Mongolian Dreams: Crafting the Far East in Seven Days
I'm thrilled to share my latest project with you all. It was done in just one week during my Endterm 300 assignment at PIXL VISN media arts academy. The mission? Craft an environment with a built structure that would whisk players away to the enchanting "far east." So, I decided to go with a classic Mongolian yurt.
How did you come up with the initial idea?
For my endterm 300 project, I chose to center it around a Mongolian yurt, inspired by the "far east" assignment theme. My decision was also influenced by my appreciation for "Ghost of Tsushima," a game that delves into Mongol history, offering an alternative to the more common Japanese themes.
I intentionally chose the Mongolian yurt to bring a unique perspective to the assignment. While Japanese themes are widely represented, I wanted my project to stand out by delving into a less commonly explored aspect of the "far east."
How important was the use of reference material overall?
Reference played a crucial role in the success of this project. Working on a Mongolian yurt, a structure with intricate details and cultural significance, required a deep understanding of its design and historical context. Here's how reference materials were instrumental:
1. Authenticity: References allowed me to capture the authenticity of a Mongolian yurt. This included details like the unique circular structure, the distinct patterns and colors of the exterior
2. Cultural Accuracy: To pay homage to the rich Mongolian culture, I delved into reference materials that explained the symbolism and cultural significance behind various elements of the yurt. This helped ensure that my project was respectful and accurate in its portrayal.
3. Technical Details: References were invaluable for understanding the technical aspects of constructing a yurt. From the framework of wooden lattice walls to the covering made of felt or fabric, having accurate references ensured that the structure and materials were true to the real thing.
4. Textures and Materials: Creating textures for the yurt's exterior materials required a deep dive into reference images. These references helped me recreate the look and feel of materials like wood, fabric, and felt in a believable way.
5. Lighting and Atmosphere: References of real yurts in various lighting conditions were essential for achieving the desired atmosphere in the project. They helped me understand how light interacts with the structure and materials, adding realism to the scene.
In summary, reference materials were like a guiding star throughout the project. They ensured that my portrayal of the Mongolian yurt was accurate, respectful, and visually convincing. Without these references, it would have been challenging to capture the essence of this cultural and architectural marvel.
Once you had a rough concept in mind, how did you approach the project?
1. Asking Myself What I Want to Learn and Achieve with This Project:
Before diving into the project, I took a moment to define my objectives. I wanted to use this project as an opportunity to deepen my understanding of the entire game environment creation workflow, from modeling to lighting and rendering. My goal was not just to create a visually appealing scene but also to learn and grow as a 3D artist.
2. Deciding for the Yurt:
For the project's theme of "far east," I wanted to explore something less common than the typical Japanese settings. Having recently played "Ghost of Tsushima," which revolved around the Mongol invasions, I became fascinated with the Mongolian culture and architecture. So, choosing a Mongolian yurt was a deliberate decision to bring something unique to the project.
Comprehensive reference gathering became the foundation of my work. I scoured books, documentaries, and online resources to amass a wealth of visual references. These references provided insights into the intricate details, textures, and cultural nuances of Mongolian yurts.
4. Modelling in Maya with N Cloth for Layering Felts and Cloth Stripes:
Modeling the yurt in Maya was a meticulous process. To capture the realism of the layered felts and cloth stripes, I leveraged Maya's N Cloth simulation. It involved setting up cloth properties, such as stiffness and friction, to simulate how the materials would interact and drape over the yurt's structure.
5. UV Unwrapping in Maya with Trim Sheet Workflow:
UV unwrapping was a critical step to ensure efficient texturing. I carefully considered how the UV layout would align with the trim sheet workflow. This approach enabled me to reuse textures effectively across multiple parts of the yurt, saving time and maintaining consistency.
6. Texturing the Door in Substance Painter:
Substance Painter played a pivotal role in bringing the door to life. I referenced my gathered materials to ensure every detail, from the wood grain to the decorative elements, was faithfully represented. Substance Painter's layer-based workflow allowed for fine control over the textures.
7. Creating the Trim Sheet with Several Graphs in Substance Designer:
In Substance Designer, I embarked on the journey of creating a trim sheet. This involved the intricate process of procedural pattern generation. I developed a series of nodes and graphs to generate patterns that could be seamlessly applied to various parts of the yurt, such as the decorative bands and fabrics.
8. Shading in Look Dev Scene:
Moving to a Look Dev scene, I focused on shader development. This step was about getting the materials to look just right. It involved experimenting with various shader parameters to achieve the desired level of realism. I paid special attention to how light interacted with different parts of the yurt's surface.
9. Adjustments in Painter and Designer for Colors and Values:
Despite careful planning, I found some color and value discrepancies during the shader development phase. So, I returned to Substance Painter and Designer to make adjustments. This iterative process ensured that the textures aligned perfectly with my vision.
10. Import to Unreal and Setting up Materials:
With assets ready, I ventured into Unreal Engine. This step involved importing my work and meticulously setting up materials for the yurt. I aimed for materials that not only looked convincing but also responded to lighting realistically within the game engine's environment.
11. Blockout Cameras Early On for Composition:
I realized the importance of establishing a strong composition early in the project. To achieve this, I blocked out camera angles and positions. This allowed me to plan how the audience would experience the scene and make informed decisions about what would be visible and what wouldn't. It helped me save time by not focusing on areas that wouldn't be seen in the final composition.
12. Set Dressing in Altai Mountains Environment:
To create a convincing environment around the yurt, I engaged in set dressing. This involved adding additional props and foliage to the Altai Mountains setting. It was essential for grounding the yurt in its surroundings and making the scene feel immersive.
13. Dynamic Weather System (Ultra Dynamic Weather):
One of the dynamic elements I introduced was a weather system using Ultra Dynamic Weather. This system enabled realistic weather effects, such as snowfall. I designed it to make it snow and accumulate on model surfaces, enhancing the visual storytelling by depicting a snowy mountain environment.
14. Cloth Simulation for Wind Effect:
To simulate the effect of strong wind blowing through the Altai Mountains, I turned to cloth simulation. I utilized Blender's cloth system for this purpose. As I was familiar with it and needed to save time, it made for an efficient choice. The cloth simulation added dynamic movement and a sense of realism to the scene.
15. Fire Simulation for the Torch in Embergen:
For the torch's fiery element, I employed a fire simulation. Using Embergen, I generated realistic fire effects that would later be integrated into the scene. This fire simulation was essential for creating a convincing and visually engaging torch element.
16. Smoke Simulation in Embergen:
Similar to the fire simulation, I used Embergen for a smoke simulation. This was another dynamic element that added realism to the scene. I opted for rendering in Embergen to ensure maximum quality and flexibility for compositing later.
17. Lighting with Compositing in Mind:
During the lighting phase, I kept compositing in mind. I incorporated a flickering point light for the torch to create a convincing flame effect. Additionally, I utilized Unreal Engine 5's post-process capabilities, such as color correction regions, to enhance the visual impact and mood of the scene.
18. Rendering with ACES Workflow in EXR with Cryptomatte:
Rendering was a critical step. I followed the ACES (Academy Color Encoding System) workflow to maintain color accuracy and consistency. Rendering in EXR format with Cryptomatte provided flexibility in compositing, allowing me to isolate specific elements easily.
19. Compositing in Nuke:
In the compositing phase, I brought together all the dynamic elements, lighting effects, and rendered passes to create the final scene. Nuke was instrumental in combining these elements seamlessly, adding depth, and enhancing overall visual quality.
20. Final Cut in DaVinci Resolve with Render Breakdowns and Endcard:
Finally, I completed the project with a final cut in DaVinci Resolve. This step involved arranging render breakdowns, demonstrating the various elements that contributed to the scene's creation. Additionally, I crafted an endcard to present the project effectively and professionally.
These steps were crucial in shaping the project into a visually stunning and dynamic experience, incorporating elements like weather, cloth simulation, and compositing to create a captivating and immersive final scene.
What were some of the challenges you had to overcome and how did you approach them?
1. Achieving Realistic Materials for the Yurt:
Challenge: One of the most significant challenges I encountered was achieving realistic materials for the yurt, which featured a diverse range of materials like felt, fabric, wood, painted wood, oxidized copper, steel, rope, and leather. Each of these materials has distinct visual properties and textures, making their accurate representation a complex task.
Approach: To address this challenge, I adopted a patient and methodical approach. I started by gathering an extensive collection of references for each material, closely studying their texture, color, and surface properties. I utilized Substance Designer and Painter to create custom materials and textures, leveraging procedural techniques wherever possible to achieve realism. I also made use of Substance Source libraries and online resources to access high-quality texture materials that closely matched the yurt's materials.
Additionally, Unreal Engine's decal system played a crucial role in adding variety and realism to the trim sheets. I used decal textures to simulate wear and tear, scratches, and variations in surface appearance. This helped break up the uniformity of the trim sheets, adding a level of authenticity and uniqueness to each asset.
2. Trim Sheets and Their Challenges:
Challenge: Trim sheets, while efficient, come with their own set of challenges, as they can lead to visual repetition and limitations in asset diversity. Balancing the benefits of efficiency with the need for visual variety was a creative challenge.
Approach: To address this challenge, I carefully selected and designed the trim sheet patterns to ensure they were versatile and adaptable to different assets. I also employed techniques like color variations, mask blending, and pattern scaling to introduce diversity among assets using the same trim sheet. By taking a strategic approach to trim sheet creation and incorporating custom detailing where needed, I aimed to strike a balance between efficiency and visual richness.
In summary, tackling the challenge of achieving realistic materials for the yurt involved extensive reference gathering, the use of procedural texture generation, and the judicious application of decals to enhance visual authenticity. Managing the advantages and limitations of trim sheets required a thoughtful approach to pattern design and creative texturing techniques to introduce variety while maintaining efficiency. These challenges pushed me to hone my texturing skills and deepen my understanding of material creation in the context of game environment design.
What software did you use to create this project?
Autodesk Maya: Used for 3D modeling, including the yurt's structure and components, and employing N Cloth for simulations.
Substance Designer: Utilized for creating trim sheets, generating procedural patterns, and crafting materials.
Substance Painter: Employed for texturing specific assets, like the yurt's door, with detailed surface textures.
Unreal Engine: Used as the game engine for asset import, material setup, lighting, and scene assembly. Blueprints were used for scripting dynamic weather effects.
Blender: Applied for cloth simulation to achieve the effect of strong winds blowing through the Altai Mountains.
Embergen: Used for simulating fire and smoke effects, specifically for the torch element, with high-quality simulations.
Nuke: Employed for compositing, combining elements, dynamic effects, and render passes to refine the final scene's visual quality.
DaVinci Resolve: Used for video editing, rendering breakdowns, and creating the project's endcard for presentation.
What did you learn from this project?
Understanding of Trim Sheets: One of the major takeaways was a solid understanding of how to effectively use trim sheets in game environment creation. I learned their advantages in terms of efficiency and consistency but also recognized their limitations in terms of asset diversity.
"Less is More" Philosophy: The project reinforced the idea that sometimes, focusing on fewer, high-detail assets can lead to a deeper understanding of the subject matter and result in a higher level of craftsmanship. This contrasts with the approach of creating numerous assets with limited detail.
The Power of Specialization: I realized that specializing in a single subject or asset can provide the opportunity to dive deep into its intricacies, resulting in a more comprehensive and detailed final product.
Application of Learnings: Reflecting on these lessons, I plan to apply them in future projects. This might involve selecting a specific, highly detailed asset as a focal point to leverage the depth of knowledge gained from this experience.
In essence, this project helped me fine-tune my approach to game environment creation, emphasizing the importance of specialization and the principle that sometimes, less can indeed be more in terms of achieving depth and expertise in a particular area of focus.
Planning was of paramount importance for the success of the project. Here's how planning played a crucial role:
Time Management: Setting clear timelines and milestones from the outset was essential. It helped in allocating sufficient time to each phase of the project, ensuring that no aspect was rushed or overlooked. This level of time management was critical, especially considering the project's one-week timeframe.
Resource Allocation: Effective planning included identifying the necessary resources, such as software, references, and reference materials. This ensured that I had everything required to execute each step of the project smoothly.
Asset List and Scope: Developing a detailed asset list and defining the project scope were vital. It helped in determining which assets were essential, their level of detail, and how they fit within the project's theme and goals.
Workflow and Processes: Planning involved establishing a workflow and defining processes for tasks like 3D modeling, texturing, simulation, and compositing. Having a clear workflow in place minimized confusion and improved efficiency.
Problem Anticipation: By anticipating potential challenges or roadblocks, I could plan for contingencies and solutions in advance. This proactive approach prevented issues from derailing the project's progress.
Feedback and Iteration: Planning included regular checkpoints for seeking feedback and making necessary adjustments. This iterative process ensured that the project remained on the right track and aligned with the intended goals.
Project Goals: Defining clear objectives and goals for the project was crucial. It provided a sense of direction and purpose, guiding decision-making throughout the development process.
In summary, planning was indispensable for the project's success. It helped in managing time effectively, allocating resources efficiently, and ensuring that the project stayed on course despite the tight deadline. It also allowed for flexibility in adapting to unforeseen challenges and changes while keeping the project aligned with its overarching goals.