My name is Alec Tucker, and I am a Cinematic Environment Artist at Epic Games. I have been working at Epic for over two years now, and before that I was a student at California State University, Chico studying Computer Animation & Game Design. I love working on cinematic environment projects in my free time, and my recent project Nocturne is a result of that. You can find my portfolio here, and my Twitter profile here. Nocturne is a love letter to 16mm film and the American midwest. I set out to create something nostalgic and familiar conveyed through different color palettes, compositions, and soundscapes. I knew going into this project that I would need a plethora of photoreal props to be used in a variety of settings and lighting scenarios. You can find Nocturne on my ArtStation here.
My usual process for creating an environment and accompanying cinematic starts with reference and concept art. This project emulates 16mm film, so the majority of my references were stills from 16mm films. The next step would be to start laying out meshes in-engine. This process is different from the normal game asset pipeline because I have already-completed meshes that I can download from Sketchfab. Using premade assets saves a considerable amount of time because I don’t have to block out meshes or model anything. As part of laying out my shots, I do a basic lighting pass to start building the mood. Below are a few work-in-progress stills of some of the shots I made for my project. Notice the changes in lighting and mesh placement between these and the finished shots:
My Sketchfab experience
I chose Sketchfab to find any odds and ends I needed for Nocturne because you can easily search for specific assets in whatever style or format you want—paid, downloadable or just for viewing.
I found this shed scan, downloaded it manually, and imported it into UE5 manually to have as much control as possible.
The asset had a base color texture only. This ended up being all I used for the asset in my master material. I left the normals flat and left the roughness value flat, as well.
Below, you can see the density of the meshes that Nanite can handle with minimal memory usage. The level of detail you can achieve with raw scans is incredible.
Having the ability to see what textures are included with an asset before downloading is a very useful feature for me because it helps me think ahead to decide if I need to make additional textures for various assets to get them looking up to PBR spec in-engine.
You can see my use of the asset here:
I also found great use for this aerial quarry scan and tractor asset.
A lot of the scans I used for this project would have been difficult to integrate into lighting because they had not been de-lit or processed for a game art workflow. I got around this limitation by primarily using the quarry as a background silhouette and shape to help with composition and depth in the frame.
Here’s the same shot showing the density of the Nanite meshes. Some were much higher than others but they blended together very nicely.
I have noticed over the years that a lot of people upload raw scans to Sketchfab, and this caught my eye as a good way to bring high poly raw scans into UE5 to be used with Nanite, UE5’s new Virtualized Geometry tool. You can learn more about Nanite here.
Here are few more raw scans I utilized with the help of Nanite in UE5:
Shown in this shot:
Here is the shot showing how dense the mesh was. Even less dense scans can look great if you light them correctly:
This barn is probably my favorite asset used in the project. It has such a beautiful silhouette:
Used in this shot here:
These scans are often of mundane or normal looking objects such as buildings, cars and rocks, which were perfect for Nocturne. The Sketchfab assets really elevated the project in a way I am happy with.
My favorite of the Sketchfab search features is the Downloadable checkbox because I was looking for assets to download under the CC Attribution license and use in my project non-commercially. This let me only see what I could actually download or purchase and didn’t get my hopes up by showing me assets that were not downloadable.
I managed to get by in this project having only purchased one asset and downloaded the rest for free. The purchased asset is a railroad crossing by dragosburian.
It worked extremely well for what I needed it for and you can see it being used here:
I am constantly looking to improve my skillset and artistic eye with side projects outside of work. Since the completion of Nocturne I have started another project and am almost done with it. This new project also utilizes Sketchfab in the same way as Nocturne. I will continue to use Sketchfab for various assets in my projects because of how easy and vast the downloadable content library is. Keep an eye on my ArtStation for any of my new projects!