Verdant Realms

Environment Breakdown

Matthias Patscheider

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Matthias Patscheider

Environment Artist

Introduction

Hi my name is Matthias Patscheider, I'm currently an Environment Artist at Remedy Entertainment.

Goals

My goal for this project was to create a small forest scene, a departure from my usual work with architecture and machinery. I wanted to challenge myself by delving deep into organic environments and foliage. Furthermore, I set the goal to create everything from scratch, not using any photo textures or scanned assets.

Realizing I couldn’t match the visual fidelity of a photogrammetry-based project with this approach, I decided to pivot the art style to leverage my handcrafted assets’ strengths.

Tools

  • Unreal Engine 5.1
  • Blender
  • ZBrush
  • Substance Painter
  • Substance Designer
  • Marmoset Toolbag (Baking)

References & Inspiration

The new artistic vision was born: “God of War meets Anthem.” What would an environment from Anthem look like if it was created by Nordic gods and men instead of having a sci-fi setting? This shift in tone guided all subsequent design choices.

Growing up in the Italian Alps, I frequently visited the Dolomites. Their natural shapes and rock formations aligned perfectly with the envisioned art style, giving me a solid foundation for landscape and vegetation design.

This is my reference sheet for the vegetation:

After deciding on the new direction, I explored incorporating huge geometric elements into the terrain.

I settled on giant rings growing off the mountains. This exploration happened after I had already worked on some of the vegetation assets.

A key challenge emerged: How to incorporate these colossal rings into the environment?

To address this, I envisioned them as remnants of ancient times, carved into the massive rock by the hands of gods or men centuries ago.
Now weathered and decayed, these enigmatic rings stand as silent witnesses to the passing of time.

The images above are early tests on how to incorporate the rings into the surrounding rock formations also testing the idea of having subsequent rings form the feeling of a tunnel.

Terrain

Let’s start with the biggest shape for this breakdown, the terrain. I drew inspiration from the Dolomite mountains with their towering cliffs and directional flow, condensing the transition from forest to exposed mountaintops to a vastly smaller area.

I sculpted the base shapes using Unreal Engine’s landscape tools.

The images above show the terrain without any props, rocks, or materials & the second image shows the Splines used to shape the terrain within UE.

A crucial tool in crafting our environment in ‘Verdant Realms’ was the Landscape Spline tool. This tool allows you to create Bézier curves with precise controls and deform the landscape accordingly. Each control point exposes parameters to adjust the spline’s characteristics:

  • Half-Width: Defines the width of the Spline at each control point
  • Side Falloff: Adjusts the sharpness of the terrain’s fall-off on each side of the spline, allowing for subtle slopes or sharp cliffs
  • End Falloff: Sets how steep the transitions should be at the beginning or end of the spline.

After drawing the spline and setting all the parameters, you can align the adjacent terrain areas to the spline at any time. Initially, I only used this block in the big shapes, later I also used it to draw some paths.

The Landscape Spline can further spawn meshes along the created paths, simplifying the process of integrating roads and rivers into the terrain. I made some tests but didn’t use them in the final environment.

Other terrain tools I found particularly useful were:

  • Ramp: This tool levels the terrain between two points, effectively creating a smooth slope.
  • Flatten: By enabling the ‘Use Slope Flatten’ option, you can expand a section of land while maintaining alignment with the existing slope. This feature is particularly effective for expanding sloped areas, which is otherwise tricky.

Having defined the shapes of the terrain, let’s now explore the material and texturing process.

Ground Materials

In my usual workflow, I would use scanned materials from libraries or conduct my own scans to capture the intricate detail and complexity of nature. However, for this project, ‘Verdant Realms,’ I had challenged myself to craft everything from scratch, including the ground materials.

This involved defining individual components that all ground materials share and creating reusable Substance Graphs for each.

These graphs are designed with adjustable parameters to tweak color, roughness, scattering, and blending, allowing for versatile stacking to build up the different materials.

Information from previous layers is passed and considered in the following layers, allowing for realistic integration of elements like scattering needles on the ground based on the underlying height.

ound materials share and creating reusable Substance Graphs for each.

The reusable Substance Graphs I developed are:

  • Ground Dirt: This layer forms the foundation of the terrain, representing the ground dirt itself.
  • Ground Rocks: Comprising small stones eroded from the surrounding rocky formations, this layer contributes to the texture and character of the ground.
  • Ground Twigs: This layer incorporates twigs and roots, enhancing the base texture with organic details.
  • Ground Moss: An essential component of forest floors, moss distinguishes itself from other ground vegetation.
  • Ground Vegetation: Featuring vibrant greenery, this layer includes grass patches and other small-scale ground vegetation. It also helps the blending with the grass assets.
  • Ground Needles (Dead Foliage): Composed of needles and cones, this layer introduces realism and a sense of natural decay to the environment.

Each type of ground material is crafted by layering these Substance Graphs.

The following video showcases how I build up the Grass material: starting with a base of dirt, I sequentially add layers of smaller rocks, twigs, moss, small vegetation, and finally, conifer needles.

While this method made it easy to generate the individual ground materials and greatly enhanced consistency across the materials, it resulted in complex and heavy Substance Graphs.

The base materials for the landscape constructed this way are:

  1. Grass: Used in grassy and overgrown areas.
  2. Forest: Rich in needles and twigs, predominantly found in shaded areas of denser forest parts.
  3. Gravel: Comprising small rocks and gravel, primarily used for paths.
  4. Ground Dirt: Bare ground with some gravel, often seen where rock meets the landscape, with little overgrowth and evidence of erosion by rain.

The following images illustrate how and where these materials were applied to the final terrain:

The blending process for the different base materials within the landscape material is straightforward, utilizing a standard Height Blend.

Additionally, I incorporated two notable features into the landscape material:

  • Global Color Overlay: I created a Material Function to add world space color variation. This system is also used in vegetation for global color variation.
  • Scattering: I used the landscape scattering tool within the landscape material to scatter grass and small rocks across the terrain. You can find further information in the Grass section later in this article.
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The terrain forms just one facet of our landscape’s design.

Other crucial elements shaping the aesthetics of our environment are the distinctive cliffs and rocks, characteristic of the Dolomite mountains.

Cliffs, Rocks and Relics

Creating the rocks and the bigger stone structures shared the same creation process. I created the high-poly meshes in ZBrush and baked them on low-poly meshes.

Crafting the realistic rock formations was especially challenging for me, given that I was trying to replicate the Dolomites’ distinctive mix of sharp and broad shapes.

I turned to ZBrush to sculpt the high-poly models. I found more success with the carved stone elements. Their shapes were more defined and therefore easier to work out for me.

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There are numerous online tutorials that offer valuable tips on selecting the right brushes and settings for this kind of rock sculpting.

A key piece of advice: Move beyond the standard brushes and use the advanced Trim brushes.

They are somewhat hidden in the LightBox of ZBrush.

I experimented with using masks to layer different materials in the Unreal Engine. Finally, I decided to apply simple texturing in Substance Painter and add the following features to increase texel density and blending:

● Detail Textures: Integrated to increase texel density, improving visual detail and realism when viewed up close.
● Material Blending: Facilitates the blending of moss or ground material onto rock surfaces based on their orientation in the world, improving integration with the terrain.
● World Space Color Overlay: A color variation technique applied globally to add additional variety and prevent noticeable seams between different rock assets, maintaining a cohesive look across the landscape.

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Relics

The portals follow the same shape language as the carved stones but further include man-made metal elements. I wanted to include these metal elements to add additional material variety to the scene. The metallic reflections are a nice contrast to the organic materials dominating the rest of the scene.

They also allowed me to further incorporate the Nordic influence and lore. I was looking for a way to marry stone and metal together for the portals. The portals pushed me to further define the lore of this environment.

Developing a plausible world requires a deeper understanding of it. Who crafted these rings, why and when were they made?

I needed to find answers to work on the smaller details for these assets.

Towards the very end, I decided to add some spears to the scene. Their main purpose was to provide more context for the scale of the environment.
They were also useful for creating arrows pointing in important directions and helping guide the viewer’s eye.

Here is the scene without vegetation.

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Having established the rugged terrain and ancient stone structures, we now turn our attention to the trees, arguably the most complex elements of our environment.

Trees

The forest in ‘Verdant Realms’ predominantly features spruce trees. In this section, I’ll delve into the detailed approach I took for their creation.

Although I initially planned to include deciduous trees, I decided to concentrate my efforts on spruce trees to refine their development further.

Iterative Design Process

The trunk serves as the foundation of a tree’s design. It must be distinctive enough to capture interest yet generic to avoid recognition when replicated. To achieve this, I focused on silhouette variation based on the view angle.

By simply rotating the trunk, one can craft a multitude of unique profiles, thus minimizing visual repetition in the environment.

I used an iterative design process, getting a prototype into the engine as soon as possible. I wasn’t limited by the shape of a scan because I made everything from scratch and could discover the ideal shapes without limitations.

Additionally, it was important that the tree trunks were designed to fit naturally on sloped terrain.

The first prototype quickly revealed several areas for improvement:

● Root Depth: The roots needed to extend deeper to accommodate placement on varied terrain, including steep slopes.
● Silhouette Distinction: A more pronounced silhouette from different angles was necessary to enhance variety using a single asset.
● Trunk Straightness: The upper part of the trunk was too wobbly and should be straightened.
● Tree Height: A shorter tree not only fits better in dense groups but also reduces the amount of overdraw when rendering the foliage.

Continuing the journey from the trunk, I began with a rapid prototype for the foliage, which was rough but instrumental in shaping the initial concept.
This prototype was continually refined, with frequent checks in the engine to ensure the final shape met my vision.

The first prototype was enlightening, highlighting key areas to focus on:

● Volume: It became clear that creating a sense of volume and density was crucial.
● Upper vs. Lower: The upper part of the tree needed a different approach compared to the lower part to prevent it from becoming overly dense with geometry.
● Dead Branches: Integrating dead branches was essential for adding realism.
● Lower Part: Given its limited light exposure, the lower part was designed with mostly dead branches.
● Branch Density: Varying the branch density based on the tree side helped enhance the tree’s shape variety when rotated. Similar to the trunk, I tried to create different silhouettes from different angles.
● Scene Composition: Care was taken to ensure that protruding branches did not disrupt the scene’s visual flow. Single branches sticking out too much can disrupt the image and create strong and unwanted visual lines.
● Shading Challenges: The fine needles of the spruce posed shading and rendering challenges, necessitating testing of different alpha textures, thicknesses, and mipmap settings.

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After several iterations and refinements, I gained the confidence to proceed with creating the final assets, details of which will be unveiled in the upcoming section.

Trunk Sculpting

Once the overall shape of the trunk was determined, I transitioned to ZBrush to sculpt the high-poly version. Given that the majority of the detail would be conveyed through textures, the sculpt was intentionally kept clean and uncluttered.

For the upper part of the trunk, a high-poly model is unnecessary. Instead, it relies entirely on tileable textures to provide the smaller scale details.

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Trunk Texture

In line with everything else in the project, the trunk textures were crafted entirely from scratch.

Although utilizing photographs or photogrammetry is a common practice for achieving realistic textures, I embraced a hands-on approach to learn the basics.

Various techniques exist to merge the tileable trunk texture with a unique base. A straightforward approach is to employ a decal skirt to conceal the transition, or alternatively, material blending can be achieved using different UV maps.

For Verdant Realms, I chose a method that relies solely on a single UV map and splits the trunk into two materials, avoiding any advanced shader effects. This technique allowed for a smooth transition from the uniquely textured portion to the tileable texture.

Inspiration for this approach came from Unity’s breakdown of their showcase demo, ‘Book of the Dead’.

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I used Substance Painter for the trunk base texturing. A triplanar projection of the pre-existing tileable material served as the foundation. Atop this, I layered finer details such as moss and dirt.

The focus remained on the broader shapes and colors, keeping the texturing process simple. Some green patches of moss and color variations help to blend it better with the terrain.

I made sure that the top part of the texture stayed unchanged to blend with the tileable upper part of the trunk.

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Tree Branches

While sculpting the branches in ZBrush, I initially focused only on healthy specimens. As the project progressed, I realized the importance of including dead branches to enhance realism.

Embracing the learning aspect of this project, I created a separate texture atlas for these additional elements.

Moving forward, I aim to streamline my approach by combining both living and dead branches into a single, comprehensive texture atlas.

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Utilizing Marmoset, I baked the maps required for the branches.

Marmoset’s capability to render various ID Maps and alpha maps proved invaluable in this process.
The texturing phase was carried out in Substance Designer and Painter, where I could add the intricate details necessary for realism.

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Lessons Learned

  • Incorporating Dead Branches: Integrating dead sections into the branches significantly increased the authenticity of the trees and facilitated a natural blend with the dead branches.
  • Non-Overlapping Branches: Designing branches without overlap proved effective for segmenting them into distinct elements. These segments can be reassembled into various combinations, adding depth and volume to the trees. This approach is detailed further in the next section on branch assembly.
  • Overlapping Branches: In the upper regions of the trees, more complex and overlapping branches proved advantageous. Being further from the viewer’s direct line of sight, these areas can support greater textural volume with less geometrical detail, optimizing both performance and visual clarity.
  • Transitioning Branch Health: Introducing areas of decay on otherwise healthy branches proved to be a subtle yet effective way to merge the living and dead branches seamlessly.
  • Large Scale Normals: The application of large-scale normals was a key technique in adding perceived depth to the branches.

Branch Assembly

The tree assembly was done entirely in Blender. To streamline the tree-building process, I crafted a versatile set of branches. Initially, these were used to construct a single tree, which then served as a reference for subsequent variations, ensuring consistency.

In reviewing my initial prototype, the necessity for depth became apparent. To achieve this, I segmented the texture into smaller pieces, which I then fashioned into various branches. These branches were integral in constructing the spruce trees.

These are the branches I used to create the different tree variations.

Tree Assembly

Utilizing the same branches across multiple trees offers a significant benefit: it simplifies the vertex painting process and facilitates the creation of Level of Detail (LOD) versions for each branch.

Similar techniques were later applied to plant assets, which utilized Geometry Nodes to apply vertex colors.

Given its effectiveness, I anticipate this method could be equally advantageous for enhancing the tree-creation process.

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Tree Variations

In creating the trees for my project, I developed several variations to suit different purposes:

  • Large Tree for Dense Forests: Designed for areas with thick vegetation, this tree has a less dense lower region due to reduced sunlight. Its silhouette changes dramatically with the viewing angle, adding to the diversity of the forest.
  • Open-Growth Large Tree: This variant resembles the iconic Christmas tree shape, with dense foliage and full exposure to sunlight from all directions. Despite its density, incorporating asymmetry and dead branches is crucial for realism.
  • Mid-Sized Tree for Transitional Areas: Akin to the first large tree but on a smaller scale, this tree fits perfectly in the spaces between the forest’s edge and its denser core.
  • Small Tree 1: On the cusp of becoming a mid-sized tree, it already features dead branches and sparse areas.
  • Small Tree 2: A young and vibrant spruce, full of life and greenery.
  • Tiny Tree: The smallest version, representing the earliest stage of growth.

Transition to Realism in Forest Environments

In developing the forest scene for this project, I embraced a fantastical and vibrant art style, choosing to depict the forest in a healthy, idealized state.
I intentionally omitted the decay and decline typically found in more realistic environments.

Creators aiming to craft a lifelike forest should be aware to represent the full spectrum of forest life, including elements of decay:

  • Standing Dead Trees (Snags)
  • Broken Trees
  • Tree Stumps
  • Fallen Trees
  • Decomposing Logs

Incorporating these elements enhances the visual depth and ecological realism, reflecting the natural life cycle of a forest ecosystem. After setting up the major assets, let’s dive into the shading techniques. Shading is key to making our vibrant and lush fantastical landscape come alive.

Tree Shading

Achieving proper shading for vegetation is a common hurdle. The foundation of effective shading lies in the correct use of custom normals.

The easiest way to achieve this is by creating a spherical mesh and transferring its vertex normals via the Data Transfer modifier in Blender onto the leaf areas of the tree asset.

Do not transfer the vertex normals to the trunk or other non-planar segments of the asset!

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In my approach, I opted for simplicity in the shader, allowing the textures to carry the bulk of the visual detail.

While I maintained certain settings for quick testing, I ultimately did not utilize features like Color Tint, Normal Intensity, and Roughness adjustment in the final scene.

In Unreal Engine, the TwoSidedSign Node is crucial for double-sided materials like leaves, allowing for both sides of your object to interact correctly with light.

It outputs +1 for front-facing polygons and -1 for back-facing. You can multiply it with your normal to get the correct result.

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Setting up Subsurface Scattering (SSS) posed its own challenges. Initially, I experimented with a color texture exported from Substance Designer but later switched to a color multiplier guided by a simple black and white mask, prioritizing the overall picture over intricate subsurface details.

Additionally, I implemented a global switch to disable SSS for all foliage, which proved invaluable for debugging and assessing its impact on the scene. I implemented this switch for all materials by using a Material Parameter Collection.

A Material Parameter Collection stores attributes that can be accessed from different materials. This allows you to change the settings for multiple master materials at once.

I further implemented a global color overlay, adding slight variation across the vegetation. It is a simple color texture overlaid in world space onto most assets and the terrain. It’s barely noticeable but still adds a slight difference.

I made it into a Material Function—a reusable segment of the shader graph that can be used across multiple materials—to use it in the plant and landscape material simultaneously.

For the color overlay texture to be effective, it is crucial that the base brightness of the overlay texture remains around a mid-tone value of 127.

The goal is to create some color and brightness variation and not change the overall appearance of the asset textures. The only way to judge the texture is by checking the result in the Editor.

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After completing our analysis of the tree canopy, let’s shift our focus to the undergrowth.

The smaller plants, crucial for the forest’s visual appearance, are crafted using techniques similar to those employed in creating the lush canopies.

Plants

I created a variety of plants for this scene including blackberries and ferns.

Textures

Starting with a rough sketch or blocking out the shapes of your texture atlas layout first is an effective approach when creating plant assets. This allows you to test whether the texture layout functions as intended.

Contrary to other modeling processes where detailing is typically the final step, in plant asset creation, you work on the detailed shapes of the individual elements early. These detailed elements are then aligned according to the planned layout. Here is the process for developing plant assets:

  • Planning and sketching of the texture atlas
  • High-poly in ZBrush
  • First vertex painting pass in ZBrush
  • Baking in Marmoset Toolbag
  • Texture Improvement in Substance Designer

These are the high-poly meshes within ZBrush—already assembled into texture atlases:

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Plant Creation in Blender

I highly recommend the tutorial “Creating Game-Ready Vegetation” by Patrick Gladys, which shows a structured approach to creating realistic plants that are mostly software-agnostic: Level Up Digital.

I want to provide more information on my process for assembling the 3D asset of the fern in Blender.

It begins by importing the textures, previously created in ZBrush, into Blender and creating cutouts of the individual elements, like leaves, manually. Here’s how I further assemble the vegetation asset:

  1. Vertex Color with Geometry Nodes: I generate vertex colors for the mesh using Geometry Nodes. This is based on the simple distance from the asset’s pivot, adjusted with a Curve node for precise control over the falloff. This step is performed before any deformation, ensuring the color gradients are accurately applied.
  2. Leaf Placement with Curve Modifier: I use curves to place and shape each leaf, utilizing the Curve Modifier for dynamic adjustment. The radius and tilt parameters of the curve are particularly useful, allowing me to rotate and scale each leaf at any control point.
  3. Flip Normal Modifier (optional): I created a simple geometry node modifier to flip the face normal if the leaf is facing the wrong direction after the curve deformation.
  4. Smooth Modifier (optional): Some of the leaves might have sharp corners when deforming them with curves. I use a smooth modifier to soften the sharp edges when needed.
  5. Data Transfer Modifier: To achieve a more organic feel on the leaves, I use a Data Transfer Modifier to copy custom normals from a dome-shaped asset. This technique helps in simulating the subtle curvature and bending of real fern leaves, enhancing their three-dimensional appearance.

Here are 2 videos showcasing the setup within Blender:

Note that the entire process within Blender is non-destructive. I instantiate the initial cutouts and apply modifiers on top without changing the base geometry. This means that I can make adjustments to the base cutouts, like changing the resolution, at any time.

This approach allows for the easy creation of LODs by creating lower-res cutouts and re-applying the modifier stack with an optional additional decimation modifier at the end.

The materials used for the plants are very similar to those used for the tree branches, so there’s no need to go into further detail here.

Here are images of the final game assets in the Unreal Engine:

The same techniques used for the plants can also be applied to creating grass assets.

While the leaves for these plants were hand-placed with splines, I automated placement for the grass card using Blender’s Geometry Nodes.

Grass

The grass was first created in ZBrush and then assembled into patches with Geometry Nodes.

Geometry Nodes enable me to control the scattering amount, assign the vertex colors for animation, and create custom vertex normals.

After creating the plant and grass assets, it is time to look into the scattering process within the Unreal Engine.

Scattering

The Unreal Engine provides different tools to simplify placing assets in the scene. The Grass Tool within the landscape material was especially useful for me.

The grass is scattered using the Grass Tool within the landscape material. I used 2 grass materials for the landscape painting. While the Grass material would only paint the material on the terrain, the Grass Scatter material would also scatter grass assets.

The Grass Tool is composed of different elements and can be used to scatter all kinds of assets, not only grasses. I used the same setup for the Gravel and Gravel Scatter materials, with the latter also scattering small rock assets.

  • LandscapeLayerSample Node: This node retrieves painting information from specified landscape layers, allowing for targeted scattering where the ‘Grass_Scatter’ layer has been painted.
  • LandscapeGrassOutput: This node allows specifying the asset scattering with Landscape Grass Types. We can define the areas the scattering is applied to. I use the information from the LandscapeLayerSample and manipulate it further with texture masks to add further variation and control to the scattering.
  • Landscape Grass Type: This includes a collection of assets to be scattered, with parameters to randomize their placement, scale, and control over density and culling.

The use of larger grass patches proved effective for vast areas but posed challenges for precise placement. Adjustments in the landscape material sometimes caused a recalculation in the scattering and change of the individual asset placement, necessitating frequent touch-ups.

This was especially annoying near pathways where I wanted precise control. Smaller patches would have provided better precision. Further, the process of creating larger grass patches appears to be outdated.

Especially with Ray Tracing, using heavier geometry instead of alpha textures is supposed to be more performant.

The grass scattering and the effect of the masks are illustrated in the following video:

After setting up the big elements like terrain, rocks, trees, and plants, we use decals to focus on small details and reduce repetition.

Decals are materials that we project onto surfaces to make the scene more varied and detailed.

Decals

I created simple decals using Substance Designer with a straightforward material setup.

A notable feature I incorporated was angle culling, which allows decals to be projected only at specific angles, preventing stretched decal artifacts.

Here is a comparison of the scene with and without decals. I removed the larger vegetation to make the differences more visible.

After adding final touches with decals, we now turn to lighting and atmospheric effects which can make or break any environment. I’m still learning a lot in this area, and it’s clear that mastering these elements is crucial for bringing an environment to life.

Effective lighting not only highlights the best features of the scene but also sets the mood and directs the viewer’s focus.

Lighting, Rendering & FX

From the start, I opted for a bright daylight setting, using a strong directional light to mimic the sun’s impact. To accentuate the mountaintop and enhance the silhouettes of selected elements, I strategically positioned additional spotlights.

Some forest areas were too dark, so I used area lights without shadows to subtly brighten them. I used Unreal Engine’s Volumetric Clouds for generating the sky along with large planes – invisible to the camera – casting shadows and providing control over specific shaded areas.

While initially planning to create art-directable cloud formations to improve the composition, I realized that this would extend the project timeline significantly, so I stuck with the simple volumetric clouds.

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To add a layer of atmospheric depth and visual interest, I implemented several natural lighting effects:

● Volumetric Fog: In addition to the ExponentialHeightFog and SkyAtmosphere, I created a volumetric fog material to specifically control the effect in designated areas. This material is applied to box meshes that can be placed anywhere in the scene.

I based the material on a tutorial by Michael Gerard, an incredible artist known for his valuable tips and tutorials on vegetation. Watch the tutorial here.

● Fog Planes: Alongside volumetric fog, I used simple 2D fog planes. These planes, which use panning noise textures, provide control to simulate fog rolling down the cliffs.

They are effective when viewed from a distance but can appear less realistic up close or from sharp angles. To address this, they automatically fade out when the player is too close or looks at them from a steep angle.

Here are example images with and without volumetric fog and fog planes.

For artists seeking to refine their rendering techniques further, I recommend checking out the tutorials by William Faucher on YouTube, which provide excellent guidance on giving projects professional finishing touches using the Movie Render Queue.

His videos can be a valuable resource for enhancing your understanding of advanced rendering techniques.

With the lighting setup complete, it’s the perfect moment to step back and review our project and assess the final steps.

This pause allows us to identify and define the final elements necessary for completing the scene.

Polish

Every project must reach a conclusion, where the focus shifts to refining and polishing the most crucial aspects. Despite the desire for perfection, it’s important to accept that some areas might not reach the envisioned standard.

After working on a project for a long time, maintaining focus can become challenging. To combat this, I often make notes directly on screenshots to keep track of necessary adjustments and maintain focus.

With the final adjustments in place, let’s shift our attention to the thoughtful composition that has been integral to guiding the viewer’s experience throughout the scene.

Composition

I crafted the main shot as if it were the opening scene of a video game. Viewers can immediately spot their objective and the beginning of the path leading to it.

However, parts of the path are obscured, suggesting that it might not be possible to reach the goal directly, and that hidden obstacles could be lurking. My aim was to emulate the depth of a vast landscape within a confined space.

To achieve this, I strategically divided the environment into various depth layers. The composition was carefully considered, with the main slope cutting diagonally across the scene and smaller counter slopes adding visual tension.

Various elements in the environment form lines that draw the eye toward the final portal, which is positioned in the areas of highest contrast.

Conclusion

Finishing ‘Verdant Realms’ was both rewarding and challenging. The freedom to explore new techniques and ideas was thrilling, though it sometimes meant wandering without a set endpoint.

This journey through uncharted creative territory was driven by a strong desire to learn, with invaluable guidance from mentors like Jeremy Huxley and Jobye-Kyle Karmaker.

I learned much about patience and self-motivation, the hard-earned discipline of returning to refine the project long after the initial excitement had waned.

For those considering similar projects, I recommend starting small. ‘Verdant Realms’ was a massive undertaking, and while enriching, smaller projects can be equally rewarding and less daunting.

Keep your goals realistic and deadlines firm. For students, in particular, completing a polished portfolio piece should take priority over embarking on a massive project.

It’s crucial to demonstrate your skills in a finished work. Having a secure job allowed me to extend my timeline without the pressure of immediate results.

This project has really boosted my skills in creating big, natural settings filled with detailed, lush vegetation. Now I feel well-prepared to tackle any large-scale organic environment projects that come my way.