Environment Feature

As an aspiring environment artist, the environment was one of the most exciting parts of the project. The irony is the environment literally uses the most "smoke and mirrors" tricks to create the impression of a more impressive atmospheric environment. I guess that's the challenge with any environment. I'm so lucky noir let's me cheat with the fog and shadows ;)

The inspiration for this environment is the old distillery district in Toronto, Canada. It's a tourist spot, so they kept some of the buildings intact. I went with a friend to take reference photos at the location. Besides being useful production material, the coolest thing is walking through the area in the game and remember the feeling of being there in person.

This area in particular stood out to me, so I made it the first place the player walks through in the game:

Might not be as fancy as Rue du Gros-Horloge, but it was the most interesting place I visited in Canada since the last time I left my room

Early Stage/Block-out:
What I like to do with my environments is block out everything in Maya and export the scene as one object to check scale in UE4. Then I split the environment into modules which are set up properly in UE4. From the very beginning I am thinking about and using modular parts in Maya, however they do not get detailed until much later. Sometimes the detailing is just fixing the UV's and applying tiling textures. In the future I would like to sculpt more unique assets as that is more enjoyable. But in the end it's the overall impression which matters.

The layout was based on old architectural plans of Toronto's Distillery district to create authentic scale
Modular thinking was used early on and throughout
 Creating building variations with trims, walls and columns is the quickest method

Since the overall balance or 'gestalt' is so important and difficult to manage, I like to do some lighting tests in Unreal as well. In the early stage of production, the environment was dark, but after some feedback I brightened it up. It's easy to get attached to the work and overlook these issues, but looking back at old renders it was extremely dark...

Early lighting tests were low-key with high contrast, but hit the mood and atmosphere

color was taking away from the film noir aesthetic, so the game remained in greyscale

Time Saving Techniques
I used some textures from gametextures.com and the example content in UE4 for the blockout to get sense of scale early on. Textures take a while to create so it's nice to have a visual of what the environment may look like and helps to create proper UV's early on. In the end I sculpting my own brick textures and used cgtextures.com for a lot of the other surfaces. Unfortunately I did not have time to replace all of the textures such as the roof tiles and crates (yeah of all things). In game development a priority has to be given to everything so in the end something takes a hit.

I also saved time by using some blueprints for the environment, such as laying out walls in rows using an array. Splines were used for the dirt tire marks. I used variations of these systems on other elements like phone lines and complete buildings.

Apply a tiling alpha texture to a plane attached to a spline made quick paths in the mud
Decals were used for some dripping wear effects

The following video shows the Blueprints in action:

It would have been nice to spend more time detailing the environment, but due to the volume of work a lot of the environment features had a much lower priority. In the future I will focus more specifically on environments and create at a smaller scale to allow time for necessary detail. I'm still happy with how this environment turned out and it gives off the slightly creepy, film noir vibe I was going for. People seem to be immersed in the world while playing which is a nice sign. If I can combine visual fidelity with immersion in my future environment work, then my objective has been reached. Until then I study, practice and improve.