Real-time environment, Lighting and Look-dev Demo reel

Real-time environment, Lighting and Look-dev Demo reel

Tristan Tri Nguyen
by Andrew Sol, Anna Roan, Bijay Chudal, Hilly Chua, Ian Harvey, Jessica Beckenbach, Joanna Hardman, Kien Huynh, and tristantringuyen on 1 Jun 2020 for Rookie Awards 2020

My artwork during my MFA Visual effects at Savannah College of Art and Design.

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Round of applause for our sponsors

Hi! My name is Tristan Nguyen (Vietnamese name: Nguyễn Trần Minh Trí) and I am from Hochiminh city, Vietnam. I am a current graduate student in Visual Effects at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). My passion is art, drawing, music, dancing, fashion, and photography. I also love Vietnamese traditional art and  I have an ambition about establishing a visual effect studio in Vietnam producing beautiful cinematography with special effects movies of Vietnamese fairy tales. I hope that I can bring Vietnamese culture to the world. Here are some projects I did during my study at SCAD. Check it out!

1. Redefine Obstacles

This is a teamwork project to research, conceptualize, and develop creative solutions for ten weeks of design challenges car commercial in Unreal Engine. My teammates are Anna Roan (Modeling + Lighting), Jessica (real-time FX), and Ian(real-time FX), who are very talented and hardworking. My contribution to this project is Look Dev, Texture, Concept, HDR, and Directing the Live-action footage.

Software used: Unreal Engine, Maya, Substance Painter, After Effects, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator.

We kicked off the project and started researching ideas for pitching. I accidentally ran into a picture of the pinball machine. As a lighting artist, I love how beautiful the lighting, graphics, and effects of pinball. It would be cool to have the car run inside a giant pinball playfield. We shot the live action at the Portal Arcade in Savannah, GA, USA. 

In order to match ambient lighting between the CGI environment and on location, I took HDR using camera gear 360 with exposure range and merge them with Photoshop.

I  did some research about the pinball machine that we chose from the live-action footage. I found out that this machine is called AC/DC Luci Vault Edition 2018, featuring one of the most famous bands - AC/DC and a beautiful character named Luci. Because of limited time, I couldn't recreate the whole set of this beautiful design pinball machine so I picked up some details from the reference photos I took from the arcade and noted which detail I want to take inspiration from, especially lighting and textures. 

After breakdown the reference photos, I designed the Playfield textures using Photoshop and Illustrator, then placing the animated decals made by Anna Roan. I also tweak some lights to match the vibe from the live-action footage. We purchased the car model from a 3d website. The screenshots below are from during work in progress.

In order to control textures, I created Material Asset master control. This master control can help me making material instance, creating parameters to control value, reviewing results interactively, and It's much cheaper than creating material for each asset. Base Color is set up with :

- Texture Coordinate: control the U and V tiles of the textures.

- Toggle Base color by Switch node: Option to use color or texture for Base color

- Hueshift : Hue value

- Contrast and Desaturation.

For the final render, I adjust the ExponentialHeightFog, DOF, Post-production effects such as Lens Distortion and Chromatic aberration, color grading,  Implementing Motion graphic and Sound.

2. Honey Bee

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.” - Albert Einstein.

Insects are the most numerous and diverse group of animals, and they represent more than half of all known living organisms. However, they are usually very small and can only be observed under a magnifying glass or through a macro lens. While there are millions of different species, humans rarely appreciate the beauty and the importance of insects.

A huge number of insects are in danger of extinction as a result of deforestation and pollution caused by mankind. If humanity understood the beauty of these creatures, there would be more effort to preserve them. Visual Effects techniques such as Creature Design and Look Development can construct realistic but appealing visuals of those critical species and enhance human appreciation of their existence. This allows mankind to take a more favorable view of critical and vulnerable creatures that are usually ignored or found repulsive.

There are about 20000 thousand bee species in the world, but choose Honey Bee in my project because I admire their complex society, they constantly communicate, cooperate and devote themselves to the survival of the hives. The more I learn about Honey bees, the more amazed I am because they have existed much longer than man and they have evolved sophisticated structures. 

After study macro photography, SEM ( Scanning electron microscope) photo and anatomy, I sculpted the Honey bee in Zbrush, Retopology, UV, Grooming in Maya, Texture in Substance Painter.

In order to understand these details, I looked upon the SEM (Scanning electron microscope photography) photos of the bee. Some of the details I sculpt manual with Dam standard brush, the other one I created with Surface function, and alpha brush for making the organic skin patterns.

 I create 2 new versions of retopology:

-   Low topology with about 27000 polygons: for weight skin faster.

-   Medium topology with about 80000 polygons: as the export file to Substance painter and Unreal.

The reason why I created 2 versions is it's faster to do weight skin on the low poly and transfer it to the medium poly. In Unreal, there's no "press 3" adding Sub Division level and if using tessellation for a similar effect in the material settings, the poly count is also increasing in the engine.

I created a base warm brown color, then adding additional diffuse layers with a darker and lighter variation. I also generated the roughness maps and dirt in order to achieve more realistic organic skin. For the wings, I added the Opacity layer to make them translucent. Next step I will add some Subsurface scattering to achieve color variation details. I used Xgen Interactive groom to set up description nodes for each group of body parts based on the hair similarity.

I sculpted the Almond Flower in Zbrush and textured it in Substance Painter. I started to design the almond field in Unreal. I sculpted the terrain, later I will add plants, grass. The almond tree is from Speedtree. 

Last but not least, I imported the animations made by Bijay Chudal, Hilly Chua, Joanna Hardman, Kien Huynh and rigged by Andrew Sol.

3. Mong Phu temple

This scene is inspired by Mông Phụ Temple, an architectural work that is rich in artistic values in the ancient village of Duong Lam, Vietnam. Responsible for all aspects except the exterior foliage and some textures from Substance Share.

4. Savannah Coffee Roaster - match to live-action

This project shows the process of making an integration composition of a 3D model coffee cup and a real photograph using Maya and Arnold.


The objective of this project is to emphasis is on capturing and replicating bounce light and match the object with real live action. I chose the Savannah Coffee Roaster coffee cup as my main object because its white paper surface can receive the bounce light. I have set up the photoshoot in the coffee shop and tried different colors of the background.

Reference photos

In order to match the CG object with its twin one, I need the information about the camera information, lighting's position and environment bounce light.

The cube: gives information about the camera angle. With the focal length information of the shoot and camera's digital lens conversion, I can set up the camera in Maya to match with the real one.

The chrome ball: provides HDR information. I will use this as a projection to the environment light.

The grey ball presents lighting and shadow information. The cube also has these details. I combined both these references to point out more precisely the position of the key light, fill lights.

The clean plate: empty space for rendering the CG cup.

The twin plate: gives the reference for the CG object.

I set up the camera by  Focal length and digital camera conversion and based on the cube's photo and measurement. With the cup's measurement, I can model and replace it in the scene. I used the plane with a clean plate camera's projection to get more bounce light to the cup. I also create a "reflector", turn off primary visibility to fill more yellowish light from the ground.

For texturing, I used paper texture and Savannah Coffee Roaster's logo to make the paper cup material. For the cap, I used AiStandardSurface with a fractal normal map.

5. Louis Moinet Watch

This is a watch I have modeled in Maya, rendered with Arnold, based on the design from Louis Moinet Watch. 

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