Sunday, 14 September 2014

Creative Assembly Graduate Art Contest Submission - Jama Masjid


Above is my submission for the competition/contest from Creative Assembly to earn a paid internship. I decided to write up a fairly brief summary of how I went about creating it just for blogging and explanation purposes.

My friend who currently works at CA posted up the offer on Facebook, which is to believably recreate a historical building or siege engine as it was in its original setting (or character, but I want to be an environment artist). This immediately took my interest, so for the first week I went about looking for buildings to recreate (I decided on a building rather than a siege engine straightaway as I personally feels it allows for more variety and a larger scope with which to push myself). I wanted to do a Middle Eastern building from the get go as I was recently reminiscing over the Prince of Persia franchise and how nice the Persian Architecture was. I initially settled on the below structure - Qutb Minar - as it presented what looks like an ideal opportunity for sculpting practice on tiling textures, but the overall structure didn't seem interesting enough; it's mostly just a tower.

So after a week of humming and hawing, looking at other famous Indian structures I settled on the below building, Jama Masjid, the most well known mosque in India. While it is still completely intact from when it was constructed in 1656, the material definition was quite varied and would've been very different to what it is now. Almost all of the cream shades on the building are constructed from marble, which has obviously worn and weathered from being 360 years old, as has the golden spires. This means I was going to construct the building literally all shiny and new.

When I started modelling it I broke it down into modular assets, which would hugely save on time and texture budgets. I didn't set myself much of a budget for tri's or texture as this is meant to sell my skills and historical accuracy, but I did try to make it as game-ready as possible anyway. I'm not actually sure that the marble they used would have been polished to reflective levels, but seeing as it is a holy building and so immensely huge, I imagine they would have tried to make it look as fancy as possible.

Two shots of my white box in CryEngine3. At this stage I just wanted to ensure the general scale was correct, as I needed to make sure my modulars would fit correctly and everything. I also made sure to ensure the lighting was correct - mosques always point towards Mecca so I ensured the lighting matched that.

I gathered lots of reference from as many angles as I could so that I made sure it was accurate as possible and correctly to scale. Wikipedia was useful as it stated how high things like the minarets were so I could use this to work to. I also found some blueprints to the building which were very useful as almost all the photos of the building are from head on or slightly to the side which meant I had to get creative for things like the back corners and roof.

Some more shots of my modular progress, using a variety of 3DS max tools to ensure it would all line up correctly when I placed it in engine.

Next I started to create some base textures. Both of the above I've altered since these shots. I created some base tiling textures myself, and then plugged these into Quixel alongside my high poly bakes for AOs and Normals to create bases for my textures, which I then built up light layers of dirt using DDO and added extra normal details on top using NDO and Crazybump.

Material definition was key to making this project look as authentic as possible, so making sure the marble was reflective, but not too much, and the sandstone rough was essential. I used Quixel's default PBR settings to create the bases for my Albedo, Gloss, Specular, AO and Normal maps and then added in the extra necessary detail on top.

In progress textures.

I decided to switch engine to UE4 as I'd seen how great it was as lighting things when used effectively and I hadn't really put much into CryEngine at this point. It didn't take too long to get to grips with it thankfully as I have knowledge of UDK 3 and UE4 also makes things like importing textures and meshes and creating lightmaps far easier than before. One issue I came across is that using the PBR setting for my maps in Quixel wasn't ideal; as I should have used the UE4 setting to let me create Roughness and Metallness maps instead of Specular and Gloss. I worked around this with the fairly crude node layout on all my materials (and some with slightly different tweaks) which gave off the desired result I was after anyway. I also had to run the AO map through a multiplier with the Albedo into the Base Colour slot as just plugging it into the AO slot on the material didn't seem to be doing anything.

I also made sure that the values for all my materials different maps were the same on each texture sheet to avoid inconsistencies.

Throughout the project the building was always my main focus (as this was the main task after all), but I wanted to present it properly so in the last few days I fleshed out the area around it. Luckily the building is obviously very modular so I was able to make most of the surrounding assets like the walls and tower using existing textures and altered assets. I was trying to create a game-ready building but the assets around it are less efficient and messy in areas so these aren't as optimal as I would have liked.

Finally, I created some quick curtains to decorate the entrances using the nVidia Apex plug-in for 3DS Max for use with UE4 and added a little wind to the scene, and created some water after following a tutorial. All the assets and textures are completely my own work, excluding the water texture supplied with UE4. The skybox is also default and I used tweaked UE4 material shaders on my own marble textures to get the desired reflective result. I used photos from the following links, again altering them and creating tiled versions myself:

Programs Used:
3DS Max 2013
Zbrush 4R6
Photoshop CS5
Unreal Engine 4
Quixel Suite

Overall I'm pleased with what I accomplished considering the short time span. I got the actual building finished which was what was required so all I can do now is hope for the best. Even if I don't win I have something new to add to my portfolio, and I'll probably continue working on it now, replacing the assets I put in in the last few days with actual unique geometry and texture sheets, along side adding things like the whole courtyard, carpets, natural lighting, the gateway entrances - basically making it as true to its 1656 rendition as possible.

Monday, 8 September 2014

PBR Skateboard

Something I never put up on here, PBR skateboard I created a while ago using Quixel Suite. It was mainly to test out Quixel and to give PBR a go (even though its not technically true PBR). I found Quixel to be fairly awkward to use due to it still being in beta, but what it can accomplish when it's working right is awesome. You get more out of it depending on how much you put into it, so I made sure that my Mesh, AO, Normals, Object Space Normals and Colour IDs were all perfect before plugging them in and tweaking the materials and build-up processes made possible by Quixel.
I did find it very awkward to alter things in Photoshop manually once Quixel was open, especially if you wanted to add your own masks and layers like the grind marks on the bottom of the board - Quixel simultaneously edits all the maps accordingly which is fantastic, but if you need to do something manual like the grind marks it tends to cause a lot of issues (for me anyway). I did find it easy to set up my own materials to though, such as the gloss paint on the underside and the actual maple wood of the board (as Quixel's provided wood was far too worn and aged).