3D Animation Design

Indonesia’s Kuil Air Surut in 3D

They say people never appreciate what they have until it's gone, and it never hit me as much until I began studying in Malaysia. I started to take interest in Indonesian culture, incorporating elements of it in my projects. My final year project was no different.
Kuil Air Surut, Bali, Indonesia. 3D environment design by © Arletta Leviani, 2022

I had started planning my final year project from semester 4 onward. I wanted to capture a memory I had in Indonesia but the project only took off when I started my internship. The studio that I interned with gave me the opportunity to try my hand at game engine — “a game engine is a tool that helps you make games more easily and efficiently without having to build everything from the ground up”. They were accommodative and allowed me to practice using Unity in the game they were currently working on. “Unity is a tool that allows you to accomplish different types of tasks related to game production process”. During the 3 months of my internship, I learned Unity from working on 2D to 3D games. It opened my eyes to different possibilities in game design and environment design. This sparked my interest for my major project.

I started to work on my idea early on, asking different lecturers for advice regarding my initial proposal. As the beginning of semester approached, the objective of my work become clearer, and the research become easier. I settled with environment design and world building, creating an unspoken story by sound, gameplay, visual destruction and history created over time leaving a unique storytelling that will be uncovered with time the player completed the game. 3D environment is a crucial step in game design, and the influence of cultural themes have become trendy in different games such as Persona 5, HitMan and Genshin Impact. While cross-cultural themes have become common place particularly in Japan, there aren’t many environmental designs using Indonesian cultural elements as inspiration. My final project sought to showcase an industrial standard environment design featuring Indonesian culture as inspiration, and as potential for a 3D Environment.

From early on in my project, my supervisor reminded me that I am creating an environment design and not a game level design and suggested that I use a story-based game instead. I then proceeded to research story-based games like Detroit: Become Human, Resident Evil and the HitMan series. I eventually choose to use Hit Man II’s map (level editor). With the map decided, I then focused on the type of cultural theme I wanted to create. Indonesia is rich in culture; every province has its own unique cultural peculiarities making them distinct from each other. In the end, I decided that I should attempt to create something I fear, a Balinese temple. The temple consists of several key elements such as the main gate, main temple, and small temple for offerings. Figure 1. Showcases my visual research on props and details.

Figure 1. Balinese temple photo and reference.

With the research finished, I started to work on my 3D models (Figure 2). Throughout the process I was very doubtful as to whether I would be able to capture the details necessary. I decided to face my fear head on and started with the hardest objects that I had planned to create. I use this experience to test my mental fortitude and capability in 3D modelling.

Figure 2. Monkey temple prototype. 3D model by © Arletta Leviani, 2022

I then worked on the 3D models (Figure 3), jumping from Autodesk Maya and ZBrush depending on which object I was making. I then baked and coloured all the 3D models in Substance Painter, using different references to make sure the colour doesn’t stray too far from reality. As for colouring style, I decided not to put too much texture but played with colours instead.

Figure 3. Temple gate colouring process. Screen grab by © Arletta Leviani, 2022
Figure 4. Plants making and masking process. I created different plants to fill in the scenes. I made them as texture sheets and then masked it to create the desired shapes. I found by using this technique, I managed to lower the number of polygons required. © Arletta Leviani, 2022

I then put the 3D model in game engine of my choice, Unreal Engine 4 — Unreal Engine (UE in short) is a game engine developed by Epic Games. I was planning to use Unity but after much consideration, I decided to use Unreal Engine 4. As I researched more about the scenes I intended to create, I realised Unreal Engine 4 was the most efficient choice. It took me a few days to learn to use the application as I had never used it before.

Figure 5. Landscaping and camera placement. 3D rendering © Arletta Leviani, 2022.

I start by creating the landscape, adding the main temple and gate (Figure 5). From the start, I placed an artificial camera, which acted like an eye when the player first steps into the area, to keep tabs on my progress . I quickly learned that I needed to focus on the bigger area first and then go into the details. I worked on the landscape texture and foliage first, and then work my way up from there. I then placed the gate in a manner that would draw the player’s eye to the main temple (Figure 6). The left gate was placed in a standing position while the right gate was shown collapsed to break the symmetry of the scene.

Figure 6. Gate placement. 3D rendering © Arletta Leviani, 2022.

I then added a cave and used rocks to create a somewhat closed area to work on. I tried out different lighting, all the time ensuring the main temple is the focus (Figure 7). I introduced different plants to the scene to increase the feeling of abandonment and destruction. My supervisor suggested that I should introduce light reflections from the water and so I created that using decals . Decal is a material that projects onto meshes without destroying the original mesh colouring. Decal can come in static and moveable form, which is used to break symmetry and repetition.

Figure 7. Light placement and area adjustment. 3D rendering © Arletta Leviani, 2022.

Environment design should create interest in the player by creating a non-verbal story through its design but I hadn’t done that yet. And so I add vines, more plants to break the symmetry. Later I realised that the gate and main temple had too much contrast in colour, and I need to blend them together. In addition, the cave texture also needs to be changed; it had a wet look to it when it should have been dry. Lastly, I added dust particles to create a more realistic feel with a rim light positioned at the back (Figure 8).

Figure 8. Final Environment design. 3D rendering © Arletta Leviani, 2022.
Figure 9. A side-by-side comparison between unlit, lit, detailed lighting and lighting only.

Choosing Indonesian culture as a theme in my environmental design project was a personal passion of mine. After staying in Malaysia for a year, I started to appreciate Indonesian culture and craftsmanship a lot more. I suppose the heart does grow fonder with distance. I suppose when the things we take for granted are no longer accessible, it is only then we become more appreciative of their value, which was the case with me.

This final year project is the culmination of three years of study. The limits of my ability were pushed further with this project and I am delighted with the outcome. I present to you, Kuil Air Surut, a 3D video game environment featuring the Galungan festival intended for AAA game environments. Kuil means temple and air surut means low tides. The name of the project means the temple that is only accessible during the low tides. Inspired by Indonesia’s traditional culture and festival, Kuil Air Surut is a showcase of cultural 3D modelling and game art design. Kuil Air Surut is a temple inspired by Tanah Lot and Monkey Temple in Bali, where the temple is submerged in water during the high tides.


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