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Hidden Kingdom by Felix Riehle

Hidden Kingdom by Felix Riehle

by fluxmotion on 20 Aug 2023

my midterm 300 project

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How did you come up with the initial idea? Was there a specific occasion that lead to the creation of the image? Was it part of an assignment or a commission?

As soon as I knew the theme for this midterm will be fantasy I was in love with the idea of creating a large castle in a fairytale-like environment. Although I was not sure about the mood I want to create. Dark and mysterious or bright and nostalgic? Why not both I thought and came up with the idea to connect two different lit environments with a magic portal. 

How important was the use of reference material overall?

It was absolutely crucial for me to use references. As I wanted to approach the creation of my castle in a modular way, I had to analyze my main reference really intensely, to determine which parts of it were really unique and which ones could be created out of other building blocks. I grouped areas by color-coding them to better understand the structure and plan out the modeling. But besides the modeling process, reference also really helped me achieve the lighting, mood, composition and feeling that I aimed for so without a doubt it is one of the most important an artist can do at the beginning of every project.

Once you had a rough concept in mind, how did you approach the project? Can you walk us through the development process step by step?

The first thing I always do is actually search for some fitting music, as it inspires me and helps me during the project to have a clear structure in mind of how the end product should look and feel. As I mentioned previously, I dissected the castle from my main reference to get a really clear understanding of how many objects had to be modeled and what parts I could use multiple times. After that, I scheduled the different parts of my little pipeline for seven days. As always with some buffer time at the end of the week to include troubleshooting time. After finishing the modeling and UV unwrapping, I jumped into Substance Painter to create my textures. Because the castle is quite far away from the camera, I decided to not use the high poly low poly approach, but instead bake my mesh maps right from the low poly mesh. To speed up the process even more I created one custom smart-material for one object and used that with minor adjustments on all the pieces. That's why texturing was done quite fast. Next up was importing the objects into Unreal and setting up materials for all of them. For that, I used the Substance3D plugin which makes this step way faster than the manual way. I assembled the castle out of modular pieces and after some iterations, I was happy with it. After that, it was time for set dressing and foliage scattering. I used different levels of detail depending on, the distance to the camera. After a first lighting pass, I set the environment creation aside for while a and dedicated some time to dynamic effects like cloth simulations, smoke simulations, and most importantly my magic portal. After I was done with that I set up the two different lighting setups (day/night) and added a point light to ground the portal inside the environment and make compositing easier, and prepared Unreal for the render. I made use of the render layer and some AOVs.Then it was comp time and with the help of color correction, light wrap, and grain I glued all the plates together. Additionally, I added a water ripple effect inside the portal to make it look even more magical. Lastly I assembled everything in Davinci Resolve and after some sound design and cutting, I delivered the final product.

What were some of the challenges you had to overcome and how did you approach them?

The biggest challenge for me was to get the optimization for the scene just right so that it has high fidelity but is still performing in a reasonable way. I find it quite hard to hit the sweet spot in such a short amount of time (7 days), as it requires back-and-forth iterations, that take time.

What did you learn from this project?

I realized that a crucial part of the modular asset creation workflow is to UV unwrap every piece as soon as it's finished, to prevent me from unwrapping the same piece multiple times. It was also important to settle for a texel density early on as it would be very time-consuming to manage and adjust the hundreds and thousands of pieces of the modular set later on.

At the end of the project how important was planning for you?

Planning, to me personally, is the most important thing, because it helps me stay calm, despite the stress and rush of an assignment like this.

Software Used

Maya for modeling and unwrapping. (castle)

Unreal for layout and rendering (environment)

Embergen for smoke simulations (chimney, portal)

Blender for cloth simulations (flags, sails)


Foliage + Houses: Quixel Megascans

Boat: Sketchfab

Windmill: Sketchfab

Character + Animation: Mixamo

Music: Our Kingdom - Jo Wandrini

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