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 (Please note that some of the documentation you can find online regarding this topic may be out of date)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!


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