DA Systems SEC_C4M3R4 - Pt.1

Work In Progress / 14 August 2023

DA Systems SEC_C4M3R4

I started working on a lil security camera a while back as a reintroduction to Blender while also working on some texturing and presentation skills. I've gotten feedback in the past about being more playful and exploratory in the presentation of my pieces. So here's a lil one to play around with!

Originally I was planning on texturing it with some retro-scifi (Simon Stålenhag) direction in mind, we'll see how the final render ideas come out!

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I've been working on this a bit off and on when I've had the time to, and started out with that in mind. So when I first began modeling for this project, I went pretty basic in order to get through the modelling stages quickly, making the model as plain as possible to get to texturing as fast as possible.

As it turned out, the thing I ended up with was a bit too basic for my liking, so back to the drawing board I went. Thanks to some feedback in the Beyond Extent Discord I got a Miro board with some more interesting references up and running. Not only for modelling, but also for presentation! I didn't want to make any exact model of camera. Instead, I ended up merging a few together to create my own. Apart from this, I quickly sketched out an additional battery pack in case I wanted to have an addon for the camera in the future.

After some final adjustments to the silhouette, as well as some panel lines in the base mesh itself, I took it into ZBrush to create the highpoly. Here I followed my standard workflow of creasing based on angle, subdividing, dynameshing and polishing edges. For this I also took the opportunity to add some screws and sketched out some additional panel lines to make it feel like the camera was built from several pieces, instead of being molded into one solid piece.

After this I decimated the highpoly at quite a harsh number to get it super low, and then brought it back into Blender. Here, I used the decimated highpoly as a blueprint for my lowpoly which used my basemesh which I subdivided with some edge creases to get it to a nice smoothness. I then started deleting unneccessary loops to get it to a more game ready polycount, still very much keeping in mind that I want to preserve as smooth shapes as possible and not be too crunchy with the numbers. This as I'm focusing more on making the asset look good, rather than as optimized as it can possibly be.

And this brings us to the present day! I still have to optimize the glass and adjust the overlap of verts between the high- and lowpoly. But other than that we're ready to move onto UVs! Thanks for reading this catch up and I'll see you in the next one!

The Quarry Pt.9

Work In Progress / 08 January 2023

The RGB masks are in! Over the past week since New Year's (Happy New Year by the way!) I added in RGB masks for all my objects in the scene and adjusted the cloud shadows in my light function material slightly. It still needs some adjustments but is definately better than before! I also added in a few smaller piles of sand which blends in nicely with the other assets thanks to Runtime Virtual Textures.

The remaining work now is to get in some blowing sand VFX as well as some POM cracks on the cliffs and the quarried blocks to show the way they crack apart. After that it's time for final cinematics and renders! This is probably the last blogpost before uploading the final artwork as there's not too much left. Thanks again for all the support and have a great day!


The Quarry Pt.8

Work In Progress / 31 December 2022

Wrapping up 2022 as I'm getting ever closer to the finish line with this project. It's taken a while to get here but I'm so happy I took the time needed. A few iterations here and there to the composition, removing some assets that added too much noise, as well as some shader work!

The ropes are in place to make the scaffoldings look more realistic and secure, as well as metal rings securing the larger ropes and flags to the cliffs. I'm really happy I'm a place where I can polish things, like the cloth shader which now is way less intense and looks a lot nicer. Furthermore I took some inspiration from Cairo Goodbrand's RGB mask shader to add more details into my assets. For this I used a secondary UV set, with simple colors assigned via constant 3 vecors in the shader itself. Red channel gives a slight color variation, green adds dust/dirt, blue adds some wetness (also changes roughness) and the alpha channel adds some very slight edge highlights.

All this is now setup neatly for me in Substance Painter using a smart material for the masks, and a template scene so that I don't have to set up my custom channels in Painter every time I need to make another mask.

To help break up the rocky shapes in the scene I decided to reuse the pebble assets I created previously for my ground. Thanks to RVT blending and matching the textures quite well to my scanned ground they looked quite decent even when scaling them up, and didn't really feel out of place. I'm letting these serve as my medium shapes to help the transition from cliff to ground.

Finally it was time to get even more movement into the scene using the cranes. I simply split the crane up into two separate meshes (crane + platform) and brought them separately into the engine. In the engine I combined them into a Blueprint which I then animated using a timeline curve along with exposing the default turn angle I wanted for the crane, enabling me to make each crane's starting position offset from each others.

All of these changes are putting me into an excellent position for finishing this project in January. The final stuff is to get the rest of the RGB masks done, as well as some decal work to really tie it all together.

That's all for this year! Thank you so much for all the help, feedback and support everyone. Now let us look forward to 2023, happy new year!


The Quarry Pt.7

Work In Progress / 27 November 2022

During the past month there's been quite a few adjustments! Minor fixes which have made quite a difference. The biggest change is in the composition, where I've added in a cave opening in the foreground to help frame the picture and add depth to the scene. Apart from this I've also made the move to Unreal Engine 5.1 and while it hasn't been problem free, the fixes to Lumen and extra control for interiors did make quite a difference between a black void and a nice framing transition once the cave was introduced.

Furthermore I also introduced parallax occlusion to my landscape material, as well as adding some pebble rocks to further sell the depth. For an extra layer of transition assistance I've also introduced RVT blending. And while it still needs some tweaking it's off to a decent start! For the pebbles I started off with one rock and spun it around in ZBrush to check how much use I could get from a single rock. Then I made another 2 to get my final 3 rocks.

Finally I decided to take a look back in time! I think it's always good to once in a while take a look at how my projects evolve over time. It really helps taking a step back and see how long I've come, rather than how long I have left.

To sum the month up I decided to make a quick and dirty first draft of how a shot for the cinematic could look! Seeing things in motion really helps picking up things that needs fixing and also helps with the immersion. And while I do have a fair amount of things left on my list, it's really coming together! Thanks for reading and I'll see you in the next update!


The Quarry Pt.6

Work In Progress / 30 October 2022

After a lot of rework based on some amazing feedback (mentioned in the last post) I've gotten to a pretty good post! I also decided to dive back into composition a bit, reworking some placement, and also played around with skies a bit. Both with volumetric cloud painting, but also trying out some skybox packs from the marketplace as well. As I'm not that good of a painter by any terms I decided to just go with a pack :) Worked out pretty good, including some fog planes from the old UE Blueprint sample project and I got something real nice in the end!

There's still a fair bit to go though, including getting the RGB masks going for the props, adding the micro shapes like rubble piles and the like. I did get a lot of great feedback last week from the Beyond Extent community that I'm currently in the process of adressing as well. Furthermore, there are some technical bugs with the cloth sim, as well as lumen in combination with the light function materials I'm using to fake cloud shadows. If anyone has experience with that and how to fix it please reach out! :) (Below you can see the latest feedback I got from Beyond Extent)

It's gonna be realm fun to implement all the feedback and see what the scene will look like after these next couple of steps! See you then!


The Quarry Pt.5

Work In Progress / 28 August 2022

One month and one vacation later! August is coming to an end and so is the current pace of progress! More on that later in the post, but for now: Updates!

We got some more colors in first of all! I decided to dive into some Blueprints to make my own rope-tool similar to the one I previously made in Houdini, although this time directly in engine. It's a bit more primitive spawning in a set mesh piece on points along a spline, but it gets the job done nonetheless! After that I added on the flags, getting the color variation was a bit of a challenge first as I wanted some control over it rather than just going 100% random. The solution was sampling the colors from a pre-chosen array set up in the blueprint. It works really well as it tints the default flag material and gives me a ton of control over the art direction for them! You can find the full blueprint here!

For the tent fabric covering the work area where the workers would be cutting the stones into smaller pieces for transportation, I brought the ropes and a placeholder mesh into Marvelous Designer where I simulated different pieces of tent cloth. Later down the line I might add in holes by using alpha in the tilable texture to add to the ragged look. The cloth pieces were too big with too much collision to be able to easily handle the UE cloth sim however, so I had to look for a different solution there. I ended up with a vertex shader for that, quite a simple one but it gets the work done. I went with the same shader as showcased here. The tent fabric itself was create in Substance Designer as a jute weave.


As you can see below, I also went back and reworked the trimsheet one final time to add on a tiling rope texture that I made using ZBrush for a highpoly which was then unwrapped on a cylinder. I then placed those UVs in the free part of the trimsheet. The rope ends were sculpted from scratch in ZBrush. This was the final part of the trimsheet and I'm really happy with how it turned out!

Thanks to Cairo Goodbrand I also got a new master shader set up for the trimsheet which is being used by every asset except for the rocks :D Cairo's got a great video breaking this shader down over on his Artstation!

The next item on the list was...rocks! A bit of size variation was required to break things up so that's what I jumped on next. And while I still need to add in a small rock piece, a debris cluster and a transition piece between the refined blocks and the unquarried pieces, I started big! Well, medium in this case. I ended up with a medium piece to have something to break up the terrain with. Thanks a lot to Katelyn Johnson for providing a bunch of awesome rock feedback, references and ideas for this piece. It really helped widen my idea spectrum of mixing the cool-factor with realism (it also added Max Mad Fury Road to my "must rewatch" movie list)

So what's next? Well there's a fair bit of work remaining, mainly in terms of breaking up the terrain, as well as relighting. After that there's polishing, getting the RGB shader implemented on all the assets with secondary UVs. For the lighting I got some ideas from Peyton Varney by taking inspiration from this gorgeous illustration by Aaron Limonick in regards of balancing the colors and tones.

I also once again also recieved really useful feedback from Katelyn on layering of the ground elements to help blend the scene together (image 1)! I also recieved a ton of great feedback from the awesome community over at Beyond Extent in terms of more ground elements, separating the destroyed nature of the quarry from the untouched nature around and general tips to improve the scene (image 2)!

Even though there's still a fair amount of work left on this, I'm gonna take it slow. In fact, progress is gonna slow down further as I'm starting my first gig in AAA tomorrow! While I don't plan to call it quits on this project, it's just gonna take a bit longer until it gets finished :) Now then, I can't wait to get started in the industry and keep on learning and growing as an artist! See you all in the next update, whenever that may be!


The Quarry Pt.4

Work In Progress / 25 July 2022

Hello there! July is nearing it's end, so before I leave for some vacation I wanted to share the latest! If you've been following me on Twitter, you'll have seen the progress made. But here's a summary if you don't :) This time I'm also adding in a larger breakdown of my new cliff creation process for the larger cliff assets in my scene.


There's been further improvements on the composition, a lot of it thanks to feedback from the awesome people over at Beyond Extent. Yet the majority of the work has gone into reworking my assets, making a new trim sheet, as well as making the crane more functional! (shoutout to Simon Grefback and Gavin Harvey for being killer thinkers for helping me figure out the functionality and how to make it work!)

Furthermore I've also been working on a pretty big part of the scene, cliffs! I've really been struggling figuring out how to create giant environment assets like cliff walls and the like, thankfully I've been getting a lot of help from a real rock expert, Derk Elshof

Thanks to him I managed to get down a really solid workflow consisting of creating really extreme heightmaps in Substance Designer, which I could then use to displace simple basemeshes in ZBrush. After that I was doing some minor cleanup using the Planar and TrimSmoothBorder brushes to clean up the worst offenders in terms of noise and weird geo, and then it was ready to make a gameres version! Some lowpoly and UV work later I could bring it into engine! I also decided to play around with the cliff in ZBrush to make a little diorama presentation in order to get a feeling of how it could look like later on. It was also generally just fun doing it!


Since I've been getting quite a few questions about what this workflow would look like in action, I decided to record a short clip in order to demonstrate just how quick it can actually be doing the ZBrush stage! The main thing to keep in mind here is scale in terms of your heightmap vs the scale of your asset, just to make sure things don't look too weird. On a larger cliff for example you'd have to stamp on a lot more of these alphas to keep things consistent.

Once the lowpoly is complete I bring it into the engine and slap on a couple of different detail textures I made in Designer combined with a baked unique normal for every cliff. The detail textures help keep up the fidelity, especially when you have a shader scaling the textures with the asset based on world position and object scale.

The final shader itself is largely based on an article from Vishal Ranga, along with some tweaks of my own like making the shader triplanar for a couple of things. This is mainly because of production efficiency, while I in the future would look at more optimized solutions instead. The final shader has also control for color tinting through an RGB mask, as well as a slight color offset based on world position. These options allow me to create biome variations just through tinting colors, rather than creating brand new textures. Pretty handy! Below is an image of two different groupings of my cliff, with the left and right groupings having different instances on them with different color tints.

Now I'll be going on a short vacation for the next week! After that I'll write down the final remaining pieces as documentation on Notion to keep track of things. (See the picture below for a sneak peek of what awaits) Again a big thank you to everyone in the Beyond Extent community for their great feedback.

Even though some of the feedback has already been implemented (as you can see below) there are still a couple of things left in there for post-vacation ;)  That's it for this update, see you in the next one!


The Quarry Pt.3

Work In Progress / 03 July 2022

Over the past 2 weeks I've been working a lot on reworking the composition of the quarry as a whole! There's been a lot of back and forth going on but I finally feel like I got a nice direction to go into.

Furthermore, I've also created some placeholder materials for the rocks and cliffs, as well as looked into a Z-Up shader with scaling for the rocks. The shader also is using masks to decide what material goes where (thanks to Casper Wermuth for an awesome tutorial on that!) My shader still needs some more work, as well as a rework of the textures, but it works for now!

Next up I'll be finishing the construction of the threadmill crane (something which has been really interesting to research!) and after that it's time for lighting, reworking rocks and looking into terrain!. I'll also be adding in some dust blowing around in the scene to help create more life in the scene. Speaking of life, I've added in banners and flags, trying out the Chaos cloth sim tools which come built into Unreal Engine 5. It'll be fun experimenting more with that in the future as I add more cloth in!

See you next time!


The Quarry Pt.2

Work In Progress / 12 June 2022

Slow but steady progress is being made! I've been working at a relaxed pace now that I don't have any school related deadlines and I'm taking my time with this project, working on it as a passion project more than anything else :) Since the last update I've been getting into photoscanning for materials, as well as getting to experiment more with trimsheets thanks to the Beyond Extent solo challenge last month! As trimsheets are quite new to me I really started seeing all the pros of it, and looking forward to developing my own trimsheet further during the course of this project.

I've also gotten a bit more into rock sculpting, trying out some new techniques by Phil Stoltz using scan data to help bring out more details while at the same time doing it fast! Although it's an effective method, I need more time practising as I'm a bit rusty with my rock sculpting.

Since last time, I've also made "a few" updates to my reference board! I felt that I needed to expand it with a bit more references, both in terms of real life reference, but also art direction wise. It took a while but now it's done and I can get back to working with a much clearer idea of where I'm headed!

Finally I also went over the composition a little bit, breaking the shapes up to add more interest in the scene as well as improving the flow together with a few new shapes, guiding the eye a bit more towards the top.

That's all for this update, see you in the next one!


The Quarry Pt.1

Work In Progress / 18 April 2022

So over the past week I've been starting to work on something new! I had the opportunity to try out New World for a weekend and found a nice little quarry. So I got inspired to make my own! It's gonna be really fun working on a more natural environment with a big focus on sculpting, something that I've been missing a lot making the past couple of projects. This is also a chance for me to try out the full release of UE5!

I spent the easter weekend getting a quick blockout in, and got to work on some sculpts! Not only a trimsheet for the wood pieces, but also for the rocks! So far I've gotten first iteration sculpts for the smaller scatter rocks/boulders, as well as the main quarry blocks! Those are also UVed and got placeholder textures on them in engine. Later on I'll be making tilables and using a world-aligned shader to mix between the baked normal+AO maps and tilables with detail textures on top! Hopefully I'll also get some dust on top based on z-alignment :)

This project will be moving a bit slower than the previous three, as I'm working on this on my free time alone compared to when I had the ability to spend school hours. Nevertheless it's gonna give me more time to polish everything and really push myself further without stress. In the end I'll hopefully have a lil outdoor environment where you can explore a bit freely. Both in the quarry, but also in the forest that will eventually be surrounding it!

That's all for now, see you in the next update!