Reflective Journal Week 5 (03/04/2017)

Monday 3rd April/Tuesday 4th April: What? If you're wondering why I have merged the 3rd and 4th of April it is because the Tuesday lesson is an extension of the end of Mondays lesson.

I went into the lesson with the idea that I would open Unreal and see what I have thrown together so far and get some idea on what needs to be added most.

Experiment zone

As you can see above I have made some progress in what I want my environment to look like, however there is certainly much to be improved on. My tutor Jason Barlow took a look at my work and gave me some advice on what I should look at next. He said "once you have a few more plants and maybe some grass you should looking into sub-surface scattering and it will really help enhance your environment".

I then began watching videos to where I could create realistic grass meshes for Unreal.

The video is pretty long so took up all of my lesson, however I didn't just want to watch the video and follow a step by step, I really wanted to understand how everything worked.

So What? With what my tutor had said in mind I had become inspired to create a realistic grass mesh followed up by a few more plant models and then some research into sub-surface scattering.

Watching the video on realistic grass was the first step towards completing this task and really understanding how it works will allow me to complete this process in the future without much trouble. The video was really complex compared to what I had done so far so posed a formidable challenge for me.

Now I have looked at my models, textures and particle effects together in Unreal I am pretty satisfied with the progress I have made since beginning this project. At first it seemed I have put lots of work into it and I didn't have much to show, but when you consider what goes into each design and the fact I'm learning the whole way through, I think I've done pretty well and will hope to keep it up in the future.

Now What? I will begin to make my grass texture and take screenshots the entire time to add to my weekly journal for review. I also plan on following up on what my tutor said and research sub-surface scattering.

Wednesday 7th April: What? Well today is one of those days where our resources for practical work are very limited so I sat and thought of ways to make my reflective journal better along with more efficient.

It became painfully obvious at the beginning of this week that I really need to start naming all of my screenshots correctly as currently the folder is a complete mess and I spend so much time looking for what image goes next.

So What? Naming the images correctly will then allow me to find the images I need much quicker and not only that, it could help me remember what I did in more detail so I will end up with a higher quality of reflective journal.

As I was unable to get much work done at college on this day I will have to make up for lost time at home on both Friday and Saturday.

Now what? I will wait till tomorrow and then begin getting on with creating my grass mesh. I will also name screenshots much better to allow me to navigate much easier.

Thursday 6th April: What? Today I actually began creating my realistic grass mesh from scratch. During the tutorial video the guy had photos of different blades of grass, but because I don't have those I decided to go ahead and create a few in Photoshop. As the grass is going to be small I figured I shouldn't waste too much time with the detail, therefore I made them pretty simplistic.

Basic grass blades

I then took each individual blade of grass and applied it onto a plane with an opacity mask in 3DS Max. The first thing I did was change all of the pivot points to the base of the blades of grass.

Grass in 3DS Max

I then created a small circle plane as a perimeter on which I can paint my grass models. In the "paint on" section I selected "selected object" which means when I select the circle plane the brush will only paint onto that.

Circle peremiter

Selecting the "all randomly" setting and making a list I was able to paint whatever I added to the list onto the plane in a random order. I turned up the spacing because at first the models were much too close together. It is also important to change to alignment to the Y-axis so the models stand up and are not flat. I messed around with the rotation and size brackets every so often to create a completely random mesh. Each time I changed out the grass models on the list, to further add to the diversity to the mesh.

Adding models to the paint list

As you can see in the image below eventually I ended up with a random patch of grass which included each model that I created earlier on. The grass mesh was made up of many many planes that formed together to make one small model.

Grass mesh in 3DS Max

As I can't just put my grass model into unreal as it has thousands of vertexes and hundreds of faces I first need to bake it down. To do this, I used coloured direction lights to create the alphas required to bake the model into a map

Using lights to generate a map for my mesh

So what? Looking back on this process I realise there is a slight white outline on most of my textured models, this is because I did not apply much "padding" to my textures, so I can now learn from this and change it in the future. I do believe there will be a way I can fix this in 3DS Max so it shouldn't matter too much.

Now I have learned and am more practiced with the whole painting models in to create a more in depth model such as the grass I made, I can now use this tool in the future to create more variations of grass or maybe even flower groups.

Using the lights to manually render my own height maps means I no longer have to completely rely on using the "generate normal map" in Photoshop.

Now What? Now I will render out the model increasing the angle each time to create a 3 dimensional normal map and a diffuse map so I can bake down my model and make it less intensive for when I import it into Unreal engine.

Friday 7th April: What? The day began with an issue from the very get go, at first I was frustrated and annoyed as I couldn't figure out how to fix it. The problem was that when applied, the lighting should make the model take on colours such as blue and white to resemble a normal map, however mine was black red and green.

Issue with lighting

I did know why this issue was occurring and that was because I needed to apply a flat plain texture such as a grey colour over the entire model. Then problem two arose. With each individual piece that went into the grass mesh each one had its own diffuse and opacity maps, I did not know how I could access all of these, so when I was applying a flat colour it was just removing the opacity and looking like a big lump of grey. I managed to find the "State Material Editor" and in this it had compiled a list of all of the aspect that went into my model so that I could edit them individually. All I had to do then was replace each diffuse with a flat colour (as seen in the image below).

Problem solution for lighting

Once I had finally figured out how to fix this the light reacted with the model correctly, all I had to do is press the "front" bit of the box located in the top right of the panel where you see the model which aligns me perfectly with the model. Once I was aligned I then rendered the model out and saved it, I then followed that process by rotating it 45 degrees and then repeating the process.

Normal map renders for grass

Once I had every normal map rendered as seen above I placed them all into Photoshop. I then turned off the light options and repeated the rendering process for the diffuse maps.

Diffuse map renders for grass

After this I placed all of them in Photoshop overlapping each diffuse with the correlating normal texture.

Diffuse and Normal maps

Remembering my former mistake of not adding padding I decided to add it this time. I used the "Gaussian Blur" filter from Photoshop to add a form of padding around all of my maps.

Gaussian Blur for padding

I then applied the textures onto a plane in 3DS Max and sectioned that plane off with divisions before choosing each face and while holding "shift" drag across to make each individual piece sit alone (see below)

New diffuse and opacity

I then used each of these faces and overlapped them on top of each other putting them at the same angle I rendered them at. I wanted to get rid of the most opacity as possible on the plane to make it more cost effective so I pressed the "preserve UV" box and then pulled all of the vertexes as close as possible to the diffuse texture.

Grass mesh 3DS

I was left with a much lower poly but decent looking grass mesh. I played around with vertexes on the plane while after turning off the "preserve UV" box so I could warp the actual model to look more nonlinear.

When you preserve UV's it allows you to edit the mesh without the diffuse texture stretching which is really good for cutting away unwanted bits of the plane, however with thins such as the top view plane, I wanted to warp it so when you look at the grass from above its more difficult to see how the planes are layered over each other.

So What? First things first, was able to remember the mistake I had made in a previous process and remembered to correct it. Hopefully in the future I can continue to do this and improve.

I think I learned a whole bunch about making models more cost effective, especially because I am playing around with opacity and its very costly in an engine. I learned that I should preserve UV's and cut down the model as close to the diffuse texture as possible. I also baked what was a really expensive model down to something that has just 5 polygons, which was a really smart choice as grass is going to be used extensively.

I was also able to overcome another problem by myself that at first really frustrated me. I was getting so upset I couldn't focus so after taking a small break and drinking a cup of tea I was able to figure it out with a clear head. I guess this is one of those things where you just need to not give up and try to think about it from a different perspective to find a solution.

As I spent quite a lot of time creating grass this way I would be 100% confident if I had to complete this process again, in fact I think that I could improve greatly.

Now what? I will now add the grass and maps into Unreal Engine and see what extra detail I can add using the material editor. I want to add wind to the grass and if all goes well I will also add it to the plants I have created so far.

Another thing that I noticed I have forgotten to do is add collisions to all of my objects so far which is extremely important so it has definitely gone up in my priority list.

As I am much more capable with this process now I have thought about creating a second grass mesh to break up the one I already have when in Unreal Engine.

Saturday 8th April: What? I imported the model and maps into Unreal Engine and opened the material editor. I plugged in the maps I had previously created. The diffuse texture went into the base colour. This time I did something I have never tried before in that during Photoshop I made the alpha for the diffuse texture the opacity map instead of creating it separate which allows me to plug the diffuse alpha into "Opacity Mask" for the transparency.

I added constant 1 to the opacity and roughness so I can make them stronger if I wish, looking at it now I really should have right clicked and pressed "convert to parameter" which allows me to change them using sliders when I create a material instance of the grass. To create a material instance you simply right click the material and then press "Create instance" and then name it something appropriate.

I created a small blueprint which allows me to control how strong I want my normal map to appear by plugging the alphas into a multiply that can be increased or decreased in value by a constant 1 and all of this is channeled through a "lerp" which is plugged into the "normal" node.

The material was checked as "two sided foliage" as planes would normally only show texture on one side while the other side is completely transparent and I went with the masked option as it makes every option I need available to me.

Material for grass

Once I had finished all that I placed bits of grass near each other to see how it fits together in the engine and in contrast to my other models.

Look of grass in Unreal

So what? Having parameters gives me much greater control over what I want to happen with my model, I can now go into the instance and change it extremely quickly.

I believe that the grass does appear to be too colorful and may need to be saturated so it blends in more with my current models, I do believe I will be able to sort this out in a simple blueprint which would probably include a constant 4 if i'm not mistaken.

I feel I am really grasping what each individual node is doing to my model when I place it into the editor, I think it would definitely be a good idea for me to come more familiar with even more type of node that are available to me as they can drastically change a model.

As I am using the material editor more and more it has become apparent that the editor is a HUGE part of the process and having the right nodes and values can be the difference between a good model and an industry standard model.

Now what? I am now going to advance my grass even further by applying more nodes and parameters. I really want to get the wind out of the way soon too.

Looking past that I will make sure I put correct collisions on everything I have created so far before I move on with creating even more assets for our level.

A little overview - This week is the final week before we break up for Easter, I will not be able to do too much over Easter as I will be away doing things in my personal life. This week I have created a very cost effective and decent looking grass mesh which i'm satisfied with considering it was my first time doing something like this. The grass made its way from Photoshop all the way through to Unreal Engine and in the process I have picked up many more tips and tricks to help improve my work. A few example of that this week are putting padding around textures, using alphas to help maximize simplicity and creating my very own normal maps using lighting in 3DS Max.

I do feel like I have been doing grass for a whole week which is pretty much the case, however when you take into account how many different processes I have to learn and become efficient in which creating quality product I don't think I have done too bad. The grass mesh turned out great and I think if I were to do it again it would definitely be on another level. I not only learned those processes this week I became pretty good at them and made sure I fully understood how it worked until I moved onto the next step.

We had a little team meeting and looked at each others work to see if there was anything we needed to exchange at this time, however Ryan didn't request anything specific from me, he just told me to keep up what i'm doing. I didn't need anything from him either as I already plan to blueprint the objects I create for the environment myself but we just have to make sure everything we create looks good together.

I have strayed off track from the actual timeline of my project, however that is because I wasn't aware of all the processes it takes to complete various assets, especially foliage. But at the end of the day I am here to learn from my mistakes and miscalculations so its definitely a valuable experience for me. Me and my team-mate know exactly what each other is doing and will keep on track till we place our work together and check out the map.

Created By
Jordan Watkins


Jordan Watkins

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