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Sci-Fi Scene

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    Sci-Fi Scene

    Hi everyone, I'm pretty new in this community, having looked at some of the stuff posted here by UDK users I can see there is a lot of talent here. A little bit about me, I go by Jak Carver (name kinda stuck a long time ago) and I started as a map/mod/level maker for Rainbow Six Raven Shield back in the day. I used to use Unreal back then and loved it for making maps. Fast forward to today and I'm getting into Unreal 3/UDK. Man have things changed since I used to use Unreal in those days, there was no material editor, everything had to be imported using ActorX, and the engine just seemed more complex, since there was little docs for it back then. Getting back into Unreal with version 3 there are so many changes, one of my favorite is the material editor- totally blows away all other material systems in other engines. Very easy to use since I'm used to working with Maya's Hypershade and the Softimage Rendertree. Well there's just too many cool things to point out and you guys already know all this stuff, so I'll stop rambling now.

    Made this thread to get some feedback and constructive criticism on my new game environment I've made to teach myself some advanced UDK workflows; I've been reading through tons of pages of docs on the Unreal developer site and it's just a treasure trove of valuable information, I'm actually addicted to reading all those tech docs lol, can't stop. Anyways, below are some images of my new environment (mainly for my updated portfolio) that I've decided to make, time to stop putting my portfolio update on the backburner, but with work and all I never found time to update my reel (my previous reel is from 2005, how awful of me to neglect it for so long!).

    A little about the environment:
    I'm a huge fan of action and adventure games, and recently I started playing the Mass Effect series (can't believe I never played it before!) and I immediately became a fan- I just love the environments, the characters, the story development, and the game play is pretty good as well. Since I have had ME2 on my mind recently I decided I would kill 2 birds with one stone; create an environment as an homage to ME and have fun creating a version of an environment from my own imagination based on that nice ME vibe, and also complete a nice piece for my new 2011 demo reel. The other cool thing is that ME2 runs on Unreal Engine 3, so what could be better and funner than creating a ME2 style environment with the latest UDK running on 64-bit and DX11! So basically I started concepting some stuff in my mind, started playing my ME2 save game (beat it twice already, trying yo go for a 3rd on the insane difficulty but its so HARD lol). After first blocking out some volumes in my 3d package and sketching some stuff and ideas on paper, It all just started coming together and taking a life of its own. I knew I wanted to create something that had a lot of hard surfaces, but broken up by some curvature and sort of 70's sci-fi retro rounded geometry, but didn't want it looking like the Star Trek bridge or anything, so the whole time I really tried to keep ME2 in mind for the overall inspiration and art direction. I also wanted to have a well lit area, but at the same time not something boring and bland with even lighting everywhere, wanted to keep it a bit dramatic and interesting- the best environments are the ones that have an interesting appeal, the ones that with one image make you think "...holy cow, I wonder what could be behind those big closed doors...hmm.....", think you get the idea. I also wanted to go for something sleek and clean; no dirt or grime or grease or s**t smeared on the walls- this is an advanced and very expensive future space installation- you better believe they're gonna keep it clean and have a great inter-galactic janitorial staff! I'll try to add some overview breakdowns and descriptions of how I accomplished certain things and what I was going for, as well as any problems I may have run into and solutions and workarounds I may (or may not have) found when hitting that nasty technical wall we all know and hate; i.e. crashes, show-stoppers, etc. So here we go....

    I love sculpting with ZBrush- hell even for just relaxing it's an amazing piece of software that makes you feel like your not working, but instead meditating or playing a really fun game. I knew I wanted to use ZBrush to keep my skills up and to put some cool ZBrush stuff in my new reel. I upgraded to ZBrush 4 (ZBrush 4 R2 comes out in days- w00t can't wait!) and this new version brings some really cool updates and new brushes and tools that make hard surface modeling easier and better. Normally I only used to use ZBrush for organic sculpting but with v.4 you can so so much more. I love working with layers since you can experiment non-linearly, iterate and try stuff out- if you're not happy, no prob, just hide the layer and create a new one and try something new out. I did this with all my sculpts for this environment; I was never satisfied with my initial sculpting and ideas, so I sculpted in several passes, the first was mainly to experiment and iterate, the preceding passes allowed me to tweak things, add new things, take details out I didn't feel right about, etc. I only stopped sculpting on a model when I felt it just "right". Another cool thing now is that you can save your ZBrush work as a ZBrush Project (.ZPR). You no longer have to save tools out (CTRL+SHIFT+T); I mean you can, but ZPR's are so much better, everything gets saved, the document size, masks, etc.

    Warning: There are a lot of images coming up, and big ones too so please be patient and don't get mad- else you may want to move onto another thread.

    This is the door for the environment, wanted to go for something simple but functional; also wanted to keep the design straightforward and not alien like or anything (this is a human facility after all)

    Floor piece with sculpted detail. I took advantage of sculpting with alphas, a pretty common and simple technique used by every ZBrush artist, but extremely effective and efficient. Check out ZBrush Central for more info and techniques from other artists. Pixologic, the makers of ZBrush, have a great download page where you can get many free alphas and textures for use in ZBrush.

    I created some custom alphas myself to get specific details I wanted; sometimes just sitting there you can come up with cool ideas for techno-future stuff that looks great once sculpted into your mesh the right way.

    It's vital that for something like this, nothing seems random. There has to be a consistent style across everything, eventhough all the models are physically different in size, silhouette, proportions, etc. To accomplish this, there are many techniques you can follow, in my case I repeated specific patterns in my sculpts in order to keep a cohesive style across the environment. I think this is something really important to proper environment art, but easily missed by many env. artists that may be new to something like this. It makes a world of difference, pardon the pun. (world; environment- get it? never mind....)

    On some sculpts I had problems of a technical nature. Overall I sculpted a **** load of stuff, just about everything in my env. got the ZBrush treatment (never deny your game models the benefits of a free ZBrush face lift!). On average, my sculpts were about 2 million polys (~4m tris), but there were a few that were as high as 13+million polys (26m tris!). Getting into that range I ran into some tech issues, for example, try exporting a 14 million poly OBJ file out of any program...not fun. No worries, ZBrush plugins to the rescue! I used Decimation Master (used by many AAA studios, including Epic Games 'wink'). I was able to easily reduce poly counts of some objects by as much as 40%-30% of the original- while keeping most of the detail of the highest subdivision sculpts- that's insane! This is why I love ZBrush :0
    Very important, I wouldn't have been able to work on this without a good workstation. I used to work on a dual Xeon quad core (2xquad cores; 8 cores total) workstation running at 2.5GHz, 4 GB DDR2 667 (yuck!) and a GeForce 8800GT (that thing was an animal of a video card). Recently, a couple months ago, I built a new workstation based on the new Sandybridge i7 2600k running on a Z68 mobo, its a quad core with 8 threads running at 3.4GHz stock- yet this CPU runs cooler and faster than my old workstation with 2 quadcore Xeons! I also have it fitted with 8GB of DDR3 1600 and I run Win7 64 bit on 500MB up/down SSD; I run UDK on the SSD and it's awesome. One piece of advice; ZBrush currently does not run well on a SSD; it's best to have it run on a HDD- I have it on a SATA 3 drive and it's still blazingly fast, no probs there. For those thinking about purchasing ZBrush, make sure you have lots of memory- ZBrush uses up a lot of memory, I would say for a serious artist, try to have 8GB of really fast memory; I ran out of memory countless time while working on this and plan on getting another 8GB to work on crazier s**t.

    Next up is the actual environment. Since I last used UE back with Raven Shield and UT, I had to become reacquianted with UE3's lighting systems and material editor. Fortunately I work alot with photo-realistic renderers in my normal work (mental ray, VRay, etc.) so that came in real handy. All the terminology and techno garble from Lightmass was easy to understand from the docs and the light properties in UDK; things like ambient occlusion, GI, photons, sampling, lightmaps, texels, etc.- no problems there, really easy and fun stuff to play with. In fact, I consider UDK to basically have a builtin mental ray production renderer through Lightmass, at least that's what it feels like, but much easier to use than mental ray of course : )

    Here's an editor screen shot:

    I really took advantage of different mapping techniques here. Funny enough, I'm actually used to doing dirty, grimy, damaged textures and models. I also do clean stuff, and have done so in the past while working on advertising and visualization projects, but I quickly realized that I hadn't "prepared" myself for creating some ME2 style clean textures. Thing is, in ME2 they have different parts of the spectrum; some areas like Omega, are grimy, dirty, damaged, and aged. Still looks technologically advanced but with a nice industrial wear to the entire env. I didn't want this so I went instead with a more (or at least wanted to anyway, you guys tell me if I actually achieved the look or screwed it all up : ( clean, sharper, sleek futuristic manufactured look. I guess in a nutshell, I wanted to go for something between a mix of the interior of the Normandy and the cleanliness/sleekness of the Citadel.

    Lighting wise I wanted something interesting, so I created a contrast between cool blue areas and warm areas, just to give the env. some personality and also it has function; areas where you really dont do anything are cool blue, but warm areas indicate an area of interest, like a door that leads to the players' next objective, area, etc. This helps guide the player through the env. and makes for more interesting looking environments; I noticed this while analyzing the envs. in ME2; but most well designed games follow similar design philosophies.

    Notice how I leave the ceiling areas a darker color than everything else, especially the floor. The reason for the dark ceilings is actually pretty simple. The dark color gives the illusion of depth; makes the player feel as if though the ceiling goes higher than it actually is. This is good because it makes the env. "feel" larger than it actually is, this removing the feeling of claustrophobia and making the space more inviting and comfortable for the player. You're not constantly feeling like your head is going to hit the ceiling. Also, but making the ceiling (or anything for that matter) less obvious, the player can fill in the "blanks" with their imagination, making for a more personal and pleasurable experience for the player to want to be in that space.

    The floor I contrast with the ceiling, making it have white lights and giving it a light color, like an off white or metallic white/light gray. This helps the player understand where theyre standing without having to look down or worry about tripping on anything. It makes for a better flow to the navigation of the environment. I went ahead and contrasted the floor itself with lights/and darks (panels, grates, etc. are dark). This adds more detail, while not being too overwhelming with tons of different colors and stuff.

    I decided early on that I wanted the env. to have a lot of cool lights on walls, floors, and ceiling areas. They have no purpose, except for (a) lighting the environment and (b) making stuff look cool, busy/operational, and futuristic. I used a lot of emissive maps that I created and placed in the alpha channels of my textures. As you prob already noticed, I also used bloom post processing to get that trademark Unreal look that ME2 takes so much advantage of- in a good way.
    You can also see that outside the window it's not interesting. This is still a WIP, and I'm not done yet, I still have to create a skybox that looks like outter space with some stars, a sun, maybe some planets, and definitely some space craft flying in the distance going about their business. I want to put a nice matte painting or something back there, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

    OK, so here's some in-game screen shots (no editor). These I originally took at 7k using the cool 'tiledshot' console command. Such a useful feature, but if you use it don't forget to use the 2 integer parameters, this helps to alleviate image tearing when taking tiled shots of an env. with lots of screen space effects, like bloom, SSAO, etc. I reduced the size of the next images, for obvious reasons- the admins would kill me if I posted 7k images, heck they probably are already tracing my IP to find and beat the **** out of me for posting all this so far. I'm in Miami by the way, come and get me! j/k! seriously dont come get me!

    Another thing to note about these in-game screens, I took them with some specific quality settings. I was getting lots of aliasing in the editor and in the game, but a quick search of the excellent UDK docs, and I was able to switch on FXAA and MSAA. You can also use MLAA which is cool too, sure my FPS went down from like 200+ to around 100 but who cares, it's still super playable with no slow down so why not have your cake and eat it too?

    I just remembered, I need to create a nice glass shader with reflections for the glass sheets on the windows. I just have to reiterate how the MSAA and FXAA are so well implemented in UE3, simply amazing. The quality jumps so high, yet the performance cost is negligible at best. Simply amazing. Makes me wonder what theyre feeding the UE3 software engineers; I'll have whatever theyre having!

    For texturing I actually used a pretty cool and fast technique I developed while working on this project. You'll notice I said I went with clean textures, no grime, dirt, or unsightly s**t smeared on the walls. However, you'll notice there is noise and break in the textures, especially at perpendicular angles. Funny enough, it turned out looking great and was super easy and fast to do. I simply made super clean textures, but to fight the cleanlines and make them more realistic (comeon, nothing that clean, there would be some wear right!?) I simply create rouch specular maps. This gives the appearance of some wear, as though someone uses this space, which sells the env. to the player and makes it more believable (ironically it's a sci-fi space station place in the future...that's not believable, right?) Anways it makes balances the materials nicely and brings them back from being too clean.

    When making any game env., you need to make sure to create with modularity in mind. Everything you see is modular, with pivot points placed strategically on the meshes so that a level designer (in this case me, but could be anyone, including my grandmother....k, maybe not her) can easily place these static meshes everywhere efficiently, quickly, and without pulling their hair out.

    Again, sorry about the outside area, I still need to work on that. Materials wise, I created some pretty simple materials, and UE3 really helped. I opted to work with an FBX pipeline for several reasons. For one, its fast and easy, and almost all software out there worth your time uses FBX in some way or another. Heck even Blender- BLENDER! works with FBX, so yeah, it's pretty versatile. I was worried that the FBX pipline sounded too good to be true according to the Epic docs, but wow was I pleasantly surprised at how easy and fast it is to work in an FBX pipeline with UE3. Unlike another engine that will remain nameless that relies on FBX to Unify the pipeline between the DCC package and the engine itself (but fails at doing so in my opinion, at least efficiently) UE just works- these guys know how to implement an exporter into their engine. I was able to bring in my static meshes into UE relatively painless. UE setup my meterials for me automatically, named them correctly (naming is so important in this industry!), and was even so nice as to hook up my diffuse, specular, and normal maps into my materials- UE for the win. I wasn't happy with the look (problem with being an artist is you're never happy with how something looks- well I'm a technical artist so maybe that doesn't apply to me so much? eh who am I kidding...). I augmented that materials using UE's amazing material editor by adding a slight fresnel effect to spice things up a bit more. I plan on doing something similar with the glass windows, but with relfections also.

    Texturing wise, I ended up using diffuse, specular, normal, emissive, and cavity maps. Now, I normally don't use cavity maps, eventhough I know there are some texture artists out there that do. While working on this and devloping that interesting texture workflow I mentioned before, I found a way to use cavity maps to really improve the look of my textures and give them more a metallic clean "sheen" kind of look. Hard to describe, but I really liked the effect when I was experimenting and realized I stumbled upon something good. If there's something I love about this field, it's that you always are learning something new- you never reach the end! No matter how many years experience you have or what you think you know, there is always more to learn! With some clever adjustments to the cavity maps and some interesting compositing techniques I found a look to my textures that I love and I will surely use this technique again in the future when the need arises- added a new texturing technique to my arsenal- yay! Also want to note that I used XNormal to create my cavity maps, in case anyone is wondering. XNormal is free-yes FREE- and so simple to use and oh so powerful. You can create cavity maps, occlusion maps, and of course- normal maps. You can batch render game assets, so it's convenient in that you can set a bunch of stuff up and leave it rendering while you go to lunch or something- next gen maps for tons of assets derived from millions of polys really stacks up the render time, so patience is required.

    Well that's it for now. Sorry again for the long thread and all the images, but how else was I supposed to post in order to get critique? Forgive and forget guys? Please? : )

    Thanks to everyone that provides some constructive criticism. My goal with this is to create a new 2011 reel, as I want to get a new job working for a reputable studio, you know, like a company that has reached epic success in this field (yes I slipped that in there :P)

    If anyone has any questions as to anything, or the process/workflows/techniques I use, feel free to ask and I'll try to help however I can. Again, go easy on me, I used to use Unreal engine very heavily back in the old days so I'm getting to know an old friend again, but it's exciting with all the cool new toys UE3 comes with, especially the DX 11 features (I used DX11 for this by the way).

    Looks good. It's nice to see a clean environment... and not one with dirt/grime all over it, cause in space they have cleaners!

    Keep it up.


      Those are some beautiful sculpts my friend, keep it up.


        That is impressive work, jak_carver. It reminds me of "Alien" (except with more lights ) Nice to see someone sharing tips so quickly, too. Valuable stuff for people starting out!

        Keep this going; it's beautiful, and shows what UDK is capable of in the hands of an artist like yourself!


          Seeing the pieces individually I wasn't really sure how you were going to be able to pull any kind of scene off. I'm glad you proved my wrong, it looks amazing.


            Very nice! Really like the bright look of your scene (though it might get tiresome being there if a lot of station is lit up like this, imo).


              It looks really good! I think there is too much neon going on though.


                The lighting and attention to detail with emmisives is a really nice touch


                  Looks really great. But, the Emissive of the Neon is way too bright. Tone it down a little, and then Give it a deeper color. Then to me, the scene would be perfect.


                    Originally posted by Hellclown View Post
                    Seeing the pieces individually I wasn't really sure how you were going to be able to pull any kind of scene off. I'm glad you proved my wrong, it looks amazing.
                    Thanks for the comment. There are a lot more sculpts, but I couldn't post them because of the 9 image limit on threads by the forum rules, so I was only able to post 4 images showing individual pieces. There's more though, maybe I'll post them later or something. Thanks again.


                      Originally posted by Archie_Vision View Post
                      Looks really great. But, the Emissive of the Neon is way too bright. Tone it down a little, and then Give it a deeper color. Then to me, the scene would be perfect.
                      Seems like I may have over done the emissive lights, seems to be the most common crit. When you guys say the "neon" is too much, do you mean:

                      - blue neon lights are too bright?

                      - blue neon lights are too plentiful? there should be less blue lights, but the brightness is fine?

                      - does "neon" refer to all emissive lighting in general; i.e. the blue, yellow, and white lights?

                      - is it maybe the bloom/glow post FX that's too high or overpowering?

                      Thanks for the comments guys, please keep it coming as it will help me improve the env. and hopefully become a nice place to play space checkers, have some intergalactic margaritas, and blast some intruding space rats!

                      @Archie_Vision: By deeper color, do you mean darken the emissive neon lights with the same color they already are? Thanks for the crits!


                        Here are some more images of modular assets I couldn't post originally because of the 9 image limit:

                        I forgot to mention that naming is vital to efficient production. For example, the above piece is named "Wall_45_Corner_8x2". Normally I put a suffix indicating the level or world it belongs to, but since this is for a reel/portfolio, and there is no large commercial production going on here, I settled for these names. It really helps with understanding what everything is, so I can see the name in a long list of similarly named assets, and identify it as being a wall piece that caps 45 degree corners and it measures (I'm working with feet cuz I'm in the US) 8 feet high by 2 feet wide. I simply make sure everything has the right measurements, sizes, and names, as well as correctly placed pivot points and it all fits perfectly in Unreal (or any engine for that matter) like lego blocks, no headaches or hassles. This allows for perfect placement; no spaces between objects or tears, etc. The bellow piece is named Floor_10x12, meaning it's a floor piece that measure 10x12 feet, and it also has a correct pivot point. I'm such a nice guy, making the level designer's job so much easier

                        A final tip, never- EVER- use spaces when naming anything. As a rule that should never be broken (unless you like to suffer a lot), you should use underscores (_) instead of spaces. Most engines, including Unreal, don't like spaces- heck, even most high 3d packages like Maya, Softimage, etc. don't like spaces. Spaces cause problems everywhere in the pipeline, they can confuse scripts, cause code issues, break code, etc. Just trust me, never use spaces, only use them when writing emails or posting on forums like this, but in development/production, never- EVER- use spaces.

                        Thanks again for everyone's feedback, it's very valuable to me, so please keep it coming. I'll post some more WIP's when I complete the changes suggested here and when I complete more of the env.; I'd say I'm only about 50%-60% complete.


                          I mean too much by too plentiful. I think it should be used sparingly it does look great though but it distracts me as beautiful as it seems.


                            I'm with Johnny on this one, it does seem kinda glowy. Maybe not a bad thing, but perhaps a bit too emphasized. Try toning them down before you get rid of any.


                              Thanks for the feedback Agent and Hellclown, I'll try to improve the env. based on those great points.

                              On another note, I was doing some research while looking for a way to create a nice skybox in outter space and found this excellent website from NASA:


                              They have TONS of real images from JPL of space, including incredible nebulae and the cosmos- it's amazing what's out there and the incredible colors and lighting that exists in these far away reaches of space. It must have been so fun to work on the Mass Effect games, getting to create all this kind of art and put it in a game as engrossing as ME. I'm currently looking through and seeing what images I'll use for my env. skybox.