Beneath the Waves: Creating Underwater Scene in UE4

Beneath the Waves: Creating Underwater Scene in UE4

Lucas Zilke did a detailed breakdown of his award-winning underwater scene, which was created for the Artstation competition

Lucas Zilke did a detailed breakdown of his award-winning underwater scene, which was created for the Artstation competition.


Hey my Name is Lucas Zilke, 24, native American/German, currently living in Germany. I’ve been teaching myself 3D, with a strong passion for Environment Art and Textures, and been especially addicted to Substance Designer over the past one-two Years. This was actually the fourth time I participated in the Artstation (Game) Environment Challenge.


There was no real concept, but there was a ton of reference for the Props / Materials. I think I gathered over 300 Reference Pictures for this Project.

My Main Goal was just too push me out of the comfort zone within a lot of different disciplines.


I wanted that there was no doubt in that this was an underwater Scene – I tried that with different layers. Some seem not that important but each will build up the feeling more.

Story: A old sunken ship – most obvious by the hole in the top and old Architecture made from 17th Century Reference.

Nature: Sea Foliage – Sand – New Living Habitat –

This Layer had a big impact on the Scene since Sand and Sea Foliage especially wouldn’t occur if the Scene was above sea levels.

Movement: Floating Objects – Water Bubbles – Moving Foliage – Fish

Lighting: Light Shafts – Fog / Height Fog – Water Caustics


My Goal in the Challenge was just too push myself till the end.

Only Limitation I did for myself was that it had to be one ,,room,,.

My first Blockout was only two chairs, a table, the walls and a ceiling in the room.

This was the first Picture on the Artstation Thread, showing how the Scene got build up with more stuff and some basic Materials from UE4.

I just kept iterating on the base blockout and core idea, putting in more work in all levels ( modeling/textures/lighting) of the Scene until Deadline.

This may seem complicated and messy but it also allows some flexibility and creativeness.

Also I had a strict Project Schedule which helped a lot – You need some kind of deadlines in between the Project or else you will run into Trouble, especially if you need / want to learn Stuff.

The environment was basically ,,finished,, five days before the Challenge deadline because that was my deadline to start making the Video.


My Key Assets were the Globe, Table, Chairs and the Sea Foliage.

For most of my Props I just used a very basic Workflow, which could be any 3D Package => Substance.

I didn’t really have any High polys besides beveled versions of the Low polys which I used to bake it down in Substance Painter. Most detail is just either hand painted or done with alphas / blends / masks mostly directly into the heightmap which will be converted into the normal map later once exported.

For most of my Foliage my Workflow was basically, any 3D package => Substance Designer.

Only some of the corals have real geo because it allowed for a more realistic subsurface scatter.

The Underwater Influence is best shown on making the Architecture Assets.

I would have three passes for eg. the Chair.

Basic Structure of the Asset – Like it was just a normal Chair. Just make it look good.

Age – Add Dirt / Grime and some peeling paint to display the age of the Chair

Nature – Add moss or other naturally grown Structures – in this Case I added Moss.


Some of my Materials did get a lot of Love and Time some didn’t get enough and I ended up killing some.

I think most love got my Sand Material which ended up having corals,alges,shells and some pebbles.

That was mixed with the wood plank material as a Vertex Paint Material with some Displacement which made up for a good supporting Shot of the Entry.

On the other hand I used Substance Designer for most of my Sea Foliage as well.

It’s all inspired by other articles over here showing the benefits of using Substance Designer only to make Foliage.

Final render

My Main Goal was to make one really good Frame of the Environment with strong emphasis on Mood and Composition to level up.

I used the Post Process Volume in UE4 to push some of the Values especially the lights coming from the Top, some Vignetting and Dof.

Lucas Zilke, Envi artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.

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    Beneath the Waves: Creating Underwater Scene in UE4