29 April 2021

Thunder Bluff – Environment Breakdown – Alexander Timoshenko

aleksandr-timoshenko-1

Idea and references

I spent a lot of time in WOW and one of my favorite locations is Thunder Bluff, so I decided to rework this location in a realistic style.
I had several goals in mind with this project:

⦁ Do a full development cycle starting from idea to final picture;
⦁ Study and development of master materials;
⦁ Creating props and environment elements.

Since I didn`t set the goal to create textures myself, I decided to use textures from megascans to save time.
In addition to improving my technical skills, I also wanted to improve my understanding of composition and storytelling.

For references, I went to WOW and started taking screenshots in the game. In addition to materials from the game itself, I tried to collect extra references with similar characteristics from other sources. In my search, I was looking for typical Indian Teepee housing, various elements of the environment, and of course references from other games.

Blockout

To begin with, I made a blockout in Maya.

Blockout

With the help of references, I created a terrain topology with similar size to that from the game.
I inherited the buildings` original dimensions and added simple details to understand the general shapes better. I also blocked out the main props.
Having created the basic elements, I started exporting everything to UE4. This allowed me to see how they work together. Before exporting, I edited certain elements to correct proportions. Then I created a basic lighting setup. After finishing the blockout, I broke it up by tone.

Blockout_Color

Buildings

At this stage, I had to decide whether the buildings should be modular or unique. Unfortunately, the modular approach did not work. Therefore, I decided to make all the buildings unique.
Based on the reference the site has 6 buildings.
The hardest thing was to decide on the design of the buildings, because since in the source material the proportions are more abstract, I had to make them less so. This stage was the most time-consuming.

TimeLapse_Build_Example

The main elements of the buildings were modeled in Maya. After creating the carcass, I used Marvelous to make a simple shape for the fabric, then I exported it back to Maya, improved the topology and created UVs.
For texturing, I used tiled materials: I made a standard set of textures which consisted to of Albedo, Normal and ARM texture (A-ambient occlusion, R-roughness, M-metalness ) and when necessary added an Alpha or a Height map too.

Then I made a master material where I combined the main fabric material with a dirty version of the same material. In the green channel of the vertex paint I put a version of the main fabric material with different brightness settings to use it to paint over the edges to give them a different shade. I also added a custom detail normal for variety. Besides, I added a gradient for dirt going from bottom to top and I used world coordinates to apply a texture for a subtle break up by roughness and color. In some parts of the tent, I used the second UV channel where an alpha map was used to create a ragged tissue effect.

VertexPaint_Low

To add more detail to the building, I made mesh decals, which I turned into a trimsheet. I made several presets and broke them into 3 colors. After that I sent it to Marmoset where I baked it to a plane, and generated two maps: Alpha and RGB Mask.

RGB_Trim

In UE4, I made a simple master material using these textures. You can change the color in real time, which allows you to add variation, plus I used alpha to create varying degrees of damage.

For the final detail, I added some ropes around the building, and also made some props to add more interest.

Example_Build

Props

To save time, I only made basic props like signs, fire poles, dream catchers, and totems.
I used Maya to create Hi-poly and Low-poly models, and if necessary I used Zbrush for additional detail. Then I exported everything to Marmoset where I baked Normal and AO. I used Substance Painter to texture the props and to create the remaining maps.

Props_Hi-Low-scaled
Props_01_Hi-Low

Terrain

Standard UE4 tools were best suited for creating the terrain because it is very convenient and allows you to edit its topology at any time.
For paths, I made a simple module in Maya, with a number of sections that would be enough for smooth bends and vertex paint.

Path_module

Then I just used a terrain spline, which I loaded my module into, and laid down the spline to create paths in the places I needed.

Spline_path

I used several materials which I combined via vertex paint and added the ability to blend it with the terrain to make a smooth transition between the path and the ground.

Megascans

The reason I decided to use Megascans are the huge time savings it provides: I used props for storytelling, different textures for terrain and various types of vegetation, which thanks to the large library allows for a great variation.
An example of using different types of foliage for additional detailing and decals for the final pass.

Detail_Ground

Conclusion

It turned out to be a very interesting and complex project, a lot of time was spent on it, and perhaps in some places it affected the quality. It was challenging because I had to learn a lot of new things. Nevertheless, All the goals that were set have been achieved. A lot of things were cut, but in the end, I was pleased with the result.