Environment Study Based on Oil Painting

Environment Study Based on Oil Painting

Olivia Sullivan gave a write-up on her environment study made with UE4 in which she tried to recreate a vivid landscape painted by Hubert Robert.

Olivia Sullivan gave a write-up on her environment study made with UE4 in which she tried to recreate a vivid landscape painted by Hubert Robert.


My name is Olivia Sullivan, I’m an Environment Artist currently working at The Third Floor.

Recently, I graduated from the Game Art program at Ringling College of Art and Design, where I worked with a partner to create a virtual reality experience within UE4. I was also an intern at Sharecare Reality Labs, where I worked on another VR project called Sharecare YOU. I started 3D work three years ago at Ringling, where I initially enrolled as an Illustration student. My love for games naturally led me to seek out the steps I could take to pursue a career within the games industry, and when I discovered the endless possibilities of 3D work, I could never turn back! The most important thing to me as an artist is always creating context and story within my work.

Colosseum Reference

I discovered Hermit in the Colosseum while walking through The Dallas Museum of Art.

Whenever I visit a new city, I always make a point to seek out local the art museum! My foundation is in traditional arts, so I like to keep my ties close to that world still. The piece felt like a tangible space, and its detail and depth allowed me to perceive it as almost conceptual for a 3D environment.

I first found real-life references for every element in the painting, from the Colosseum walls and arches to the different types of stone reliefs present in the scene. I created a large board of references using Pureref, a super useful app for consolidating tons of images. It was also easy to find scale reference of the Colosseum walls.

Scene Production: First Steps

An early decision was not to include humans in my scene. Because of this, I utilized lighting and contrast to place more emphasis on the cross than on the man who kneels at it in the painting.

Despite implementing real-world reference and flourishes of my own, I made sure to maintain the original feel of the piece by referencing it’s color schemes, over that of the Colosseum as it exists today. Today, the walls of the Colosseum less saturated and more broken down. The atmospheric perspective present in the painting was also something I made sure to preserve in my environment.

Moving forward, I made choices regarding color and lighting independent from the reference, such as the colors seen in the foliage and sky. This eventually led to the creation of the night scene as well!

I started with a blockout of the scene, then did some early lighting implementation. In addition to working on the props and pieces, I made the floor material and wall materials in Substance Designer. Using these materials authored in Designer, I created vertex blending materials in UE4.


The textures were all created using Substance Designer and Substance Painter. The meatiest materials are the walls and the ground, and the smaller props use variations of generic tiling master materials. A few things required 0 to 1 textures, such as the two carved stones, candle, and stone table.

Props Production

The props were fairly simple process-wise. I started with simple objects made in Maya, then took a few of them into ZBrush for sculptural details which I baked on to smaller models. It was fun making sure there was always variety in the objects’ surfacing with albedo and roughness maps. Thankfully, the painting had a very nice balance of surfaces in the scene, which I feel translated well to a real-time environment. A couple of props, such as the cloth draped over the wall, the tapestry, and the ivy were made to further break up the scene and add more color range, I felt green would liven everything up a bit! My research showed that Ivy was historically prevalent around the Colosseum until recent times.


Ornate Details

The ornate details around the edges and the letters were created as height maps in Photoshop, which I used in ZBrush. I also did the rock surfacing using some amazing ruins created for God of War by Kyle Bromley, as a reference. Finally, I hand painted this in Substance using a rock material I made for the ceiling and stone the crucifix sits on as a base. I used smart masks as a start but spent a lot of time painting the surface detail in myself. The smart masks tend to get you a fairly standard and uniform result, which doesn’t always work.


The leaf card normals and alphas were made using ZBrush, and then photo sourced images from Textures.com were used to project color onto my shapes, which I altered a bit later. I made many changes to the subsurface maps to get the right feel with the lighting as well. With the cards, I created branches that were half geo, half cards in Maya, then spent some time hand placing the cards. For the ivy, I used two sets of texture cards, one with four leaves, and one with a lone leaf, and used Unreal’s foliage painter to add them to the scene.


I start lighting simple! First by getting a decent directional light, ambient light, and fog setup, then I add lights one by one, making sure they don’t kill the mood. This actually quite often results in me restarting the lights from scratch when I feel things get too crowded or mess. With lights, I feel less is more. For this scene, I also relied a lot less on temperature than I have in previous environments. Instead, I selected the color of the lights manually, which I feel makes the result more painterly, and is more appropriate considering the reference. Using Light Channels in UE4 is also very useful, as sometimes an object will need a bit more or less impact from the surrounding light. I also take advantage of UE4’s roughness scaling from lighting and shadow bias which help some surfaces feel more real, and less “plastic” which ends up happening if you’re not careful.


The Colosseum walls have an interesting “pitting” in the stone, which has developed over centuries of use and reuse of those walls. The walls today also suffer from this wear and tear far more than the era depicted in the painting. However, I really enjoyed finding a way to represent this in Substance Painter. Eventually, I made 3 variations of the walls I was able to blend in the engine. The walls were probably iterated on the most throughout my progress on this.

Thank you for reading!  I hope to share more projects with 80 Level in the future! Feel free to follow me on ArtStation and check out my website.

If you found this article interesting, below we are listing a couple of related Unity Store Assets that may be useful for you.

Olivia Sullivan, Environment Artist at The Third Floor

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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