly, creating tile textures and meshes.

For the roof mesh, I additionally created a texture with a dirty appearance and blended it using vertex painting.

Church Structure Props

Next, for the key structural elements of the church, I made an effort to express details through high-polygon sculpting in Zbrush.

I modeled Structure props such as the ground-floor pillars, arch structures, and windows, considering how they would appear when broken or damaged.

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The ground-floor pillars are among the models that need a significant amount of effort.

To create various scenarios, I sculpted them in multiple versions. For the sculpting process, I primarily utilized brushes such as Claytubes, TrimSmoothBorder, and TrimAdaptive, which are commonly used for general stone sculpting expressions.

After high-polygon sculpting, I constructed the low-polygon model using the decimation feature in Zbrush and the Pro Optimizer modifier in 3DS MAX appropriately.

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After the unwrapping process of the low-polygon, I proceeded with high-polygon baking and texturing in Substance 3D Painter.

Personally, when it comes to representing stone textures, I believe that blending various tones using Grunge Maps is an effective way to enhance visual density.

Maintaining uniform brightness and saturation when blending various colors is crucial for harmonious representation.

Additionally, it is advisable to be cautious not to deviate from the intended target tone as colors mix. Personally in this work, even as multiple colors blend, I aimed to preserve an overall yellow hue in the final result.

Furthermore, to ensure that the sculpting details are portrayed in Zbrush, I added edge expressions during the texturing process.

The material created in this way was repeated for the structures of other churches afterward.

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Church Broken Floor

The broken floor of the church needed to be naturally represented by combining previously created tile textures and high-polygon models in a composite manner.

When creating the structural modeling of the church’s floor in 3DS MAX, I also made their broken form.

For the broken sections, I specified broken surface tile textures instead of brick tile textures and imported them into Unreal Engine.

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I expressed the broken sections naturally by placing previously created brick meshes and decals on the broken surface in a composite manner.

I applied the same approach to represent broken sections for other types of walls.

Rock and Tree Modelling

Next, the case of natural object modelling was a challenging point I needed to study from the beginning.

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I began exploring various rock sculpting works to select the rock forms I wanted to express. I wanted the rocks with a round and flat feel when viewed on top, and bumpy texture in detailed representation.

Notably, Diablo’s 4 references provided significant inspiration for sculpting. For the largest rocks placed prominently in front of the church, I made efforts to sculpt it to use in various ways.

I focused on using the TrimSmoothBorder brush for sharp edge expressions and crack expressions.

All of the process became a valuable learning experience.

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For texturing, I aimed to express the rugged feel of the rocks using a variety of tools such as Smart Mask and Grunge Map.

Considering that the rock would be flipped upside down for utilization, I refrained from using Weathering expressions (depicting dirty ground or accumulating dust) to differentiate the top and bottom surfaces.

For other rocks, I created additional forms to seamlessly connect with the ground.

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For tree modeling, I wanted to experience sculpting without using vegetation software.

Tree branches were expressed using the SnakeHook brush, and I actively utilized Dynamesh and Activate Sculptris Pro features to shape the form.

Detailing the surface of the tree was done using the TrimSmoothBorder brush and the distinctive deep lines of the tree were expressed using the DamStandard brush.

For large-sized trees, expressing numerous branches as a single connected mesh was challenging.

Therefore, in 3DS MAX, I created small branches separately and then attached them appropriately to the large tree.

Additionally, after baking the high-polygon in Substance 3D Painter, I made slight adjustments in 3DS MAX to refine unnatural parts of the tree branches.

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The completed natural elements such as rocks and trees, as well as vines, were arranged in the scene, adjusting their directions and sizes to blend naturally.

Efforts were made to place them within the framework of the previously planned sketch, ensuring they harmoniously fit without deviating from the intended composition.

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Statue Modelling

The sculpting of statue models, which I worked on next, was also an element I wanted to study even before starting this project.

I referred to various tutorials to learn about sculpting expressions for human statue representations and texture detailing for clothing.

I made efforts to internalize and incorporate these techniques into my work. It was a valuable time for studying the representation of clothing textures through sculpting, without depending on other garment high-poly modeling programs.

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The statue of an angel with wings, in particular, was the most significant statue modeling in the project. Analyzing a reference angel statue, I initially worked on distinguishing the intricate layers of the clothing.

Following that, I defined the pose based on the human form. After clearly separating each part, I progressed by sculpting the details one by one to complete the sculpture.

For the representation of the human body, I aimed to model it clearly by gradually removing parts covered by clothing.

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While sculpting the human figure and clothing, I made an effort to adhere to two tips that many seniors emphasize. Firstly, maintaining a lower subdivision level while depicting the major flow of the sculpture and details is recommended.

Secondly, for modeling where the flow is crucial, such as clothing, it is beneficial to reconstruct the shape following the flow using features like ZRemesher, rather than simple and uniform reconstruction with Dynamesh.

In terms of clothing detailing, there’s still much room for improvement, but if I were to share a personal tip, using the Standard brush for detailing proves to be more effective than expected.

Additionally, adjusting the thickness of folds with the Pinch brush is convenient.

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Next, the wing modeling was more challenging than anticipated. Initially, I worked without foreseeing the issues with low-polygon construction.

Because the feathers of the final shape were spaced apart, creating a retopology would be nearly impossible. During the rework, I modeled around three variations of feathers and densely arranged them to form the wing shape.

Additionally, since I wanted it to be modeled on both sides, I crafted it with reflection in mind, ensuring it could be constructed with two sides.

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The completed wings were attached to the statue model, undergoing a transformation into a naturally curved shape during the process.

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After creating the high-polygon model, I proceeded with the process of generating low-polygon geometry. I believe that as the complexity of the shape increases, careful planning for creating low-polygon models becomes crucial.

Observing the overall shape, I grouped elements that could be consolidated into a single low-polygon model while separating those that needed to be distinct.

This process helps reduce the inconvenience during the unwrapping phase and can save time. Similar components were grouped using the Dynamesh function, and then I constructed mid-polygon models for low-polygon generation using the Decimation function.

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I configured appropriate low-polygon geometry from the mid-polygon using the Pro Optimizer feature in 3DS MAX.

Following this, I proceeded with the unwrapping process and prepared for transfer to Substance 3D Painter.

Since the winged angel statue was exceptionally large in size and a crucial element in the scene, I utilized more textures than usual.

I carried out the unwrapping process, considering the use of a total of 4 texture sets.

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Aligned with the division into four texture sets, I baked the previously separated four high-polygons in Substance 3D Painter.

Following this, I concluded the work by carrying out the statue’s texturing based on the existing scene color tone.

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I followed a similar process for the other statues as well.

However, for these statues, I used one or two texture sets depending on their size.

World Asset Placement

While placing various assets in the scene, I devoted considerable thought to configuring spaces that guide the flow.

I aimed for a smooth connection between the exterior and interior of the church, not only visually but also in terms of level design.

Focusing on guiding from the entrance where the player first enters the scene to the church, I strategically placed assets along the path.

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At the entrance pathway to the church in the scene, I positioned rocks serving as walls to visually express a dramatic change.

Turning around the rock corner reveals the church, providing spatial interest.

I consider the variety of spaces, such as corners, hills, narrow tunnels, and squares, to be crucial in level design and spatial arrangement.

These diverse spaces, when flexibly connected, evoke curiosity about the next area. In this regard, appropriately concealing or opening up the environment is an essential element.

Even on the pathway leading up the stairs to the entrance of the church, I carefully designed the flow using assets.

Despite the complexity of the ruins, I made efforts to make the visual guidance for the path clear.

Lighting

Balancing the lighting for both the interior and exterior posed a significant challenge.

Fixing the absolute exposure values led to a situation where the brightness difference between the interior and exterior was too big, requiring compromises on one side.

To solve this, I set up the engine to automatically adjust exposure values within a certain range, allowing for relative brightness adjustments.

Despite this, emphasizing the brightness for the exterior often resulted in the interior appearing relatively dark.

Therefore, artificial lighting expressions were heavily utilized to achieve the desired brightness levels inside.

Foliage, Wind, Particles

For foliage, I was able to easily and effectively depict swaying grass using the built-in SimpleGrassWind node in Unreal Engine.

Additionally, with vertex color on meshes, I could conveniently adjust the wind weight, making the process more manageable.

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Furthermore, using presets from the Niagara system, I could easily create the effect of small grass wind particle.

By placing particles for dust, grass, and candle sparks, I was able to create an overall atmosphere of dry, windy conditions.

Rendering and Presentation

When starting this project, I had plans to render and edit a video sequence. Utilizing the Sequencer feature in Unreal Engine, I made an effort to showcase the entire scene in an effective manner, incorporating simple camera animations.

Here are a few tips: when applying camera movement animations, you can use the built-in CameraShake blueprint in the engine to achieve a simple yet realistic and effective shake.

Additionally, when moving the camera, focusing on one main subject in each cut makes the visual storytelling clear and effective.

After configuring both the camera and cuts, I used the Movie Render Que feature to render the sequence. Later, using Premiere Pro, I added some color grading and music to create the final presentation video.

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Conclusion

Personally, it was a project filled with considerable challenges and difficulties from the beginning, but fortunately, it became a portfolio that I could be satisfied with.

I can learn a lot from the various difficulties in all of the processes, and studying tutorials from experienced professionals in the industry helped me enhance my skills.

This project has also provided me with valuable opportunities to kickstart my career, for which I am grateful. Although I recognize that I still have much to learn, I have developed a greater passion for game 3D environment art.

I want to express my gratitude to those who have taken the time to read my article, and I extend my thanks to the ‘Games Artist’ who provided me with the opportunity to write this article.