Terrain experiments using Instant Terra Pro

General / 04 June 2019

*Full disclosure, the following is strictly my opinion on my short time with Instant Terra Pro. No one is compensating me or nudged me into doing this post.*

I recently had the opportunity to take Instant Terra Pro https://www.wysilab.com/  for a test run so I figured I'd share some of my experience as well as post some of my experiments here for anyone interested.

Instant Terra Pro uses a node-based system to generate and conform your terrain's topography.

In order to get a decent base starting point I went to this site https://terrain.party/ and looked up Mount Rainier. I honed in on section with interesting elevation and then exported out this height map:

For the purposes of these experiments I ONLY wanted to use the above height map as my masked source. Instant Terra Pro allows you to paint your own height map in the software itself, obviously the painting tools aren't as robust as your Photoshop options however they are suitable enough to get a decent starting base going.

My typical node graph looked something like the image below. Amidst further experimentation I got a little more complex but it's mostly just blending previous nodes with new ones. If you're familiar with Substance Designer or Unreal Engine's material editor you should be pretty familiar with this workflow.

Here is what I would call your "standard" example with some hydraulic and mountain erosion:

Here is an example of something a bit more stylized, heavy on the mountain erosion node:

On this sample I'm using a curve on the mask to flatten away the edges and create an interesting layered effect:

This is an example with exagerrated cellular noise forming peaks and valleys:

Here is a more subtle sample mixing all three available erosion types:

This is a delicious oatmeal cookie? using a half-sphere slope to control the elevation perimeter:

Here is a sample blended using a Difference node which essentially flattened all my elvation:

Lastly here is a sample where I inverted my mask and made things look like a stylized crater:

Once you have something you're happy with you can export the mesh, mask (height map), normal and color texture if you desire, that way you can either implement exactly as is in your game engine or import your height map info to properly tesselate in your desired engine's terrain tools.

Among some minor gripes, such as not being able to control light direction in real-time and lack of proper 0-1 UV unwrap on meshes, my biggest gripe would probably be with the color map output. It is essentially an altitude based gradient color. There are some handy presets for different themes (arctic, desert, etc.) that you can customize. Still it would be handy to be able to generate a mask at the very least from the 3 available erosion nodes, (hydraulic, rock and mountain) to give you a bit of a start when creating a material or painting the mesh. 

Fortunately they have an official forum where they are open to suggestions so if you decide to try it out and have some gripes feel free to let them know so they can make the best possible product!

...and here's me quickly throwing a mesh into Unreal Engine with a LUT for a beauty shot:

If you have a free moment and want to play around with Instant Terra (they have a one month free trial) check them out here:

https://www.wysilab.com/

They also have an educational version for schools/students and feature very easy to follow videos and documentation for total noobs to it like myself and a responsive forum in case you have burning questions.

Thanks for reading if you've made it this far! Keep making art!

-Alexander Alza-

Bonus content:  

Lágrima - a work in progress - Entry 02

Tutorial / 04 December 2018

This entry covers a quick tip for creating a decorative window.

Greetings!

Been super busy with stuff but I managed to find a tiny bit of time to put together a decorative window element inspired again by the original Vladimir Ishelin concept but with my own flavor thrown in.

OG inspiration...

There are numerous ways to approach modeling an object like this however I wanted to take a new approach so I started with creating a black and white mask by frankensteining some existing alpha masks from one of Jonas Ronnengard's collections. Once I was happy with my positive/negative space ratio I brought this alpha into ZBrush...

Once imported, on the Alpha tab I went down to the Make 3D section, you can play with the MRes (resolution) and MSm (smoothness) and MDep (depth) to your delight.

Click on Make 3D and then create your Dynamesh in the viewport!

At this point I added some alpha/heigh mask details and cleaned up some unruly geometry before exporting it as my high res mesh.

I then used the decimation master to lower the poly count while still maintaining my important silhouettes and peaks and valleys and exported that as my low res mesh.

Since this mesh will primarily be seen from the front the UVing was a super quick planar map from the front. I love using Marmoset Toolbag for baking so I took my meshes in there to bake the necessary maps to use in Substance Painter.

Once in Painter I used a mixture of materials that played nicely with my baked maps to give me the desired look I was going for. This is more of a middle/background asset so I didn't want to go detail crazy as most of it would be lost due to distance.

I certainly could optimize this asset more but I wanted to go for a more streamlined workflow and this will do nicely for now. I will also use this piece to create other accent pieces by using some creative cuts or modifiers.

Hope you enjoyed this lightning quick blog entry/tutorial! If you have any other hot tips using this workflow please leave a comment as sharing IS caring. Until next time people!

-AA-

Lágrima - a work in progress - Entry 01

Work In Progress / 03 September 2018

This entry covers inspiration, intention, and workflow.

Hello people! 

Hope everyone's in good mental and physical health. I must first say a huge thanks to everyone that took the time to like/share/comment on the social medias regarding my previous art piece Jezero and the subsequent blog entry I did on it. I've gotten a ridiculous amount of positive feedback and I'm super humbled by it all. Hugs not drugs.

Browsing around ArtStation as I tend to do, I stumbled on this really interesting concept art piece titled, Chapel sketch by Vladimir Ishelin: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/mrKmd This piece tickled my fancy in numerous ways.

1: I loved the colors and verticality of the piece.

2: The scene is small, manageable and very modular which works great with my slim-to-no time to work on personal art.

3: I've been curious about creating assets that I can sell online.

I wanted to use this new scene, which I've tentatively titled, Lágrima, as a starting point for creating a hopefully visually cool environment where all assets in it will be available for purchase.

As evident by the concept these jars are used quite frequently so I didn't want any bold details on them to avoid blatant repetition. Additive, more unique details may be introduced later and peppered in to break monotony where necessary. I only made a single candle and tweaked it to get three variants without looking like I'm warping the UVs too much.

Workflow:

- Create low-poly base mesh in 3dsMax and unwrap UVs.

- Create mid-poly from low-poly with support loops blocking in secondary shapes.

- Bring mid-poly into ZBrush for detail pass which results in high-poly.

- Bake high to low using Marmoset Toolbag 3.

- Bring baked maps into Substance Painter and export results as diffuse, normal, and RMA maps.

- Apply textures to low-poly mesh in Toolbag and arrange as needed for scene.

More updates coming "soon". I welcome any thoughts or critiques whether you're an experienced seller or new to art. Thanks for reading and don't forget to chew your food thoroughly.

Forever Yours,

Alexander Alza

The Making of Jezero

General / 15 August 2018

I recently wrapped up work on a personal project I titled, Jezero. If you don't care about the behind-the-scene stuff and just want the visuals check out my official post here: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/d1vee

This small scene was a fun way to test myself using primarily only Quixel Megascan textures and Marmoset Toolbag 3.04 to render.

I've always been fascinated with space exploration. Mars-related discoveries have been in the news as of late and I stumbled on the concept image below:

As with most of my personal work, concepts are a good starting point but I tend to iterate, stare at the image forever, think of a deeper purpose to the scene, until ideas pop into my head and suddenly a minimalistic, clean concept turns into something a bit more detailed and hopefully provocative.

My goal at the start was to keep this scene quite small and have my final output be on a square aspect ratio. However as interesting details kept popping up I felt like the square ratio was forcing me to shoehorn in certain details that may best be left to the peripheral edges of the composition, translation: I needed more horizontal room to let the image breathe.

Modeling this scene was quite liberating as I was mostly just using my imagination to create interesting shapes to compliment the core composition - that being the circular window with the mother and child near vanishing point. Other than a couple of items like the stroller and portable generator/pump looking machine I didn't really seek out reference. I absolutely used and abused Marius Silaghi's Quad Chamfer Modifier in 3dsMax to achieve smooth results on my hard surface corners. I used Zbrush to clean up some geo and stamp some details and I used Marvelous Designer for literally one single mesh.

Textures were mostly sourced from Quixel Megascans. I only used a handful of materials and changed their color or gloss a bit in Photoshop to give me a small selection of materials that still felt congruent. This project was about getting great results with great speed and Megascans delivered what I was looking for here.

The giant Mars texture was projected on a sphere and the thin atmosphere of Mars was simply an additive alpha halo plane wrapping around the circumference of the planet and turned to billboard depending on the angle of my beauty shot.

What this scene boils down to is composition (interesting shots) and mood (lighting). I don't fancy myself a lighting expert but with Toolbag's easy to use lighting and post process options I experimented with a few lighting schemes to the point where I got different enough results. Toolbag's global illumination and reflections are not only beautiful but instantly gratifying to visualize. Post process in Toolbag was fun to play with as well. I typically used an existing preset and then adjusted curves and values to my delight. I adjusted bloom, barrel/pincushion, fog, depth of field and vignette values on a per-shot basis. After getting good results I decided to experiment with of all things the stock filters that come with your iPhone's image editor to give things an extra pop. Lastly I brought those results into Photoshop where I would add lens flares and watermarks.

My made up backstory for those that care...

With goals of establish long-term colonies on Mars, privately funded vessels carry pre-screened men, women and children to ensure the most varied gene pool possible on select locations of the red planet.

This particular travel vessel, the Sipiran of the Simbal class features modules with artificial gravity mimicking that of Earth and Mars. The Sipiran vessel also features numerous hydroponics and chemical lab research modules. The final destination of the Sipiran is the newly-established colony site at the Jezero crater in the Syrtis Major quadrangle.

Again my official ArtStaion post of Jezero can be found here: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/d1vee

If you've made it this far, thank you for reading my blog entry on The Making of Jezero and keep making dat art!!

Mom and child characters courtesy of https://secure.axyz-design.com

Signs and labels mostly internet image search, all other textures sourced from Quixel Megascans

Et Observationis (WIP) Update 05

General / 11 February 2018

Still working on props, textures and layout placement but figured I'd share some of the progress thus far. I'll have even less time to devote to this piece in the coming months but I'll still try to contribute 30 mins here and there. It's a marathon not a sprint ;-) That's part of why I also chose to do a very small scene this time around - it keeps me motivated and not overwhelmed with the amount of work needed to bring it to a satisfactory state.

Et Observationis (WIP) Update 04

General / 29 January 2018
A few more props I'm working on. First pass on texture and detail, I'll return to them at a later point to further refine.

Et Observationis (WIP) Update 03

General / 22 January 2018
Got a few hours today to work on a couple of props for my scene. Slowly churning away on this scene :-)  

Et Observationis (WIP) Update 02

General / 09 January 2018
Roughing out a couple of more props and refining the lighting a bit more. I'm eagerly awaiting playing with some of the new features in MT 3.04.

Et Observationis (WIP) Update 01

General / 07 January 2018

So after my recently completed Unreal scene which was time consuming and pushed my PC (and free time) to the limits I felt like doing something more intimate and detail oriented.

In my spare time I'm going to attempt to do a "beautiful corner". The idea came to my head partly because I was looking through a bunch of props that I made awhile back that I never found an ideal scene to use them in. A lot of these props are still rough, very basic blockouts. After playing with some compositions I decided to go with a small room with some giant machine and an examination chair as my anchor focal points.

From that point several potential narratives started flowing. I'm still developing the story that will steer me in the direction I want to go with for props, materials, decals, lighting, etc but some ideas I'm floating around can be seen in my PureRef in-progress reference gather below.

I don't want to bother with baking light maps again for a while so I'm choosing to go with Marmoset Toolbag 3 as my renderer of choice for this personal project. Still very early on but I figured I'd catalog my progress with this scene since I'm not usually (ever) the blog type.

Being a game artist even in my personal work I like to be efficient and I will be putting this scene up in the Marmoset Viewer as well so people can examine and critique to their heart's content ;-)

Wish me luck and a very happy and productive 2018 to you all!

-Alexander Alza-