Catalyst Wake - Update 15
Good news! The backgrounds that I needed to finish Summit are done. I think they turned out pretty well — and that's partially thanks to me biting the bullet and purchasing some 3D assets.
Even though I usually model and texture everything myself, I've never had any qualms about using pre-made assets. The main obstacles have been matching the style of the other assets, and of course, money. Good quality assets can be pretty expensive — as they should be!
I think I managed to find some good assets, and with a few touch-ups from myself, they fit well. I'll be able to get a lot of mileage out of them.
The style of 3d background I'm going for is a mash-up of low-poly techniques and realistic textures, which gives it a unique stylized vibe. Often objects that would be cylinders are portrayed as diamonds, for example. This is something I do with the characters as well, and it helps make them seem like they come from the same world.
Something I've been experimenting with recently is creating foliage and tree assets that are more in line with the style I want. It's really hard to find good "stylized" foliage that isn't in a super low-poly style, but sort of strikes a balance.
Cheetah3D has a limitation where I can't render more than five or so transparent objects in front of each other. That's prevented me in the past from doing common tricks like transparent planes with a grass texture on them, scattered around with a particle system.
Recently my workaround has been to model the grass blades/leaves/underbrush instead — instead of having transparent textures — and it's been working well!
Whenever I've tried to look up tutorials about how to model trees, I haven't found anything that is really useful for my purposes. But after experimenting — for Broken Spirits actually — I came up with a technique I like which I'm happy to show here.
When I first approached this problem, I was modeling the trunk first, then placing individual leaves along it. It looked terrible — absolutely nothing like a real tree. It turns out that the secret is to make "sheets" of overlapping leaves first, and then arrange those along the branches.
I start with one very simple, stylized leaf.
Then I start copying and pasting those leaves outward.
Start copying and pasting chunks of leaves and arranging them. You can use a Magnet (or Bend modifier) to curve the whole sheet. Eventually you get something that looks like this:
You can add a ring modifier to build it out even more. This works great for the top of the tree/bush, but you'll want to add a few sheets here and there to break up the obvious pattern:
By arranging these "sheets" of leaves, and adding a simple trunk, you can achieve a pretty good result:
Or at least it's way better than what I was doing before. Yes, I know the leaves are too big — maybe it's a small tree, okay???!?!?!?! Making this tree took about nine minutes. By changing the shape of the initial leaf, the leaf sheets, or the branches, and changing the textures, it is possible to create many different kinds of trees and bushes in many different styles.
I'm still experimenting with this technique, and studying trees and bushes in other games, but so far I've gotten better results with this than following any online tutorials. I think the key here is the volume of leaves and the overall shape of the leaves as a whole, which I wasn't getting by meticulously placing every leaf. I needed to prioritize the shape of the leaves over the shape of the branches. When you see a tree in real life, you're sort of looking at all the leaves as a collective whole, so "faking" it like this works totally fine.
I could go the extra mile and make a little branch model for every leaf sheet, and connect a twig to every leaf as well. It's not super necessary for trees that exist way in the background, but that would probably make it a bit more realistic, as well as having an actual reference to get the scale of the leaves right and a more detailed trunk.
Anyway, that's my latest effort to make this update more interesting than just "I did some stuff"! This coming week, I'll be making... you guessed it... more CGs!
However, the last week of May, I'm actually going to change gears. It's very important to me to have a demo of Catalyst Wake done before my Ten Year Anniversary. In order to ensure that, after next week I'm going to stop working on Summit and devote the next few weeks to the recap, and two prequel stories. That will be more interesting to talk about because the recap isn't spoiling anything, so I'll be able to go super in-depth and show images and maybe even video of the whole process.
Until next time!