Environmental Art: Concept to Execution Part 2

Last week we had a look at whiteboxing out the major details of our level.  We then brought that mesh into a 3d package and started to refine the meshes.  Today we’ll look at bringing them back into the game engine and replace all the primitives with some refined models.  I’d call this the medium detailing portion of the level, so things like structural supports and landmarks should all be placed with first pass meshes and materials.


The modeling process at this point is nothing too complicated.  Simple shapes and basic texture sheet for a majority of the assets.  As you can see on the prop screenshot I try to keep things modular as possible, this way I can try different looks out by piecing parts together.

I decided to have a couple unique sculpts in the level, the gold statues and the archway.   The statues were inspired by Dr. Who’s Weeping Angels.  I wanted to give a bit of elegance to the scene but also the feeling of despair and mystery.  I’d have to thank Caylen for giving me the idea as I was completely stuck for ideas.  This is a great point in the project to have some fresh eyes on your scene for new ideas and different takes on what you are working on.

Zbrush was primarily used for the arch way and statues.  The process I went through was blocking the forms out with Zspheres and just hammering away at it with Claytubes, TrimDynamic, DamStandard.  I also did the retopo in Zbrush for the low poly geo and baked them out in xNormal to get the final result.  I have not done a character in about 10 years so I’m pretty happy with how they turned out.  Unfortunately the second statue ended up being cut from the scene.

After the models are in there I take a quick pass at materials.  The marble and gold has a cube map applied to give that nice reflective look, the props also have proper normals / spec with lots of variables that I can play around with.  I wanted to overdo everything at first, really pump out the reflections, spec and normal.  I tend to do this at first and then tone it back down later, initially the look I wanted was something fantastical, bright and shiny.

I have a base shader that serves as the root of all my materials.  Everything is exposed so I can control them with real time results using MaterialInstanceConstants.  This really speeds up iteration on materials as you are developing textures.  One thing I learned about having so much control, is you end up sitting there tweaking sliders around all night, only to end up back at square one.  So in this case it’s really important to have a good vision of what you are trying to achieve with the material and view it from the point of view of the player and don’t go zooming in 500% like I did :) .

Now that is all taken care of, we go back in and recompose the scene with our new props and try some different lighting variations.  Just playing around with light shafts, some different colors in the lighting and bloom.  I am not sure just what kind of mood I want to convey just yet so keeping things loose with new camera angles and color tints.

As you can see I started to block out some rocks on the top and gold trim around the floor.  Next up is going to finer details of the scene.

Victor Kam teaches Level Design at VFS Game Design