This is an environment I created for my new demo reel. It was inspired by one of my favorite games, Mass Effect 2. The environments in that game and the sky boxes are simply staggering to say the least. I decided I wanted to create a clean, futuristic space that could be used in a game like Mass Effect. I planned everything out with some concept sketches and diagrams I drew up on paper, then collected hundred of images for reference; Google is great for finding images, including pictures, images, etc. of sci-fi stuff :)
Once I had the environment envisioned in my mind, I started blocking out and prototyping, this phase went through a few iterations as I was trying to get my volumes blocked out and my space figured out. Once I was happy with a final previz, I went to work on created base meshes, which I then took into ZBrush. In ZBrush I sculpted very hi-res meshes with detail, one of the cool things about ZBrush (what isn't great about ZBrush) is the ability to sculpt hard surfaces and machined parts. I used ZBrush 4, and now I'm running ZB4R2, which is phenomenal. Dealing with massive amounts of data, the new workstation I built made it all possible. Once I had all the sculpting done, I went ahead and created the optimized low res in-game meshes and normal mapped all the detail from the sculpts (some had over 30 million triangles) to the low res models. I transfered detail in the form of occlusion, normal, and cavity maps; which I then comped in Photoshop using a specific workflow I came up with especially for the texturing of this project.
On completion of all assets, I brought it all into Unreal Engine 3 and began level design. In the following order:
- tweaked mesh settings with the mesh editor
- created custom materials with the Material Editor
- placed all assets and assembled the level in Unreal Editor
- setup lighting rig for the scene; lightmapped scene with Lightmass
- setup special FX, including custom lens flares (created lens flares in the same art style as Mass Effect), fog volumes, volumetric lighting, post processing FX for the player camera, color correction, etc.
- setup a system of cameras that are animated with Matinee; completed camera animation of different flythroughs and shots
- rendered out high quality capture using Unreal's built in frame rendering feature with DX11, FXAA, MLAA, etc.
Was a lot of fun to make, especially because you have the freedom to create whatever you want. I want to note also that I used FBX as the backbone of my data asset exchange pipeline; Epic's implementation of FBX is damn near perfect, I had no problems, bugs, showstoppers, or anything- everything worked flawlessly and smoothly from the get-go, I hope that other companies take notes and learn to implement FBX into their engines as skilled as Epic, they could stand to learn a thing or two about efficient data asset exchange pipelines.
Thanks to Epic for making one kick-*** engine, and to Bioware for creating the franchise that inspired me to make this piece; can't wait to play Mass Effect 3!