20 dic. 2016

Cartoon Environment Workflow

Hi everyone,

Let me introduce myself, my name is Javier Cadenas and I work as an environment artist for videogames and real time app.

In this post I am going to try to explain some of the tricks and tools I used for my latest environment.

The main features of this project are:

1) A cartoon hand-drawn style;
2) An open field environment.

As a first step I analysed the project, its priorities and objectives (pre-production). 

How long would it take to design and develop the project? It is important to set a time schedule, otherwise you can end up wasting a lifetime improving and polishing! For this environment, it took me about a month to wrap everything up.

What was I designing? I thought about its aesthetic, I searched references and I drew a lot of concepts. You do not need to be an amazing Concept Artist … but you do need to think things through and test options until you get a really clear idea of what you are going to model. As an advice, draw as many sketches as possible to help you to refine your ideas. Here is an example of my insane stick drawing concepts:

(Yes, I draw them very very very quickly :P) 
What did I want to achieve? What were the challenges? I always try to do something new, something I haven't done before. In this case, I created this scenery so I could work with hand-drawing textures and create an open nature environment, keeping 60 fps.

I started the production stage selecting the main assets I wanted to show: the house and the trees. Through the design of these key Props I could determine the style of my environment and set the level of quality I wanted to reach. 
After finishing these assets I started working on the environment itself, creating a blocking for the level and a first pass for the lighting.

Once the landscape was finalised, I started to populate the main vegetation like the trees. To keep a clean workflow I made 2 LOD from each tree and a “tricky" imposter. It is important to use the imposter carefully and prudently: the plane geometry needs to be scaled more than usual otherwise some popping errors may occur. (Please note that some of the documentation you can find online regarding this topic may be out of date)

As I said, all the textures are hand-drawn. I think that is a good practise to bake the Vertex colour from the High-poly model and improve it in Photoshop, adding more details. You can also do this step via Substance painter. In some props I spent more time painting the texture than modelling

For the river, I built a material that is a mix between cartoon and realistic to match it with the rest of the environment. This was made creating procedural “cartoonish” foam and leaving the reflections from the normal map wave more realistic.

Regarding the Lightning:

The Stationary Light is a great advantage for the open world environment since it allows you to have both dynamic and static shadows. However it is essential to choose wisely the balance between Dynamic Shadows (they affect the performance of the frame-rate) and Static Shadows (they increase the texture memory and the baking time). I, for example, used two different kind of foliage for the same grass asset in this environment. The area that could be reached by the player has a more detail geometry and static light while the background has less tris and a dynamic light.

As a last step I played with the post-process volume and add some fx (the flock and the butterflies come from the Unreal example levels).

I hope you enjoyed my cartoon environment and that you found this article useful.

Thanks for you time!


13 dic. 2016

Demo Reel 2016

Hi everyone, I recently updated my Demo reel with my latest cartoon project.
Also, you you can find in my website ( www.javiercadenas.es ) the galleries about the projects and a downloadble portfolio with my recents works .

 Hope you enjoy it Cheers!

(next step do a breakdown from the cartoon environment, please stay tunned :) I will publish at the blog)

10 sept. 2015

Post Victorian Station (breakdown)

Hi everybody!
In this post I'm going to show you some tecnical features of my new environment.

The first thing you can notice is the predominance of metallic materials inside this scene. For me It was a great excercise that allowed me to improve my skills in the use of the following tools:  Sphere Reflection Actor, Metallic Shaders and emissive colour. Despise the use of this tools the materials are not expensive, the environment is playable and it does not fall from 60 fames per second.

In the following pictures you can see how the Sphere of Reflections act over the metallic materials. It is a very useful tool!

The main asset, the train, was modelled with Miki Company's colaboration more than a year ago. Unfortunately, Unreal 4 was in development back then and some of its functions didn' t work properly. For this reason, I redid all the materials, textures (diffuse map, metallic map, and roughness map inside the diffuse map's alpha channel) and I also made an animated emissive zone using a mask texture.

As I said, most of the materials are metallic, however there are other kind of materials too. The contrast of the brigthness value between the metallic and the non-metallic objects emphasised the metallic aspect of the former. For example, we can find materials made from plastic or paper, and they have an antagonist specular value

I populated the environment with some animated screens, this was a good choice to gain more personality and dynamism. The screens have a flipbook material expression multiplied by itself and linked to the emissive colour input. In this way they look like a backlit display. I also added few 6 sheet advertisement posters because their glass reflects the emissive lights from the screens. Is a great way to equilibrate the scene without use more screens.

I designed the posters thinking in the late 80's fashion

The developing of this project had a limit time of one month. For this reason I choosed to model a lot of seamless assets so I could use the tileable function. These are the best option for the level optimization because I started with instanced low-poly meshes.

There are around 45 different models  and about 2/3 of these parts had a high poly model.
The background and hidden assets had less tris, however, thanks to the the fog and DOF from the postprocess we can't differentiate these with the main props.

Some details from the metallic value

In the end, I like to give you a little tip: the perfect way to blend texture like gravel or stone in a landscape is by heightmap blending. You can find it when you create a new layer on your landscape material. I know is more expensive but is very useful to paint roads, mountain debris or shores

I hope it will be helpful tip and that you will enjoy it!
For any doubt, please feel free to drop me a line or two!
Javier Cadenas

14 jul. 2015

Demo Reel 2015

Hi everybody!

 Today I show you mi new demo-reel, maybe is better call it an updated reel. This demo was made along April and May, but I forgot put the video as public in youtube :S. In few month I think that this receive a new version or update because there are a lot of new awesome work that don't appear..... I'm still working in new environments! And remember, all the footage of this video was recorded in real time from Unreal 4.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy with my old/new demo reel 2015!