Tatyana Merkulova has shared a short breakdown of the Denmark House project, detailed the process of creating props and vegetation, and discussed how she set up the scene in Unreal Engine 5.
Hi! My name is Tatyana Merkulova, I'm currently working as a 3D Environment Artist at Limbheim Studio. I have almost 8 years of experience at gamedev, mostly as Props Artist.
My first job was in the indie project The Cursed Forest, where I got experience in creating models directly for a game engine. Since then, I've been working mostly at outsourcing studios.
In around 2020, I came across a picture of this house and saved it in my ideas folder. Then, in the summer of 2022, I decided to start learning UE4. I remembered the photo and thought my knowledge and skills were sufficient to create such a simple scene.
I did not use any advanced techniques, such as vertex paint, tile textures, or edge decals. Instead, I focused solely on creating a beautiful scene. Therefore, this breakdown would be particularly useful for artists who are just starting out in environment art.
Additionally, I did not aim to create a strictly realistic work, so I stylized some elements.
I began this project in UE4, but during the process, I became curious to try UE5. To my surprise, when using the same settings, the lighting appeared more pleasant, and I achieved more realistic reflections and shadows. So, I decided to continue my work in UE5.
Creating the House and Props
There was nothing special in this process. I started work by creating a blockout in Blender using my main reference as background. The photo has perspective distortions, so the model in the orographic view is slightly different from what it would be in perspective.
To export models from Blender to Unreal, I used the official add-on from Epic Games, Send to Unreal, which allows importing models to the engine in a couple of clicks, even considering all the specifics of this process. I also recommend using similar add-ons for all programs where they are available – they greatly speed up the work. For example, I also use GoB for ZBrush and B2RUVL for RizomUV.
The house, windows, and props are made completely unique.
The textures are also made in quite a simple way.
The stones were also made with sculpting. Initially, I made about 5 unique stones of each kind, sculpted them, and then copied them in random order to fill the entire space.
I used a similar pipeline for the roof tile. I sculpted a small segment, baked a Normal map, and then randomly copied the low poly version over the roof area.
As a reference for the leaves, I used renders of scanned plants from Textures.com.
I intentionally did not try to save on polygon count. The closed buds have one level of the subdivision because I used very few of them.
The trunk and branches of the rosebush were made with Sapling Tree Gen. I could not get the right result in one iteration. So I combined several versions of the bush and then shaped the branches with sculpting tools.
I added leaves to the branches using the Particle system.
On the remaining plants, all the leaves were arranged by hand.
Setting Up the Scene
Here's the view from the side:
At the end of this process, to give the right mood, I added some particles, vegetation animation, and a little color correction in the post-process.
I did not expect that this work would cause such a response. I spent several months on this work, and sometimes there was not enough time or desire to continue. But now I understand that everything was not in vain. I gained experience, confidence, and motivation to continue to grow as an Environment Artist and do new, more challenging works.
So I would like to wish other artists don't quit their work, even if sometimes, they do not like what they get – the final result may turn out better than you expect.
Tatyana Merkulova, 3D Environment Artist
Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie
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