The Full 3D Environment Workflow: From Concept to Completion

The Full 3D Environment Workflow: From Concept to Completion

Breda University student Ryan Muit shares his 'House in the Forest Project,' giving us insights on his motivation for creating a comprehensive 3D Environment, from concept to render. Discover key takeaways and lessons learned in this article.

Ryan Muit is a current student at Breda University of Applied Sciences.  We were impressed with Ryan's 'House in the Forest Project' and invited him to share more details about the project. In this article, Ryan explains his motivation for tackling a full 3D Environment from concept to final render, and key takeaways and learnings along the way.

Why this project?

I decided to create an environment for two reasons. To go through the entire workflow of creating an environment and learn from each part of it. Besides that I also wanted to create a portfolio piece that shows my skills as an environment artist. I did research into other artists portfolios and noticed that my portfolio lacked environments compared to a lot of others. I had assets, materials and games I worked on in my portfolio, but barely any environments.

I chose to only create the house from scratch since my goal wasn’t modeling, unwrapping or texturing. My goal was to improve skills such as lighting, composition and working in Unreal Engine 5. For this project I also used Autodesk Maya, Substance 3D Painter and Quixel Megascans.

Gathering references

The first thing you need to do when you want to create something is of course gathering references. Very early on I knew I wanted to create an abandoned building. So, I looked for abandoned buildings and decided I wanted to base the model on a specific real-life reference instead of designing one myself. I decided to do this because I wanted to get better at working directly from references.

Besides the house I also gathered references for other buildings for inspiration and ideas. Such as forests during autumn for the mood and aesthetic. I also looked for materials, such as chipped painted wood because that was the main material I wanted to use. I compiled all this reference in a PureRef document to get a nice and clear overview.

Asset Creation

I decided to create the house myself instead of downloading assets since it was the main asset and focal point of my scene. It also allowed me to show my modeling and texturing skills. First I blocked out the house based on the reference to get the shape right. When I finished the blockout I asked classmates and teachers for feedback so I could improve the shape. After getting feedback and improving my blockout, I started modeling my asset. Since I planned on using Unreal Engine 5, I wanted to use Nanite. Nanite allowed me to use a lot of polygons, so I didn’t have to worry about a polycount.

After completing the model of the house, I unwrapped the asset and decided to use six material sets. I could have used less sets to optimise it but I chose to go for the best visual quality possible since it won't be used in a game.

When I unwrapped my house I went into Substance 3D Painter and baked the maps. During that time, I searched for the right materials on the Substance Community Assets website. I chose to use this as a base for my materials to speed up the texturing process. Of course I had to edit, blend and fit the material to the model, but it made for a great base.

I went for the chipped painted wood as the main material because it would let me add colour to the model and environment. The house was going to be very brown and gray and the environment would be very orange, so I decided to add light blue paint to the wood to contrast with the environment and give the house some colour.

Throughout this process I always kept my peers and teachers up to date. I asked for feedback to improve my work, learn new techniques and get a better result.

Unreal Engine 5

During the texturing process I imported the house in Unreal Engine and looked at how the materials responded to the lights. If it wasn't to my liking, I had to make changes. When I was finally happy with the materials, I painted a terrain based on the reference images.

For the terrain material, foliage and trees surrounding the house I used Quixel Megascans. I chose to do this because it was faster and creating these assets wasn’t a focus of the project. Because I didn’t have much experience with lighting scenes yet, I watched tutorials and talked to teachers and classmates. I used warm colours for the lights. This gave my scene a warm feeling. It fit the environment and it made the contrast with the blue paint of my house stronger. My plan was to only create a day scene, but I experimented with different lights, especially for an evening scene, and liked how it looked. So I decided to make that as well.

After I was almost done with the lighting I felt like the scene was still missing something. It felt a little empty and I wanted to bring it to life. So, I talked with other artists and I got a suggestion to make a Niagara system with falling leaves. This would make the scene feel more alive and I would learn how to use Niagara. I have never worked with Niagara before so it would be a great learning opportunity. I watched tutorials and with that knowledge I made a Niagara system for falling leaves.

Final thoughts

There are some things I would do differently if I were to revisit the project. I would put more detail in the house model itself, such as having parts of the house seem broken. The model is too new while the materials look old. Another thing I would do differently is change the cubemaps in the windows. They all look the same right now and having some variation in colour and emissive intensity would help improve the scene.

Future goals

Currently I am working on a bigger project for my graduation. Here I want to improve other skills, such as foliage creation, composition, night time lighting and texturing.

Thank you so much for reading and I hoped you learned something from this. Feel free to reach out to me on my channels, via my Rookies profile here.