Bringing Variety and Style to Mundane Places

Bringing Variety and Style to Mundane Places

Xiaopeng Shen did a very nice breakdown of the amazing environment he created during the Clinton Crumpler and Jeremy Huxley classes at CGMA.

Xiaopeng Shen did a very nice breakdown of the amazing environment he created during the Clinton Crumpler and Jeremy Huxley classes at CGMA.


Hello, My name is Xiaopeng Shen, I come from China. I’m a graduate student at Savannah College of Art and Design. I did an internship at Sparkypant Studio in Baltimore, Maryland and joined the Dropzone project before. Previously, I was an environment concept artist at Shanghai Ledi Network Technology Co.Ltd in China and joined some contract project. During the school time, I took Clinton Crumpler‘s CGMA class and Jeremy Huxley’s CGMA class. Here are some of my past work.    


When I was at Baltimore, I visited D.C. much time. One thing I quite like about D.C. is the Minimalism style metro station, So I decided to recreate the “Archives-Navy Mem’l – Penn Quarter Station” as my thesis test level. This scene is the lighting and render test for the metro train part.


I started this environment from gathering reference online and took pictures from the metro station. Then I put all my reference image in one large PS file and highlighted the interesting part of modeling and texturing. One thing that I considered at that point was getting the scale correct. The right size not only can make the scene together but also important for the level layout.

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Blocking out

I use Maya and Unreal for block out. At this point, I focused on finding the balance between realistic and interesting. As you can see, although the first block outfits the realistic train size, it seems boring, because it has too many duplicated shapes. So, I cut the train size to half and changed some sit direction.


In order to build the whole station, I actually created an assets library. And I used Google sheet to track my process. While, for this scene, I used:

Train sit*2

Train wall*4

Train door*2

Train detail asset

Props from library

  • Unique assets

For the unique asset, I used Maya for low polygon and Quixel NDO for the Normal map. After that, I drew the ID map in Photoshop and baked the Ambient occlusion map by using Knald. Using ID map, I can quickly apply smart materials in substance painter. Once the texture is done, I exported Basecolor map, Normal map, and RAME Targa map to help me save texture space.


A-Ambient occlusion

M- Metallic

E – Emissive

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  • modular assets

The first step of creating train is separated it as modular pieces, then I did a simple sketch to guide me for my texture. 

As you can see, the green part represents tiling trim sheet, the blue part represents hybrid sheet, and the red part means general tiling material.

Trim sheet and hybrid sheet are quite useful for large props, it can add detail while don’t require individual bake. I used UV Deluxe to help me set the pixel Density, then I exported the UV map as a guide for my trim sheet layout.

After I finish the trim sheet texture, I cut the mash in MAYA and used the material ID to help me apply the individual material in Unreal.


My goal for the materials is creating variety result while saving texture space. Thus, for unique material, I blended Mixmap in roughness and base color. Mixmap is a four-channel map, and each channel includes an individual gray noise map. I combined it with vertex color to create different paint result for the assets.

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For the car pint material, I used one Mixmap for the base color and one Normal map for clearcoat Normal.

Last, for the tiling material, I used substance designer and vertex color with Mixmap to blend break, dirt, and water.   


I used both static light and moveable light. Moveable light can create a shadow directly from the mesh and don’t need to consider lightmap, while static light can create high render result. Combine different type of light can make the environment lighting transition softly. Furthermore, I used skylight to set the main mood, spotlight with IES to narrow the light shape, and small point light to highlight props.

From Unreal 4.16, the engine supports Volumetric Fog. “This method computes participating media density and lighting at every point in the camera frustum so that we can support varying densities and any number of lights affecting the fog.” I also used it to get cloudy god ray for the spotlight.


After settled down the lighting, I used Decals for details, dirt, and graffiti.

Building light and post-processing

Here is my world setting, and I usually set the lighting quality to production before I build it.   

The last step is post-processing, here is some key setting that I changed in postprocessing. Personally, I like to do the final color correct by using a lookup table in Photoshop.


Hope my process can be helpful and thanks, Kirill Tokarev, and 80 LEVEL so much. Feel free to ask any question.

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    Bringing Variety and Style to Mundane Places