Progress on the pillars and arches

General / 22 February 2018
I've not made a huge amount of progress since my last update but pushed a few aspects of the project further along. I've fine-tuned the pillars as they were looking a bit thin and not matching the reference close enough for my liking. I then started to work on the arches above the pillars.
I started by laying bezier curves by hand for the spiral details but soon realised it was going to take too long to get them accurate and tidy this way. It would also cause more work again when unwrapping and texturing them since they were all separate meshes that joined the main pillars at different angles. At this stage, the scene was progressing though and starting to look busier. I also blocked in the top section and a very basic mesh for the cliff background to get a better feel for the scene as a whole.

After realising that laying each spiral individually wasn't the smartest method, I decided to make a spline that would do the job for me. It took some fiddling around with numbers to get the start and end meshes lined up perfectly but I got there in the end. I now just need lay this spline along a centre edge of the arches and it lines up perfectly as needed. The two variants of start and end mesh are because the pillars on the right are a mirror of the ones of the left so multiple meshes are needed to recreate the exact pattern of overlapping spirals from the reference.

Once happy that the spline would work, I loaded everything into UE4 to see how the scene was coming together in there. These images still show the old arches as I will be updating all of them shortly with the new spline. I've tried to recreate the exact shots from the film here which helped with checking sizes and layouts too.

Next, I will be back working on the arches. I'm going to bake the spiral details down to a height map in Marmoset and use Parallax Occlusion Mapping for them in UE4. This should drastically help with reducing the tri count, especially from high up areas that a player would never be expected to see close enough if this were used in a game. I've never used POM before so this will be a bit of a learning curve but it will kickstart more work on the technical side of the project and also give me a base for my material setup which will be needed further down the line once the whole mesh is complete.

Modelling the main pillars

General / 06 February 2018

So I spent a bit of time working on the pillars trying to decide the right direction to go. I didn't want to go high poly on the scene just for the sake of it as it is meant to be a real-time scene suitable for games. After attempting to create the detail in the pillars with normal maps baked down from a high poly mesh though, I realised the best way to go was just model the details.

I modelled the larger branches of the pillar then baked down the thinner ones in between as shown in the below shot but they just felt too bare and not chunky or busy enough. 

At 3,300 tris each at this point, I felt I still had room to expand so created another version that had all the detail in the mesh instead. This one came out at 7,300 tris each so over double to add in all the extra detail but I feel it's justifiable and more than worth it for the increase in quality. 

This will also allow me to create some shots much closer up and not have the quality of the scene reduced on closer inspection. I will look at further reducing the tri count later if I feel it's necessary as there is still a lot of detail to be added to the scene.

I spent the rest of my time adjusting the scaling and spacing of the pillars to recreate the scene as closely as I could with the reference. I think I am happy with this part now so will move on to expanding the pillars to create the archway over the doors next. I may set up the scene in UE4 too so I have somewhere to export my meshes to and test the scene and various camera angles out as I go.

I'm going on an adventure!

General / 05 February 2018

My first ArtStation blog! This new blogging feature has come at the perfect time for me. I'm going to be dedicating more of my time from now on to improving as an environment artist in as many areas as I reasonably can so this will be a great place to share my progress and hopefully get some feedback and constructive criticism along the way. This first post won't be showing any work, just setting my goals for what I'm going to be working on.

My primary focus will be to adopt Substance Designer as a standard part of my workflow. I have already dabbled with it and created a few materials but without any larger environment projects to use the materials on, it fell by the wayside. I follow so many great artists on ArtStation who use it regularly and inspired me to take it up originally. Seeing some of their recent work has encouraged me to get back into it properly with renewed vigour.

I would also like to switch from using Quixel Suite to Substance Painter for all my normal mapping and texturing needs as it seems to be taking over the games industry more and more now to the point that it has become a must-have skill on any CV. The ease with which you can create quick and detailed normals in NDO though seems like something I will miss. On my first look, Substance Painter seems a lot more confusing and fiddly to get similar results with but I will test that out properly in the near future. And finally, I would like to start sculpting again. Having shied away from organic work in recent years, it's something I would like to tackle head on which my new project will help with.

So onto the new project. Working on buildings and hard surface props for Train Sim World on a daily basis has given me a desire to create something more natural and pure in my free time. I was recently watching The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and was mesmerised by the entrance to the Halls of Thranduil in the Woodland Realm for the brief scenes it appeared in. The intricate pillars and doorway set into the side of a steep cliff in the thick forest with sunlight piercing through would make a great portfolio piece. The interior of the Halls of Thranduil is a stunning place as well but as I don't want to start too big, I will only be creating the exterior entrance for this project. Seeing as I use Unreal Engine 4 already, I will be using it for this project too.

There aren't many shots of the entrance to the Halls of Thranduil in The Hobbit. One shows it close up from the front and the other far away from the side. The far shot has a lot more going on with many trees all around and a huge waterfall and river in the background. My main goal is to recreate the close shot and if time permits I will possibly add more but I would like to move onto something else and not get caught up for too long on a single scene just yet.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

I won't be giving myself a strict timeline to complete this as I'm not sure how much time I can dedicate to it. Having the blog to update though will keep me coming back regularly. I have made progress on the main pillars already which I will post in the next update.