The Vertex Journey
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The Vertex Journey

by DavidHolley on 1 Jun 2021 for Rookie Awards 2021

Here are a pair of projects that I worked on and finished during my time this past year at Vertex School.

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Hi, my name is David Holley. For the past year, I have been learning at Vertex School as part of their Environment Artist bootcamp where I've been mentored by John Waynick, Kevin Douglas, Jacob Claussen, and Vlad Vanzariuc. They have each made it such a wonderful experience and deserve such a big shoutout.

The Medieval Courtyard

For this project, I knew I wanted to do some type of medieval courtyard. I envisoned a central fountain, with hedges framing the walkways leading to it. I began by gathering as much reference as I could. I filled several folders dedicated to different aspects needed, as well as making a couple of pure ref files for easier use.

From there, I began to block out my scene inside of unreal to get the overall layout and proportions down. As I gathered more reference, I realized my initial vision wasn't exactly working with the type of courtyard I wanted. That's when I decided to switch to more of a Cathedral Cloister. I found several floorplans and diagrams of old cathedrals which I used to finish up my blockout.

With the blockout completed, it was time to start building out the meshes for the scene. I knew the majority of the scene was going to be built out in a modular format, leaving the fountain as the only truly unique piece. Due to it's size, I decided to approach it as part trim sheet, and part unique unwrap. I built the low/high poly out in Maya, did a little sculpting in Zbrush, and finally baked and textured it in Substance Painter.

For the rest of the textures, I wanted to try out Substance Designer. I built out several tiling textures, as well as a simple trim sheet. I exposed various parameters to allow me to do some edits and create different material variations inside of Unreal using the Substance plugin.

Here are a few images to show some early iterations as I continued to work on the textures and went back to refine some of the meshes, as well as trying out a few simple lighting setups. During this time, I imported a tree and hedge mesh I bought from Speedtree simply to get a better feel for how the scene felt with foliage in the scene as opposed to the blockout meshes I had.

Originally I had wanted to model the foliage myself inside Maya/Zbrush, but it became apparent I would not have enough time to do it properly. I also decided to change up the type of foliage. Here, I turned to SpeedTree. I created some simple meshes inside Maya that fit the size and shapes I wanted, importing those to use with SpeedTree's shape controls. From there, I redid the layouts of the hedges, and added a few megascans plants between them as a stand in for future plants I wanted to add.

At this point, it was time to refine the scene as much as I could. I cut back the geo on the foliage, worked on adding more variation and decals in the scene, and modified the upper windows of the cathedral a final time. I added some simple geo to some of the modular pieces to take away the flat look they had and turned to the lighting. I played around with a day and night scene, but ultimately decided I liked the night time scene best and made that my full focus.

There are aspects of the scene I would like to improve, but overall it was an excellent learning experience that I have carried over to my current project that I am working on.

Magic Lantern Projector

For the back half of term 1, before moving on to our environment scenes, we were tasked with creating a prop using the high/low poly workflow while texturing inside Substance Painter. I decided to make an old magic lantern projector. 

I gathered as much reference as I could for various types of magic lanterns, to get a feel for the style I wanted to go with. I even found a youtube video someone had made of their journey trying to restore one they had bought. This offered excellent views of how it was constructed and more angles than I could find simply through images. From there, I built out the low and high poly model inside of Maya, UV'ed mapped and manually arranged the UV's, and prepared the mesh for baking inside Painter.

With the various bakes and necessary maps generated, it was time to begin the texturing process. I began each material with a base color, and layered on top of it using the different noises and generators inside of Painter. I used masks to help paint specific areas to try and break up the pure generated results.

Once the textures were finished, I did the final renders inside of Painter using Iray.

These are just two projects I have worked on during my time at Vertex. It has been a great experience that has taught me so much. I'm looking forward to continuing to learn new things and push what I can create further even after my time at Vertex comes to a close.


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