In my final semester at the University of Lethbridge, I opted to cap my education by taking Advanced Studio. Advanced Studio was an opportunity to apply all I have learned into one final project and present it at the end of the semester.
Due to complications with Covid-19, I am unable to present in person, but will have a recording of my presentation to go with this page that describes the process I went through.
With the pandemic, I have spent a long time away from family and limited contact with friends. This can get lonely and - in a sense, cold. At the same time, I spent my first year living without roommates, meaning that entertaining guests was a sole responsibility. To me, that means creating an environment where people feel welcome and cozy. Those two things drove my decision to investigate the question of what conveys warmth and coziness. By extension, my goal was to convey those feelings vitrually.
The Project: Isloated Warmth
It was hard for me to put exactly what I wanted to accomplish into words, but eventually my decision was made: my Advanced Studio project would be to create a welcoming environment in Unreal Engine 4, and attempt to convey the feeling of warmth
You can download the executable file if you would like to walk around the cabin yourself.
I plan to update the cabin with some rehauled textures and add more to explore in the scene itself.
Before the meat of the work could begin, I had to look at what environments make people comfortable. I looked at my own memories as much as what friends and the internet had to say, and came to one main conclusion: in order to feel comfortable in an environment, the environment needs to be organic, be soft and the lighting can't be harsh.
In terms of the overall environment, I decided to create a log cabin based almost entirely from my own memories. Some of my cousins grew up in a log cabin thier dad had made, and I always loved spending time in that house. I also think that there's a popular nostalgia related to log cabins.
With the research done (for the moment), I was able to start sketching out the floorplan for the cabin.
Blueprints & Whiterooming
In order to make a somewhat accurate blueprint of a floorplan, I wanted to understand what went into the creation of a floorplan. Needless to say, I underestimated the amount of work that goes into that.
After a couple attempts I ended on a fairly simplistic blueprint: A bottom floor containing a living room, kitchen and washroom, and a loft that consists of the bedroom. With this sorted, I was able to start the white room.
Using 3ds Max, I created the initial draft of the whiteroom, making the basic walls and floors. Populating the cabin was the majority of the work and consisted of finding out how large various objects are (for instance, I didn't know that a typical 3-person couch is generally between 60 - 72 inches).
After I had the sizes, I spent some time adjusting walls so that nothing felt cramped. I did this by importing the whiteroom into Unreal Engine and using a character to actually walk around the house.
Materials and Lighting
For material creation, I used Substance Designer. I wanted to use it to create the walls and floorboards. It took a few tries to get to the point it is at now, but I like their current state.
The interesting thing about the cabin wall was trying to balance how glossy it looks. Pulling from memory, logs walls have a coating over them to help keep their integrity. It was a challenge to gives the walls that gloss while not making it over-reflective. My resolution was to render out the logs as you see here, and adjust the specularity levels inside of Unreal itself.
The next logical step was to do the lighting, but I realized before I could light the scene properly, I would need to add windows first.
The windows took me a little while to model and texture, and in the meantime I was working on other projects and other models for this project. Once the windows were created, I was able to go into my scene and begin lighting it.
First look of the materials in the scene with basic lighting
For the time of day, I decided for an evening scene. I reasoned this is the time that most people begin relaxing, and for a scene trying to convey warmth, it makes the most sense to have people relaxed as well.
I did my initial lighting, fiddling a lot with High Dynamic Range Images (HDRIs) and the skybox. While I was reasonably happy with the first iteration of the lighting I felt that something was missing, and so decided to table to the lighting until the outside environment was completed.
First lighting test with windows.
The outside environment proved to be another challenge I didn't expect. My idea was to create a snowy forest, however I knew that I wouldn't have time to learn how to create trees or snow at the level I needed them to be.
To resolve those issues I turned to Substance Alchemist and the Unreal Marketplace. Using Substance Alchemist I was able to quickly create a snow material that isn't impressive, but is more than I need to create a passable snow material.
In the Unreal Marketplace, I bought the Winter Forest pack by Artem Raevsky. While this is a solution I wanted to avoid, I realized that I needed to place my focus on the interior rather than spending a few precious weeks creating an exterior enviroment.
With those two problems solved, I used the landscape tool in Unreal to create a random assortment of hills and populated it with trees. Having the exerior finished, I was able to get the lighting much closer to how it will be in the final product.
Lighting with outside enviroment created
One of the most intensive steps of any scene is populating it. Working on a time crunch, I had to make as many models as possible while still keeping some semblance of quality.
I ended up using low-poly models for everything. Memory serving, I think my highest poly model only hits around 4000 polygons (approximately 8000 triangles). This was done for two reasons: I am inexperienced with Mudbox/Zbrush so don't have a high-poly workflow; and the rate at which I needed models was shorter than I could learn a high-poly workflow.
The hardest models to create were the softer materials, like pillows, blankets and curtains. I had never needed to create soft materials like that before so the modeling itself proved an interesting challenge.
Models placed in the scene
Isolated Warmth ended up being a very fun project to work on. After adding all the models and fixing the lighting, the last thing I worked on was adding sound.
I added a sound for a crackling fireplace (found at ) and music to the radio. For the music I used my own recordings, one with a friend and one on my own. I used very basic acoustic recordings to better fit with the environment.
Given more time, I would have loved to create the second floor. That said, I am extremely proud of what I created in the time I had and am very satisfied with what I learned in the process. I am excited to create more interiors in the future.