Saerom Youn talked about the work process behind the Middle Temple Lane project, explained how the vegetation was created, and showed how Smart Materials helped achieve the desired texture.
Hello, I'm Saerom Yoon, an Environmental Artist from Korea. I majored in Visual Design at university. I learned various topics at school but I was always interested in the environment, technology, and procedural arts. In the meantime, I found out that there is a field called game art and after graduation, I studied and became a game developer.
Making the stage of the game doesn't attract as much attention as the character in the spotlight, but I think the background work of creating a world and making it my own way is also very special.
Coincidentally and fortunately, I am honored to have the opportunity to share my know-how at 80 Level. I hope I can help you a little bit.
The Middle Temple Lane Project
I usually like to see various sceneries through Google. I found the Middle Temple Lane in England, which I wanted to make at least once, and I decided to make it.
However, as I completed the first work, I wanted to try various things, so I decided to mix multiple concepts and make one scene. So, I found several pictures that started with that composition and constructed the entire building's shape. I decided to refer to the overall atmosphere of the concept art by Vilius Petrauskas:
The goal was to complete the scene in one cut, so I could save the lump of the building rather than the details, and I made module parts thinking about versatility. These parts are not exactly the same as the actual building but they give off a sense of similarity when viewed at a certain distance.
I set the general atmosphere, but I thought it would feel empty even if I filled the density, so I decided to add one more concept with storytelling. I thought that if I put a cultivated landscape garden that contrasts with the rough mountain ridge of the first image, I could not get tired of the opposite image and it would stimulate my imagination, so I worked on it.
When there is such blockage, it is often solved by configuring storytelling. It is important to see and enjoy various references regardless of genre.
I found a concept based on the UBC Rose Garden by chance. Based on that center, I found a variety of similar references and added my own imagination to organize the layout and work based on that reference.
Referencing the concept, make a basic guide mesh with a box and assemble the parts used in the central building to make the overall side of the building. This is where the competence of the creator is most evident. It's best to learn how to assemble and which parts to use over and over again.
Overall, I worked with the feeling of looking up from the bottom, but in a certain section, I worked from the top to the bottom. The reason why I did this is that even if it's the same space, it's more visually interesting to look at it from various angles.
Vegetation & Composition
The following is an individual classification of the composition layer into which the vegetation will be placed.
There was a small garden in the building itself, which became a reference, and I collected references to grow and organize it to fit my scene. If only the main image is composed roughly, the rest can be configured by changing the main image, so it is important to hold the main image well.
In my case, since the main building is neat, I think people will visit it often, and I found a reference – the main garden that requires a lot of people's help. References to the images and my inspiration were UBC Rose Garden, the garden from the movie Edward Scissorhands, and Hitman: Sapienza – the Weeding The Garden assessment.
It is good that there are many images that I referred to but I removed unnecessary images and left only the main ones because otherwise, I could lose direction. This way, they produced what vegetables were needed for the composition.
Green: Organized vegetation for landscaping
Blue: Natural rough wood that will clean up the edges
Red: Special trees with a unique shape
Because the building is already shaped and not complicated in terms of composition, I cared about some of the props and assets arrangements around the line that looked simple. The vegetation, the largest part, is dense from the outside, the height decreases as you go inside, and the depth of the entire composition is simplified.
The landscaping trees are made with the help of Mot Studio's SpeedTree – Boxwood Modeling.
The following is the method of making landscaping shrubs and topiaries. They tried to modify it the same way they made the landscaping wood, but when they did that, the leaves would stick together only at the end. I was looking for a relatively even mesh function on the whole side, and I found out on YouTube that there was a corresponding function in 3d Max, so I tried it. The shrubs were made relatively easily because of their square shape, and they were modularized so that they could be modified and used at any time.
I prepared a model and a leaf mesh that will be roughly made into a topiary. The more detailed the silhouette of the skeleton model is in the trapezoidal shape, the better the shape. Rather than the details, I focused on the topiary silhouette. The shape is large, so if the leaves are lumped together, they divide the bones and work.
Quixel's trees were used for tall trees around the building. It is free for all Unreal Engine users, so you should try it. All the leaves and small plants in my environment were mainly processed/used in Quixel. If you want to be a professional biologist or if you don't want to learn how to make your own vegetation, we recommend using Megascans' resources to save time and focus on other tasks.
During this work, I thought about introducing various work methods. There are three main programs that I used: Megascans, Substance 3D Designer, and Substance 3D Painter. I used the Smart Material generator tool to quickly achieve the desired texture. I always start with a basic color and then add a layer on top of it. The intention was to refer to the appropriate atmosphere rather than to see the work very closely, so I did not refer to the small details and proceeded quickly.
In the process, I saw a lot of references, I put them in the engine, and if they didn't match the image I pictured, I immediately found a different source and applied it to the engine.
The rock workflow used in the engine:
Substance 3D Designer was used to create the foundation of the floor. Through this, I was able to quickly determine the shape of the image, but I realized that it was slightly different from the image I was thinking about, so I did some extra work in Substance 3D Painter.
If there's something that's a little disappointing in what came up on the internet, it's also a good idea to modify it and make it yours. This will reduce the time spent dealing with problems.
When texturing in Substance 3D Painter, my default setting was set. Basically, the maps on board have color tones, so it's hard to see the exact value, and I recommend Tomoko Studio because of its achromatic environments. You can also set the tone mapping and sRGB settings to see a viewport environment similar to the defined values of Unreal's ACES color.
For texturing, it is important to analyze what parts are needed to achieve the same feeling in 3D as in real life and to study how the material looks in the engine.
The texture itself is not special, but the way I do it is I grab a rough color tone and use the built-in Smart Material to get the details based on its tone base.
There are many technologies and workflows on the internet today. But all of them are of no use if you don't discover them. It's important to invest your time and find different ways to work, and if you don't think so, find other workflows and experiment.
For the lighting I used Lumen. Its Indirect Lighting is so good that anyone can easily create a high-quality lighting environment with a small number of lights. Only one directional light was used in this scene.
Indirect Lighting was adjusted by increasing the Indirect Lighting Intensity value in the directional light.
In the Post Process Volume, I like Chromatic Aberration because you can get images of the same quality as in movies.
In order to make bright lighting in the daytime, you have to give more directional light than you think. The brightness of the screen varies slightly from monitor to monitor, so the completed image may look different to others. For the same reason, it is also a good idea to check the image on the mobile screen.
It took about a year and a half to finish because I had some other personal projects to work on. The most time-consuming step was to find the concept and references to refine it.
I think the most helpful thing for a beginning environmental artist is to focus on looking at and finding many references that you need. Also, to imitate the references that you found and make them your own. Believe in yourself and find a workflow and practices that fit your natural skills and best.
Lastly, I would like to thank the 80 Level team for giving me the opportunity to do this interview, and I would like to thank everyone who has read it.
Saerom Yoon, Environmental Artist
Interview conducted by Arti Burton
This content is brought to you by 80 Level in collaboration with Unreal Engine. We strive to highlight the best stories in the gamedev and art industries. You can read more Unreal Engine interviews with developers here.
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