Saturday, 21 April 2018

Rusty Springs progress! - Environment Art Process

Hi again!

I've been busy tinkering away on the springs environment inside Unreal Engine. I have some other paintings from Life Drawing too and some other random things but I will cover all of those in another post. :)

For the environment, progress has been steady. I can only really work on it on certain days during the week but I'm gradually figuring out how I'm actually going to construct it.

Setting up the scene

The last update I provided was a basic introduction to the concept for the scene, I have since fleshed out the design, working specifically on developing the mood of the overall scene. For this I created a 3d blockout (greybox, whitebox, blockmesh, whatever you want to call it) which I then painted over the top of in Photoshop.

Blockout of the scene, created some simple placeholder meshes just to establish all the key forms. 

As you can see above I also got distracted and created some basic water/waterfall shaders... I really like making water materials ok!  It helped anyway, since I would have a good idea where the water in the scene would be and how it would react to light.

I also added some volumetric fog. For context: in a cave with a spring (and lots of water) there would be a lot of moisture in the air, the volumetric fog helps to simulate this. The values of the fog had to be tweaked quite a bit (and it's still being tweaked now) It really helped to add a lot of depth to the scene as without it the scene lacks the atmosphere an environment like this should have. 

Figuring out the best composition

From this point onwards it was a process of going back and forth between 2d and 3d, figuring out the details of the composition and what shots I wanted to focus on. 

I taken the shot above into Photoshop and analysed it's composition so I could make some changes to improve it. The main thing that the image needed was string guiding lines, which could be exaggerated with the flowing water. I also doodled in some pipes in the top right corner of the image to reinforce some of those guiding lines, making the composition even stronger.

I received a piece of feedback about the figure being a bit too hard to see, so I reduced the fog a tad and changed some of the background values to compensate for this.

After doing this however, I happened upon a more zoomed in shot of the figure which I liked quite a lot; the main reason I thought it was better was because I could create a lot more detail for a more zoomed in scene. I could focus on the more zoomed in shot and then later if I feel like it, I could expand the scope of the project to include the shot above.

Closer, zoomed in shot of the statue/figure. I prefer this a lot to start with, as I can potentially spend a lot more time adding details upon details to this smaller area.
Another shot from a slightly lower angle. Concerning the water materials: I will go into those properly in their own post at some point, when they are closer to being done, as otherwise this post might stretch on a bit too far. :)

Main 'Mood' Concept

Before actually moving onto painting over the shot straightaway, I first created another little reference board containing some more style references for different things I would like to include. This was more for the actual style of the painting rather than then content as much, although I did have a few references for how I could like the metal and rocks to look and such.

Some notes about what I wanted from the scene at this point:
  • The rocks need to look quite chunky, yet sort of soft, this would be natural anyway because of water erosion and the like.
  • Moss and layers of foliage would be extremely important, especially close to the water.
  • The image in the bottom left of the reference board seems to glisten because of the water, the moss and rocks also blend in quite nicely with the water and everything else. It just feels natural and pleasant, a feeling that should be conveyed as much as possible.
Anyway, here was my first work-in-progress on the painting: 

I started this by replicating the process used for some Gouache paintings (the medium used for the background paintings in the Studio Ghiblio animations) This process was to lay down a wash of a warm, saturated colour, that could bleed through subsequent overpaints, using this technique allowed me to paint blues and greens (which can look sickly if done wrong) that still appear to have some warmth and glow due to some increased colour contrast.

The iteration of the image above needed some work, primarily on the figure. The original intention was to use a rusted metal on the figure (The rusted horse sculpture from the reference board was being used as the inspiration) but using this made the figure look way too orange. A different look was needed.

Process of the painting - roughly shows the buildup of layers from the initial blockout, to the colour underpainting, to the background paint and then finally the figure and image correction.

The image was posted online to get critique: to arty friends, to non-arty friends and to some discord art critique threads. Everybody I talked to agreed with me in saying that the figure was too orange. I was recommended to look more at how metals and rust are done in the Ghibli work's themselves. Here is a list of some of the other feedback I received:

  • Rust is too even, try to vary the density of it and localise it more to the areas where it will be more likely to appear. (Around joints, closer to water surfaces. Also rust depends on the minerals present in the water and the type of metal, so more research would have to be done to make it look correct.
  • Maybe mix stone and metal for the statue, would give it more defined look.
  • Was encouraged to look at the environment design for the Anime film: Origin - Spirits of the Past, was pretty interesting and has some very lovely painted metal in the backgrounds.
  • Increase the canvas size at the bottom to give the image a bit more breathing room.
  • The figure doesn't have too much of a purpose, the 'story' of the figure needs to be thought about so I can work out the design better. 
The last one is probably the most important of all the points, as otherwise the entire image does not have a point. I had a rough idea of what I wanted when I started the project but more needs to be done to make sense everything. 

To contextualize the Figure I created some notes on the backstory, the whole environment plan is in the Evernote link but essentially I want the statue to act as sort of guardian of a water temple below, keeping an eye on the environment incase anybody uninvited try and break in.

Evernote environment planning: Linky Link

'Final' Painting - this is as much as I'm willing to do with the painting at this stage, as I want to alter the design of the figure quite a bit. It would be easier to iterate on the figure in it's own series of images, rather than get distracted by the rest of the mood painting.

3D Work

After this I began the concept of fleshing out some of the background assets and blocking in some of the main rock forms in more detail. For this I used Zbrush to sculpt, XNormal for baking and 3d coat for texturing (Which I just bought properly) 

PLUS! I got some awesome links to tutorials for rock sculpting from my friends: Zhane James-Marshall and Dan Burgess which helped a lot hammer down my process. Listed them below for peoples convenience:

Below is the sculpted rock, baked out in Xnormal along with a screenshot of the rocks placed into the scene.

Rock Sculpt, baked out and displayed in Unreal Engine.
Rocks placed in scene, some extra mesh work has also been done on the base. But all the rocks in this scene now are the sculpted ones.
At this stage some different/smaller rocks need to be added to break up some of these shapes, because some parts of the image are starting to look a bit too chunky. First though, I wanted to try some texturing and another lighting pass, so I can bring the general feel of the environment closer to what it is in my concept image. 

It's all about the broad strokes! :D

Then I painted the rock in 3d coat as a bit of a texturing test. Will probably go back and cover the texturing process in another post. But I ended up with this to start with:

Current Stage!

And this is the current state of the scene! I recorded it in OBS because I added some basic environmental sounds nicked from the Effects Cave and the Reflections example projects created by Epic Games to just make it feel a bit more immersive.

It's starting to come together quite well now, just need to keep chugging along! :D

Feel free to leave feedback/ask me any questions about my work in the blog comments or you can email me. :) (Email is in my contact page.)


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