"The scene is lacking a layer of detail. Dirty things up. Add some stains, dirt, and grunge. Maybe some text on the walls, posters or graffiti. Bring this environment to life. It is too clean and repetitive."
It stung to hear this. I've spent so much time working on the environment and I thought it was done. I started thinking, "I don't want to add all that detail back in. That means I have to redo all the textures, reimport, update materials, rebuild."
I hate having that feeling where you think you are done with the project, until others (your teacher, art director, friends or people on the forum) tell you otherwise.
But it is something I needed to hear, regardless of how I felt. They were right.
I started to go through various solutions in my head.
One solution is to go back to Photoshop and add extra dirt detail into textures. You add dirt, stains, leaks, blood stain/splatter, text and numbers as a part of the texture.
The problem with this approach is any instance of that texture will have this unique detail as part of it.
But what if you want a wall to contain some text/numbers on one instance of a wall but not another? What if you want to add unique grime detail, dirt streaks on the top of the wall in one texture but not on another?
Another solution is to create several different material variations. One material with a clean texture look without unique detail and second material with added dirt grime, stained texture detail. You would then swap that material on various Static Meshes in your environment.
But this is wasteful, as you would have to create two different materials with two different textures. Also due to model UVs, you could only use that material on specific Static Mesh. You couldn't use that texture material anywhere you want.
I wanted a simpler way to add all that detail into the environment without having to redo all textures and have multiple additional materials.
Better solution: use decals!
Decals are one of the best ways to add unique detail to your environment by projecting a material onto existing surfaces within your level without having to add that unique detail into the texture itself.
These decals can include things like bullet holes, blood stains, blood splatter, posters, stains, leaks, dirt, graffiti, text/numbers and more.
You need stain leaks from the wall?
What about a blood splatter?
Maybe a poster or a painting on a wall?
Sewer grate panel?
You would not need to add these into a texture. You simply create a decal and project it onto an existing geometry (BSP brushes or Static Meshes) within your level.
As an example, modular wall set with and without projected decal:
You see, when constructing game environments, you usually start off with BSP brushes to prototype the level. You would then replace all BSP brushes (or as much as possible) with Static Meshes.
Most of these Static Meshes are modular. Meaning that 3d models work like a set of Legos – snapping together to create a structure. Building would be made of up several modular assets such as a wall, window, door, floor, ceiling and columns. You would use these meshes to create a building floor. With just a few Static Meshes you can create a full level.
You would then do a Static Mesh detailing pass, where you add additional layer of Static Meshes. These are minor decorative meshes such as wall lights, props, furniture, plants, electronics, debris, trash etc. This helps a lot to make the environment more believable. But modular Static Meshes still look the same.
All of your walls, floor, ceiling and windows repeat and look identical. To break up this noticeable repetition you would add decals in areas of the map that require it.
Stain leaks on top of the wall. Blood splatter in the corner of a room next to the basement. Stenciled text and number decal in the parking lot outside. Propaganda posters in the underground tunnel leading to the subway. Dirt in high traffic areas on the floor next to the elevator in the lobby.
Dirt, grime, leaks, stains, text/numbers, posters, bullet holes etc. All help to add a layer of additional detail that would be very impractical or otherwise time wasteful to add into a texture. But, you have to know how to create different variety of decals and how to make them work inside Unreal Engine 4.
For example, did you know that by default your decals will not work in indirect baked static lighting? As well as in Unlit View Mode?
Of course there is a way to make it work and you would have to use Stationary or Dynamic lights to make those decals appear. But a quick solution is to enable DBuffer Decals and update your decal materials to use DBuffer Blend Mode.
You will learn a lot of the needed and required techniques to create your own custom decals to use within your level designs and game environments.
Here are the types of decals you'll learn to create.
Here is what you can expect learn from "UE4 Decals".
Watch this video for in-depth breakdown of the tutorial series and its process.
I know you will find "UE4 Decals" very helpful with creating your own custom decals.
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