Honour Blog - Mushbutts - Week 3
Updated: Oct 13, 2022
10/10/2022 - 16/10/2022
This week I started off with delving into UE5's volumetric cloud system to try and make my clouds a lot rounder, fluffier and stylised. As you can see the before picture on the right, the default UE5 clouds are so realistic compared to the style I was going for. Eventually I got to the point I am really happy with! Though, at first, I think I was approaching this very wrong. I was looking at skybox/skysphere tutorials online in which you have to paint the sky with the clouds on a seperate flat PNG, and I just thought that was not the process I wanted to use. With upgrading to UE5 from UE4, I have been very much having fun learning all the new things UE5 has to offer, and have been very keen on utilising this. So, I knew that I wanted to utilise the starter content blueprints UE5 has for their clouds/sky somehow. In the end, I ended up getting in contact with James Burton, my previous lecturer for 3D Art last year, and explained that I have a cute, stylised environment but the default UE5 clouds are very out of place, but I am not sure where to go from there. James informed me about UE5's volumetric cloud system/plugin, which up until this point I had no idea was a thing! He sent me this video by William Faucher , and I was able to use it as a basis to tweak the values to get the nice stylised clouds I wanted. The video just goes over things you *can* do, and is not a step by step tutorial. So I did take a lot of time playing around with everything and figuring out what I can do. Again, my main goal here was to make the clouds feel fluffy and round, to match the aesthetic of everything else in my scene. Below are some progress screenshots I took along the way and my thoughts during.
Firstly, you have to completely replace the current clouds with another blueprint within the engine content, and so at first you have no clouds at all.
Starting off with the new clouds - here I am thinking I love the placement and control I have at the moment, but I think it needs to be bigger and rounder. I am also unhappy with how dark they look.
Getting there! - Was able to adjust the scale to what I wanted, and mess with values to determine how much light passes through the clouds. It looks very bold and even firey at the moment, but I knew I was on the right path.
Finished clouds! I feel like they have such a nice gradient to them, and I adore their shape and colour. This process definitely makes my scene feel so much more magical and cohesive, I am very happy to be able to utilise this method, as I was able to get exactly what I wanted so much easier and quicker, and look forward to using this in other projects with different styles because I know I can change so many values to get any look I want.
Something I have started doing is taking screenshots of foliage and vegetation in Genshin Impact. It is a game I play everyday for around 20 minutes to just do daily quests and such, and it is a big inspiration for my style. So, while I have been just doing my daily missions, I have been taking screenshots of the plants from different angles and trying to analyse how they are done to be able to incorporate it into my project as well and incorporate this into my daily routine. After doing this, I felt a lot more confident and was able to work out new methods to approach foliage. I noticed a lot of Genshin's plants take up very little space performance wise, and are mostly just using planes that stack ontop of eachother, and are relatively lowpoly with nice textures. I decided to try this out myself:
Firstly, I started working in the front facing orthographic view with just a flat plane. By adding a few subdivisions, I was able to make a simple long leaf shape and just slightly messed with the edges of the leaf to create variation. To create the stem, I just pulled out a bit from the leaf and tapered it to create a believeable shape. To create the full plant, I just kept copy and pasting from my original leaf plane for the whole of the plant. I made sure to mess with the rotation, shape and scale for each new duplicate so it didn't look exactly the same. I included a quick video below on how I was able to do this process. As you can see, using the soft selection mode in Maya is one of the biggest parts in making the leaves feel organically shaped.
Next, I wanted to make a fern plant. I used the exact same process as above, but my original plane has a bit more nuance to it. Firstly, I started with multiple small leaf-shaped planes on just one side and a long single plane in the middle for the stem. For each leaf plane, I duplicated some of the others and just adjusted the scale, rotation and shape so it doesn't look so samey again. When I was done with one side, I just mirrored it to the other side and only needed to slightly tweak some of the planes again to make it look more organic. After this. I could just combine this whole plane and do the same process as before and create a full fern plant. With both plants I have made, afterwards a small but important point is that I had to make sure all of the normals were facing upwards so that they would work in UE5 later down the road. Otherwise, some faces of my plants could look really dark and look bad, especially when I put the wind node on it in the material editor.
Small rock set - With and without moss variants - Sculpted and baked.
Branch Workflow with Maya curves
Textured & Baked in Substance Painter - ZBrush Sculpt - Lowpoly Mesh
At this point in my scene, I felt like I wanted some other moving parts to make it feel more alive. I recently watched this video by Stylised Station on how games nowadays make fire and was inspired to try it myself. I decided to go for a blue fire to put inside of my lanterns, because I felt like it really added to the overall whimsical and magical feeling compared to a standard orange fire.
Above is a video showcasing my material instance for the fire, and all of the values that can be tweaked for a drastically different look. I think I am a big fan for creating things like this in the material editor using different nodes and parameters compared to, for example, making a flickering fire out of single PNGs. I like to know that in the future I can come back to a blueprint like this and reuse it, change it up, and give it a completely fresh look and feel - and that I could potentially give this same material to someone else and they can do the same. I feel like this is a really good balance of productivity/streamlined workflow without sacrificing any artstyle.
Waterfall Foam VFX
Previously, I had always been intimidated by making water materials, but especially waterfalls. I found it hard when looking at real-life references to figure out how to translate the sort of white foam or bubbles in a stylised manner. However, after creating my fire material, I realised I could pretty easily tweak values and colour to make my waterfall VFX. Similarly to before with the foliage, I went around the Genshin Impact world to look for inspiration. I found that it would be easier for me to break down and understand if I tried to group what I saw into chunks and try to apply this to my own work. So, pictured below, I attempted to annotate a screenshot I took: the top foam/bubbles (circled in yellow) is similar in size and shape to the bottom foam/bubbles (circled in red), but tends to be a bit more far apart. There also appears to be smaller yet much longer particles running through the middle (circled in green) that I think help indicate the speed and direction of the water flow.
After breaking it down into chunks, I found it a lot easier to assemble my waterfall. I feel like being able to move and scale my individual pieces rather than having it all in one master water material gave me a lot of control over the visuals of my scene. Above is a video of how I assembled the pieces and also how they look in the environment.
I then just continued to add my assets to the scene and added a few spotlights to simulate a dappled lighting effect through the trees.