Zurab Barisashvili shared the workflow behind the Mysterious ZB Inn project, talked about getting acquainted with Substance 3D Designer, and told us about the difficulties with lighting in Unreal Engine 5.
Hey there! I'm Zurab Barisashvili, a 3D Environment Artist with over 7 years of professional experience in the game industry. Since the last article, I have been actively working on improving myself and my art, learning new things and techniques, especially the new Unreal Engine 5.
This project was great fun and educational experience, and today I would like to share all that I've learned with you!
Let's start with inspiration, I had been actively looking around ArtStation, Pinterest, and Google, gathering some references that I thought were interesting and inspiring to me, until I came across Shawn Ma's artwork "Suburban Inn". Right from the get-go, I was inspired, it was so perfect, yet I could add so much of myself into it, that I knew I had to do it.
The Mysterious ZB Inn Project
I started out with blocking out the shape for the building, I knew that getting the perspective would be the toughest here, so the way I proceeded with it was to take my base blockout shape of the building, throw it into Unreal Engine, and set up the camera there with the settings to match the perspective on the given concept. That helped me a lot since I could just do any changes and quickly check how close or off I was in Unreal Engine.
Eventually, I ended up having the base of the house as one object, where I vertex painted some details in, and the other details you see were modular with a bit of vertex painting as well to give them more of a unique feel.
Going into this project, I knew that I didn't want to make yet another lush green scene, I wanted to do something different, thus you can see the overall warm look that I aimed for. I also knew that I wanted to fill the scene and not just make the building on its own, so right from the get-go, I was already thinking about background, foreground, and middle ground, overall composition, and how I wanted to approach all of it.
A big part of the project was vegetation, such as grass, trees, ivies, flowers, bushes, etc. So I had to make sure they looked good and cohesive with the rest of the scene.
An important part of this project was me picking up Substance 3D Designer and getting properly acquainted with it. I had a few courses in my library, which helped me to get a lot of knowledge in a short period of time. When thinking about texturing, I knew that I wanted to do something very close to the concept color palette and to have it visually intact in a way. Thus I decided to use tileable textures in combination with vertex painting. To my surprise, Substance 3D Designer was quite intuitive, and in a few days' time I was already coming up with ideas and ways to make materials myself.
In general, I like my scenes to be dynamic and in motion, it's just a personal preference. I think that it adds a certain depth and atmosphere into the environment and really brings life to the whole scene.
So I knew that everything would be moving but I didn't want it to look just wobbly and simple. I wanted to really get a feeling of wind blowing through the scene and at the same time I wanted the effect to be done with materials because I knew it was possible and I wanted to learn how to properly do it.
I ended up combining a few tutorials that I found online into one and made this controllable material that gave the wind feeling to all the vegetation in the scene.
As I mentioned before, I really wanted to harness the power of the new Unreal Engine 5, thus I was completely concentrated on the new features and tools it had. The lighting setup was quite similar to Unreal Engine 4, but there were a few differences when it came to adjusting the light and setting it up the way I wanted for the scene.
Sometimes, in the Early Access 2 version, light tends to have weird lighting artifacts in some places, which was the case with this scene in two situations.
The first was at the entrance's corner – since it was badly lit, I guess the lighting couldn't calculate the spot properly, so it would leave a completely blacked-out spot. I tried a lot of parameter-tweaking in Directional Light, but nothing was fixing it, so the way I ended up working around it was playing around with the Sky Light setting which was using an HDR Map. Turns out, it was a great way to fix a lot of errors like that.
The second light error that I encountered was on my vegetation materials. Since they were double-sided, for some reason light couldn't be calculated properly on the backside. The solution to this that I came up with was to add an emission texture multiplied with very little value, and it got rid of that weird dark black lighting and also gave a nice stylized look that I was aiming for to the vegetation.
One thing to keep in mind about Unreal Engine 5 is that some of the post-processing doesn't work with it, so what I did was test out a lot of lighting variations and settings. On top of that, in the end, I just did some color grading (which should not be underestimated) from post-processing, which gave the result that I was looking for.
Here is the advice I want to give to those who are reading this. Don't be afraid or hesitant to make a big change or switch something up drastically, it can end up being the best change for what you're working on. Just save what you have, make a duplicate file, and go crazy with it. It's worth the time and effort!
Look for the answers to the questions you have (this might seem obvious, but a lot of people I know hesitate to do it). if you're unsure or don't know something, look it up, someone will know the answer.
Go deep into what you're doing, think how it works, what the moving gear behind it is, what the logic is, etc. This way of thinking helps a lot in learning new software, pipeline, or whatever it is because you always notice similarities and dependencies, which makes it way easier than going into it blindly.
And the last tip. When you're working on a project, make sure you get as much feedback as you possibly can from others, it is crucial for making a good piece. I was fortunate enough to receive a lot of feedback on this project from my good friend Rene Gorecki.
On this note, I want to thank the readers and thank 80 Level for giving me another opportunity to share my knowledge.
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