My Pipeline (LEVEL DESIGN)
As a Level Designer, I feel that a true artist is someone who can take the LIMITED resources that are available to them and create something extraordinary. Anyone can make something cool with unlimited resources, so it's what you do with what little you have that can make you stand out.
In this respect, I wanted to show my method for laying out a level, whether it be original or directly from a concept.
Step 1 - REFERENCE, REFERENCE, REFERENCE
No matter what you are doing it is very important to gather enough reference material that you shouldn't be left with too many questions once you get starting building. Below is the concept picture along with reference photo's found online to help me answer the areas that I cannot see.
Even though you may not use the references directly, most of the time they will still provide valuable inspiration that will allow you to get creative, but in a far more accurate manner.
Concept found on Google
Reference found on Google
Step 2 - Top Down or Block-out
The next step depends entirely on what your goal is. Are you designing a full level with gameplay? Are you designing a level based on a concept meant for a cool cinematic?
If you are designing a full level with gameplay, absolutely start with a rough top-down sketch. You can clean it up later (Highly recommended) but the initial rough sketch will help greatly when you are working on specific game play elements and can help solve problems before you begin building. (I will provide game design pipeline on another page)
Now, if you are simply designing a level based on a concept, I usually find it best to then jump straight into the blocking out. However, the way I block-out is typically different than many level designers, as I DO NOT accept BSP brushes as an appropriate "level block out tool" For me, that is not what a true artist should be capable of and I prefer what you see below.
UDK has many static meshes and available tools to successfully make a full block-out that could almost be indistinguishable from the final build. Again, it's all about using the limited resources around you to create an awesome piece of art.
Modular Level Design is your friend!
Using only the above UDK assets, I can create many other assets to then be able to block out the full concept in a very short amount of time.
This block-out only took about 8 hours or so, mainly because it was so massive in design. If you look at the center platform just above the drill you will see a very small figure in front of the orange doorway. That is the normal pawn size in UDK. This should give you an example of the enormous scale of the scene.
Another reason this method is so great, is that as you are creating the level, you immediately know what can be made using a variation of other assets and what needs to be custom made. As the Lead of my team, I took this and advised my artists of exactly what needed to be made and what I could build on my own from the assets they have already begun creating. At this point I am not worried about getting the scene perfect, I can work on that later when the actual assets are made.
To take it a step further, I just took the original concept into Photoshop and circled the items that still needed to be created.
Step 3 - Replace block-out with custom environment assets
It is important and helpful at this point that you provide your blocked out level to your artist. This was especially helpful for this particular scene because of the sheer size and SCALE of the assets. Once I gave the artists the level, they could then export out each asset and re-import it into 3Ds Max or Maya in order to build their own assets to the correct size.
While you are waiting for assets to be created, you can still modify your scene as you need to, in preparation for the final product. Create cool effects, get your cameras set up, etc. There is always something to be done.
As the custom assets start coming in, most of the time you can just right click each block-out piece and "replace with". This is not always the case, and you will spend a lot of time re-aligning the pieces, but it still saves time in the long run. From here you and the artists will go back and forth on the necessary changes that need to be made, but you will immediately be able to see progress which in its own right is very fulfilling.
Above are the final assets that my environment artists created and that I used to modular- build the entire level.
Now, obviously you will most likely make some changes that may not reflect the concept exactly, but all in all I believe my methods helped my team accomplish a lot in only a 4 week period.
Add some cool post-processing effects and you are good to go!
Here is another modular level using a set number of assets to create a vast environment.
Using these modular assets (with the exception of the display case items)