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Alleyway Environment Breakdown #3 - Materials & Shaders

Making Of / 10 March 2021


For the buildings I wanted to explore a workflow I've recently been learning about here and there involve baking out individual masks for modular pieces that can be used over tiling textures to break up repetition without needing unique textures for each piece in the scene.

Starting out I provided each building piece 2 UV sets, one for Texel density, and the other for a unique 0-1 unwrap with the most prominent faces given larger space in the UV. From there it's into Substance Painter for a bake. Using Painter I create 3 User channels and split them between R, G and B and then create masks within each. On export these 3 channels are packed and the buildings ambient occlusion is packed into the Alpha of the texture.

In-engine the material set it starts with the tiling textures and a unique dirt mask made in Designer that is used to create the dirty version of the base texture. Those two are Lerp-ed using the previous building mask and the AO is added in near the end using a AO blend function. At the very end of the shader are some cannibalised sets up from Quixels shaders to add in a detail normal and specular.

As I was learning as I was going there's still plenty more that could be done with this shader/optimisation and I never did get around to utilising the Green or Blue channels. This workflow is definitely one that will be explored deeper in my next project now that I have the basics learnt.

A lot of this workflow was trial and error with experimentation but a good place to start is with this video:


I would say about 90% of tiling textures used were sourced from Quixel, with one or two taken from Substance Source and myself making two from scratch when I couldn't find the necessary equivalent anywhere else.

Using Quixel textures didn't stop at me simply importing them to Unreal and that was it but instead typically taking them into Substance Designer to dirty up and make the shapes more pronounced. I think some results were pretty hit or miss and going into the future I more likely take the time to learn Quixels own Mixer so I can keep the entire process in one place.

Detail Normals

I used one prominent detail normal in this scene quickly made with Designer that can be shaped and tiled independently of the rest of the textures.


Alleyway Environment Breakdown #2 - Pre-Production

Making Of / 09 March 2021

Originally the plan was to set the scene on top of the buildings but that quickly changed after I realised the scale of the project it would need to be.

I start by gathering references into a Miro board (this should stay up for a good while: where I can break down images, highlight aspects and mark notes and then carry relevant parts over to my Pureref for when I'm using specific references.

Blockouts done in Blender, I get the shapes, switch between Blender and Unreal as I work out the lighting and then start breaking the scene down after I know what I want including modular aspects and props. I find it important to do it this way because I can constantly be making tweaks and changes.

When it comes to reference gathering the probably most important source I found was in fact Google Earth; it had honestly skipped my mind that was a thing for a good few years now. Google and Pinterest are okay but Google Earth allows you to get unaltered references for buildings and the materials that go into making them as well as see the same make-up for a building across multiple instances.

Alleyway Environment Breakdown #1 - Props

Making Of / 09 March 2021

Originally the plan was to try and use just Quixels library so I could focus entirely on the composition, lighting and decaling; building on from what I felt was lacking in my previous environment. In the end it turned out I would need my own props to make up the difference, it wasn't really an issue because it gave me the opportunity to learn Blender more thoroughly and get some experience with modelling workflows that aren't high-to-low baking. All of the props here are made with weighted normals and then baked and textured in Painter with no need for a high poly.

It was important that they blended well when sitting next to megascanned props and I think for the most part I managed to make it work.

- Beauty Renders -

- Wireframes and Triangle Counts -

Where is learnt to create the Wireframe Shader set up for inside Unreal:

Simple blinds are made in Designer, and then with a material set up to allow Subsurface Scattering to get the appearance of depth behind the blinds. A good place to start with SSS:

-Additional Stuff -

Everything bears mind to remaining texel correct. To reduce texture amounts minor props like above are all sharing one texture set and on top of that the Occlusion, Roughness and Metallic are packed into one, this goes the same for any masks for larger props with different types of dirt split between channels and the AO in the alpha.

This is a good video to understanding channel packing in Painter:

This is a good place to look if using Blueprints interests you:

Alleyway Environment Progression #7 - Renders

Making Of / 08 March 2021

Propping, decaling and lighting are complete so now its working on the renders. Below is a quick render done to practice with UE's camera sequencer.

There is some edits needed to be made with some fill lights in areas like the boxes at the end that are unnecessarily bright.

Alleyway Environment Progression #6 - Decals

Making Of / 07 March 2021

Finished my pass on grunge decals for the scene as well as included some posters here and there. I had to do some tweaks to Quixels own decal master material to get it working how I wanted it to.

The next big piece is to clean up the lighting and post processing and to fix up some textures and strange glitches that only appear when I took screen captures (there is a very noticeable one in the bottom right of the third picture down. A lot of fill lights are doing most of the heavy lifting right now so I'm going to go about introducing more hotspots for lights to shine.

Some subtle before and afters.


Alleyway Environment Progression #5

Work In Progress / 06 March 2021
Currently working through the decaling of the walls to add grime to the scene, this is one component of environment creation I haven't really dabbled with properly in the past so this should be a good learning experience.

Right now this is just with Bridge decals.

My general reference for how I will look to approaching decals is at the bottom.


Alleyway Environment Progress #4

Work In Progress / 05 March 2021

Some progress shots for my scene.

Needing to now get on with making the walls more lively with deals.


Alleyway Environment Progress #3

Work In Progress / 04 March 2021

Moving into the propping part of the environment now. It was important to ensure my own props meshed well with the Quixel props and I think for the most part they do, at least from a short distance.

The plan is to work big - to - small with the main props first, then working down through to debris and decals.

Some textures like the wall on the immediate right and left sides need tweaking to get the dirt a bit more popping .

Lighting needs some extra work to get the general dark recesses a bit more brighter.


Alleyway Environment Progress #2

Work In Progress / 03 March 2021

Update on the scene itself currently in the works.

The aim for this project is to build on focusing on what I felt was lacking in my previous project, namely time spent on grunting the scene up and composition/lighting as well making use of some workflows I had been picking up for a while now. To do this the original idea was to aim to use a majority Quixel props and textures so more time can be spent focusing on what I felt was more important.

Instead it has become about 50/50, right now what props are in are my own and the majority of textures taken from Bridge have been taken into Substance Designer for me to tweak and add to on top of my own material creations here and there.

Right now I need to go about updating some of my original props and textures I had created back at the start of the project before I had my workflows properly figured out and then adding more piping and wiring to the scene. Once that's finished I can get about to filling the scene out with Quixel Bridge props and decals.

Each building is broken into separate pieces with 2 UV maps a piece, the first is for texel density while the second are packed in the 0-1 and then I go about adding layered grunge to the surfaces as a mask for the dirty version of the original textures to filter through.

Despite wanting to originally be almost entirely Quixel bridge props I went about and created a variety of my own. In this example they are texel density correct and share the same material to reduce wasted UV space. 

Feedbacks more than welcome.

Alleyway Environment Progress #1

Work In Progress / 03 March 2021

Currently WIP-ing my next environment that is now coming to a close. Only recently started felt it could be necessary to start making blog posts on my Artstation.

Currently have just finished the last major background prop. No highpoly baking instead just the low poly with weighted normals baked and textured inside of Substance Painter with some minor normal details painted in. 2048 textures.