We are a team of two French people : Lucie Lescuyer, and Alexandre Stroukoff. We are both 3d Artists in the video game industry for about 4/5 years now, and we have a lot of interest in the technical part of making real-time environments.
We first saw an announcement on CUBEBRUSH for an art contest. The subject was to build a large environment mixing two themes, the 3d contest was open for teams of 2 people. We decided to join, and use this as an opportunity to work something different than usual and create something together.
The restrictions were minimal, so we just went with it : We decided to use Unity, because we are more comfortable with it, and we like the challenge of building a High Quality Environment in Unity.
The initial idea was to use a contemporary base, something like actual real world ruins, and mix them with a Sci-Fi look that we both like a lot, the kind of sci-fi you would find in Akira, or Enki Bilal works.
We then started by gathering a lot of references. During our research we found a very cool place called "Myra", which is a necropolis located in Southern Turkey. The juxtaposition of a cold sci-fi environment and a monument made to honor the dead would convey a really interesting feeling.
After we had a good amount of reference (Not everything is shown in the moodbard!), we started by doing simple concept art. Naturally the vertical composition came to us, and we tried to stick to it because it would make our picture stand more.
Blockout the scene
Since this project was a short one we would reuse a lot of props. The blockout had a few goals :
Validate the vertical composition
See if we could get around we 2 or 3 houses maximum, as well as little rocks as possible.
Start to see how we could blend the ruins and the Sci-Fi elements
We didn't focus on the lighting, materials and texture for this blockout, the points before were the focus. We modeled a house really quickly, as well as some sci fi elements and duplicated them a LOT in the scene. We also added tiny details (like emissive light) to convey the sense of scale while still in blockout phase.
Detailing the scene
Once we were happy with the blockout we started by detailing little by little some assets. One clear thing was that our Sci-Fi part was not imposing enough: this the point where we decided to go with huge concrete structure. It was also easier to blend with the natural structure than the initial metal plates idea.
The rocks and the house were a big a challenge: the houses were supposed to be carved out of the rocks. In the end we went with a modular approach : We built three houses, and two rocks. All of the modules were sculpted in zbrush, and then baked onto low poly meshes ( We only used Normal map and Ambient occlusion).
The blending of the textures between the meshes would also be very important, that's why we went with triplanar mapping very early on as the test were successful.This would have been a very long process didn't use a custom shader.
We wanted to be more procedural in our construction, but didn't have the time to set up a workflow for this. However we still used Houdini for placing the soft tubes around the scene.
All the materials were done in substance, following a standard PBR workflow. We used the SBRAR files directly in unity, so we could tweak the colors and other parameters in realtime to optimize the look of the materials and iterate faster.
The rock materials where made by mixing the medium to high frequency rock material made in Substance with the hand sculpted rocks from zbrush. With the triplanar shader, it worked pretty well. We used the exact same shader on the Houses.
Since the scene was meant to be viewed from afar, we didn't go to crazy with the high frequency detail, and focus on the general shape and low frequency details.
For the lighting, we worked in linear space, with the latest post processing stack. It was also a good time to test the Volumetric Lighting Package from Unity, since this night scene was quite moody.
The lighting took some time to define, the main light contribution come from a single directional light with a falloff, to fake the Moonlight. Once this light was setup, we started by adding light all around the scene, while still making sure it would not break the composition.
We tried to make a dark to light gradient from the top, to emphasize even more the vertical aspect of the scene
The scene is not extremely heavy, we don't have really powerful laptops anyway !
The scene runs around 30 fps in realtime, but a lot of optimization could be made : A lot of wasted geometry on rocks, we have no LODs in the scene,...
We used low resolution textures as much as possible (512 to 1024) and keep the really high textures for the focus points ( up to 2k).