Sewer and Misty Forest Scenes - Unreal Engine Environments
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Sewer and Misty Forest Scenes - Unreal Engine Environments

Jorge Antão
by antao98 on 1 Jun 2020 for Rookie Awards 2020

I could spend hours imagining everything that happens and happened in a space. The stories it retains and why did they happen. Whether it has had life or not, every space has its history and a reason for existing. I want to bring worlds to life, and tell stories which immerse spectators and players.

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Sewer Scene - Unreal Engine Study

After too much time postponing it, I finally decided to start learning the Unreal Engine. I was inspired by the depths in Dark Souls, the world of Hollow Knight and the sewers in DishonoredI followed a concept by Jordan Grimmer  as I wanted to focus primarily on the technical parts of the software and not worry about building a scene from scratch. The Unreal Engine is huge and I feel like I really only scratched its surface. I learned the basics about blueprint classes, materials, decals and lighting.

I started by using baked lighting, but I still need to learn more about it and get more comfortable with the engine and all the settings it offers. I ran several tests, guided by the documentation, but it is a slow process and I was starting to get overwhelmed and frustrated. With this, I got some feedback on what I had and was advised to switch to dynamic light and finish the scene, and focus on studying baked lighting with a simpler scene (just with basic geometry). Besides this, the process was pretty straightforward. Some models were made by me in Blender and textured with Substance Painter and others are from the Megascans Library.

There is still so much to learn about the Unreal Engine and everything it has to offer, but I am really excited to have built this scene and learned new things.

I started this scene with a concept of my own, but I wasn't really liking how it was turning out. Because of that I decided to follow Jordan Grimmer's concept - https://www.artstation.com/artwork/OyA92g. I like to make simple 3D blockouts and then draw and write over them in Photoshop. This helps me understand better the scene and find what I  want to communicate. It also helps with figuring out what might and might not work.

First lighting tests. Initially I was focusing on the tunnel to the right, but I changed it to the sewer tunnel.

Some of my references

Misty Forest - Unreal Engine Nature Scene

I think this is my favourite

The idea for this project came after photoscanning a tree and some wooden planks from a kid’s playground wooden hut. I used a DSLR and Meshroom and was super happy with the outcome of the scans. I cleaned them in Blender and modelled the rest of the cabin, using photos I had taken as textures.  

The hut and the photoscanned planks.

I always wanted to build a nature scene as it is something I always struggled with (and actually avoid). So, I decided to create a piece and include the hut in it – its wood is really old and mossy, so I tried visualizing a scene that would fit this look. I thought of a lonely cabin in a forest, surrounded by dead trees and with a mysterious mist floating around. It could be something taken from a traditional fairy tale, like Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel, or it could be something like The Forest or The Blair Witch Project. I started gathering references and doing some tests in the Unreal Engine. I am fairly new to it, so I first built a simpler scene just to try and achieve the general grey light that creates the mood. After having what I wanted, I started building the main level.

The simpler scene, with the grey fog. Here I played with the settings of the lights and the exponential height fog. I also started building my master materials, with vertex painting in mind. The textures are from Megascans

I quickly sketched and took notes on what I pretended with the scene. Afterwards, I went on Pinterest and looked for references that would fit the look I wanted. I imported an image I especially liked into Photoshop and drew on it. This gave me a clearer concept of what I wanted to build.

My main references. I divided them by colour and by the composition of the elements in space - the trail in the middle and the trees surrounding  it.

Progress of the scene, as I added assets and built the lights

When I had the basic scene built, I went on the Experience Points discord server and asked for feedback. There, I was told that the foreground was very dark and because of that, the path to the cabin was lost. So, I added more lights to the scene and adjusted the camera's position. I also tweaked the contrast and the colour saturation a bit.

Final detail lighting

The scene's final lights - I have exponential height fog with volumetric fog enabled, a directional light, two reflection spheres, some point lights and lots of spot lights. Most of these lights don't have shadows casting enabled. I ended up using more spot lights than I expected because I needed to light up the dirt path, which was pretty thin. All the lights are baked.

I am super happy with the result of this scene. I learned more about the engine, especially about master materials (vertex painting and landscape materials), landscape splines and light baking. I also feel like I am really progressing in terms of my lighting and composition skills, which in the end strengthen environmental storytelling.


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