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Creating a Hobbit Mansion in UE4

A 3D Environment Artist Johannes Burström showed us how to create the Lord of the Rings stylized mansion using ZBrush and UE4.

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My name is Johannes Burström, I'm a Swedish student at Uppsala University. I am currently working on a student project called Urskog, here's a shoutout to our Discord if you want to follow our development.

I got inspired by Jasmin's work and decided to start on something similar. I browsed the concept section on Artstation and found the concept that I needed. Being someone who dreams about Lord of the Rings I got positive vibes from it and instantly started working on it. I basically just eyeballed the shapes in the concept as well as I could. I was fine with everything not being 100% perfectly accurate to the concept since I wanted to put my own spin on it, so I tried to capture only the essentials.


By looking at the progression you may notice some large changes in the composition very early. I had discussions throughout the process with communities and my partner who's also an Environment Artist about the weaker points in the scene. This led me to change the layout of the stairs, the pots, and the large table, which slowly made a weapon shop look like a cozy hobbit pottery/flower store.

I started by sculpting a trim sheet for all the wood parts instead of sculpting them individually as that would save me a lot of time.

I still wanted some variation on the wood parts so I decided to use both Vertex Painting and wood damage decals to hide possible repetition.

I usually create the shapes as a low-poly first.

And only then I sculpt the high-poly:

Then I go back to the low-poly's UV-map and add any adjustments if necessary. I also make sure to create high-polys of the most visible parts to make sure everything comes together nicely. As most ZBrush users I tend to rely on the Orb-brush pack and Trimdynamic brushes when sculpting.

The vegetation is the part that I enjoy the most since there are so many neat tricks you can find in different tutorials. My process when it comes to achieving a certain result is usually to harvest the best parts from a bunch of different tutorials to create something that fits my scene. I found this video and decided to play around with that technique which I cover in my breakdown that can be accessed here.

By using Distance Fields, Runtime Virtual textures, and the Billboarding Leafs I managed to achieve this fluffy smooth foliage. The grass is similar to Lucen's grass with some minor changes which I also cover in my breakdown video. The trees are made modular meaning that each part is independent which allowed me to create quick iterations on their shapes and scale.


For texturing, I relied heavily on Substance Painter's Generator functions and the baked information to create the handpainted feeling. I use features such as gradients, curvature, AO together with a bunch of different fill layers, this allows me to change things very easily down the road if I notice that colors mismatch or if there is some other problem.

The water in the pond uses Distance Fields to generate foam, this was a hustle to create as I had a hard time finding tutorials on how to create good-looking foam using that technique, or any technique really. I'll add an image of the most "unique" part in the water shader here and hopefully, that will shed some light on how to do it for someone.

To explain the entire shader would take a long while but I intend to release a longer breakdown video of it at some point in the near future. I also added a smaller wave mesh that complements what the water shader was lacking. It's a rather simple shader with a panning texture that has a gradient applied to it. 

The walls are made out of plaster and bricks. I built the bricks inside of Maya in a "tileable way" then I proceeded to sculpt them in ZBrush with Wrap Mode activated so that I don't break the tiling. The Vertex painting is rather simple, it's just a HeightLerp blending the Vertex painting with a texture. On the parts where I used Vertex painting, I added some extra geometry to reach a result I was happy with.


When preparing for my renders I create a separate camera and link Foreground Foliage to it so that they move together with the camera.

Once I find a good screenshot position I lock the camera to that position so that I don't accidentally move it during my polishing stage.

I decided to use Realtime Lighting only for this scene with the new sky atmosphere in UE4. In general, my setup is very similar to Jasmin's which she explained in her article so if you are interested in reaching a similar result check her 80.lv article out. I added a light function to the Pointlight in the furnace to have some flickering. The more there is moving stuff, the more alive it feels in my opinion. 


The only thing I did in my post-processing is applied a LUT. To do that I simply grabbed a screenshot of my scene, imported it to Photoshop, and played with curves to achieve the result I wanted. Unreal has great documentation regarding this so check this out if you are interested in LUTs.

The clouds are a simplified version of what you can access here. Since it is behind a paywall I won't break it down in detail here, instead, support the original source, its a very detailed and beginner-friendly tutorial, but the general technique for anyone interested is to use FlowMaps and Parallaxing to fake depth.

I created the scene in about 9-12 days and the greatest challenge was to stay patient. I am someone who likes to work quickly and not linger too long with one asset but this was a good way to work on that weakness. Another thing I had to be patient with was the results. The scene felt pretty weak for at least 80-90% of the development but I kept telling myself to avoid rushing it and do iterations until I was pleased. A huge learning outcome was that patience truly is the key, at least for me. 
Something else that I mentioned in my Artstation post was the feedback. I encourage all of you who want to improve your work to be a part of communities and share your knowledge and don't just stick to one community, there is no limit on the number of discord servers you can join. Ask for feedback, give feedback and hang out, it's so valuable to get rid of the fear of sharing progress.

Thank you for reading, I hope this was of any help to someone. Also, a huge thanks for all the kind words from the community, it was a pleasant surprise and it truly makes me happy.

Johannes Burström, 3D Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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Comments 2

  • Anonymous user

    Can I find this on UE marketplace?


    Anonymous user

    ·3 years ago·
  • Chilla Matéo

    Amazing work !
    What's the ressource for the clouds ? Seems like the link doesn't work


    Chilla Matéo

    ·3 years ago·

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