Deep Time: Terrains and Assets

Over the past few months of my research placement, I have continued to work on the Heredfordshire & Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust’s Deep Time project. I have concentrated the majority of my efforts on reproducing the terrains from reference sketches, and modelling assets to populate the environments.

Terrain 01
Environment for Quartz Conglomerate Time brief. Includes braided river systems, mountains, and sand banks.

A lot of my time has been spent with Unity’s terrain tools. I sculpted each terrain to match the descriptions/visuals presented in the brief’s documentation, and have begun to paint them using textures produced with Substance Painter 2.

Terrain 02

Currently, I plan on working my way through each terrain in quick succession. I will make any adjustments to the terrain sculpt as they are needed, produce the specified textures, and then apply them to the terrain. Using this workflow, I will have all the briefs fully textured and ready for asset population as opposed to only having a couple nearing completion.

Martley Quartz 01
Environment for Martley Quartize brief. Includes land-locked lakes. Seen here with placeholder water. Will be further populated with ice floats.

At this point in time, I fancy that Unity terrain’s tools now hold no surprises for me*. The majority of the time, I can find a work around to the issues that it throws my way. I found a useful script to bypass the inability to sculpt river beds below height ‘0’, which saved me from having to re-sculpt an entire environment, and have successfully troubleshooted issues prospective students had whilst using it on a university open day.

When I haven’t been working within Unity, I’ve been modelling assets in 3ds Max to populate the environments.

Ice Floats
Small ice floats for Martley Quartzite brief. Modeled in 3ds Max and textured in Substance Painter 2. There are two texture variations; one with full snow covering, and the other with patchy snow.

I have learnt a lot about modelling, unwrapping, and texturing whilst on the Deep Time project. Prior to this, I had very little experience with creating organic assets, and was far more familiar with modelling buildings and man-made objects. This has definitely been a step up from that, and has pushed me to learn more in an effort to deliver work I am happy with.

Carboniferous plants for numerous environment briefs. First attempt at low-poly vegetation modelling. Includes several versions of same plants to add variation to the scenes. 

UVW unwrapping in particular has been a challenge, as I hadn’t understood what a large part of the asset production it really was. After attending a talk by Neonplay about developing for mobile, I learnt that the quality of an unwrap can affect the number of vertices a model has when brought into a game engine.

UVW unwrap of two medium ice floats. Furthest was unwrapped with one seam, whilst nearest had four islands to account for 90° angles in model.

So, I began to be very conscious of unwrapping my models with as few seams as possible in an effort to reduce the vertices count. Previously, it had only seemed like an aesthetic issue, with seams potentially being visible in a texture, but I now know that it is very much a technical issue too.

Continuing forward with the project, I wish to have all of the environments fully textured very soon, and aim to export all the Unity terrains out as models for a showcase video.

*Touch wood.


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