Human Emotions - Toyko Street Process 03

Work In Progress / 27 May 2019

In my last post I explained what I learnt during the process of blocking out the Tokyo street scene. I invested quite a bit of time and hard work into this and most of it proved extremely valuable for the project. I hope that this blog will serve as a reminder to myself of the steps I took to get to the end result, as well as provide some insight for anyone interested in my process.


Considerable time was spent attempting to figure out the right approach for lighting. On previous personal projects I worked with a baked solution in Unreal. Despite good results, I often wasted a lot of time while the lighting was building. This slowed down my progress and meant I couldn't be as flexible with updates and changes. I researched into LPV's which Epic used on Fortnite. I watched a great GDC video Here which sold me on the technique and with the help of the documentation got it setup. For the Blockouts this gave me decent results. I was able to achieve accurate bounce light and was confident some of the resolution issues would be less noticeable with final art. 

Find more here: LPV UE4 Docs

During my time on the CGMA lighting course I discovered the disadvantages of the LPV system. With the systems current implementation, it only works with the Skylight, Directional and Emissive materials. Not having access to point and spot lights meant it was a lot more challenging to light interior scenes. After further research it was at this point I switched to NVIDIA VXGI solution which used voxels to drive the bounce lighting. I used this for the course and my upcoming project, so I will do more of a breakdown about this later. 



To create a framework for the materials in the scene I started a mini library. These were all created in Substance Designer and to a first pass level. The idea here was to get the main materials in the correct folder structure and get a consistent art style defined early.  With a good structure replacing them later would be easy.

I pushed for a more stylised look for the art style as my main source of inspiration was the overwatch short. 

I created a trim sheet which I used to texture most of the street and pavements in the scene. Plus, a decal atlas which covers the Japanese signage.  


For the blockouts I normally start with the largest brush strokes. First, I create a blockout in 3ds Max, modelling the whole layout in one file allows me to figure everything out and establish a good sense of scale. Once the idea grows i separate the individual elements and establish either modular pieces or unique assets. This isn't always perfect straight away but more of an organic process that grows over time.    

Full blockout street scene

Further breakdowns for the individual assets

Style Asset test

Post blockout, I pushed ahead with finding a style in the unique assets. I wanted to find a balance of exaggerated realism with somewhat simplified details, exaggerated silhouette and realistic materials.           

This started with the post box asset. For art example assets I normally try to find something with multiple techniques and materials to try and encapsulate and answer as many questions as possible. Here I had sculpted worn paint, metal and stone. For stone I was inspired by Michael Vicente (Orb) Portfolio style with slightly more realistic micro noise. The metal was mainly about subtle edge damages and stylised warps. For the paint I attempting to reveal the metal surface underneath. for the Silhouette and mesh itself it was about finding the balance of how far to push reality.

UE4 Shaders and Tech

As I have become more familiar with UE4 I have adapted my approach to environment creation somewhat. I now make simple set dressing assets in blueprints which helps to easily replace and add logic to asset prefabs later. (more of this in upcoming blogs) 

Shader wise i am focusing on master shaders to encompass parameters for flexibility later. The most bespoke work I did was parallax interiors. I built small rooms from blockout assets. I then capture an HDR using a scene capture actor, this is driven in the Shader to create a fake room. These are blurred and provide enough depth along with set dressing to give the look for rooms in buildings and shop interiors for the various shops. The beauty of this is as the assets get to final art quality, a simple recapture improves the HDR rooms.  

Small rooms created for the interior windows

Designing the Robot

I did some initial design work at the start of the project to figure out how I planned to handle the robot. I made a series of kits of arms, legs, bodies and heads and kit bashed them in 3d to generate the designs. Had a lot of fun with this but I plan to redesign this guy with more detail later.

  Kit bashed designs for Robot

Final design choices. In the end I chose design 3/6

Next Post

In the next post I will be covering the switch to the new project idea. Showing some more process and blockout work towards my new idea. 

I hope you enjoyed reading about my process and if you have any questions or require further information let me know in the comment section below.

Human Emotions - Toyko Street Blockout progress 02

Work In Progress / 22 May 2019

After the first blockout, I still wasn't satisfied with the layouts. I continued with another composition, which was loosely based around the first blockout from the previous blog post. Visually this composition was my preference but it lacked depth. To counter this I messed with having a strong fore and background where the robot was the main focus. The background trailed off to the city behind.

At this stage something that I thought could be interesting and fed into the tutorial side of things was different time of day setups. I was quickly able to visualize this inside of marmoset and play with what a sunset and night time might look like. 

From here I focused on refining the idea and creating a more finalized blockout. As I grew more confident with my idea I ported everything over to Unreal and started setting up all the assets in a proper folder structure and getting the mood and lighting right. 

Here is a process gif to show how this evolved as I blocked out the scene. 

At this stage it was easy to see the trajectory of the project and visualize the end result when finished. I was pretty happy with how everything felt here but It lacked a little focus composition-wise as the street distracted me too much from the robot.

I tried one final composition which had more focus in terms of camera and scale. I also loved the idea of doing a portrait image as you don't often see this for Environment scenes. 

Decision to change the project

At this stage I made the difficult call to change the project theme. Somewhere along the line I lost the initial theme of an abandoned world with the robot and heading into overly stylized. I realized I was working towards something that my heart really wasn't in. Bearing in mind the plan for tutorials and a continued series of work it was best to take what I learnt and change gears. I am much happier about the new project and I have taken a huge amount of the process/learning forward into this. (will be showing this in a future blog) 

Next post

To round this work up I will be doing an update about the process on the environment blockouts, Shaders and tech I used to get the blockout to where it was at the different stages. As I put a lot of the framework in place even at a blockout stage it was a lot further along than any environments I have made in the past. 

As always love to get thoughts/feedback and comments. 

Human Emotions - Initial Ideas 01

Work In Progress / 22 May 2019

Anyone who follows my Artstation page may have noticed that there has been very little recent activity or updates lately. This is due to a major project I have started work on that is going to be taking up most of my time for the foreseeable future. In an effort to stay active and provide insight into my work flow, I have decided to document my on going progress and ideas on this journey.

The working title for the series of work I am developing is 'Human Emotions'.  I plan to let this title sit for as long as it doesn't feel weird or until I can think of anything better and more appropriate for the project- feel free to suggest something in the comments if you have time.

My aim with the project is to create a series of environments, assets and materials that I can be recognized for and set a standard of quality in my work. It is an evolution of my original V Ray work here; Previous Blog Post  In my previous post I wanted to work on something themed around robots, I planned to use the robot to tell the story and the basis or signature for future environments.

Story:  A robot in an abandoned world interacting with every day human themes or finding itself stumped by human emotions.  

Aims of the project: 

  • Create a tutorial series that would cover themes of environment creation that aren't commonly covered in tutorials.
  • Continued series of environment, assets and materials for portfolio
  • Cinematic mood and atmosphere 
  • Excellent rendering
  • A key focus on telling a story 
  • Great composition  with no question of subject matter

Here are some images of the first blockouts where I was initially trying out ideas. The assets are blockouts modeled in Max with the scenes created in Marmoset. Marmoset is a great tool for quickly iterating and visualizing ideas and I had a lot of fun throwing around simple meshes and lighting.

Here is my initial ref board for the project at this stage. I was also leaning more heavily towards vegetation to serve the tutorial.