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Creating a Medieval-Looking Fantasy Cathedral in Maya, Substance 3D Designer & Unreal

Environment Artist Ofir Hajaj has told us about the working process behind the Gateway project, shared the modeling workflow, spoke about texturing, and explained why Unreal Engine was used for rendering.


Hello everyone! I'm excited to share my experience creating The Gateway project. My name is Ofir Hajaj, I'm a Freelance Environment Artist, and I'm excited to share the story behind my latest project with you. In this article, I'll share the steps, obstacles, and moments of inspiration that shaped this project.

When I began working on The Gateway, I knew I wanted to create a fantasy cathedral environment. To get started, I explored churches, cathedrals, and interesting architecture online. The beautiful patterns and amazing architecture I discovered fascinated me and filled me with inspiration, guiding me on this creative adventure.

Modeling and Texturing

With a collection of references and a vision of the desired shot in mind, I moved into the next phase of the process. I began blocking out the scene using Maya, experimenting with various shapes and forms. I made sure that the lighting complemented the ambiance I sought to achieve. Through a process of experimentation and attention to detail, I dedicated myself to refining the composition.

Once I had a blockout that satisfied my vision, I deconstructed the scene into modular pieces and started to work on each piece separately. This allowed for greater flexibility and efficiency in building the environment. Simultaneously, I began developing the trim sheet materials that will be applied to the modular pieces.

As the scene evolved, I came to the understanding that it needed more illumination. I got the idea to introduce stained glass windows on the roof. This would allow natural light to grace the balcony. Creating the stained glass material was a lot of fun for me, I started with the violin shape and added interesting patterns around it. For the coloring process, I utilized the awesome Pick Gradient option in Substance 3D Designer. This powerful tool allowed me to effortlessly select and apply gradients – with its help, I could seamlessly experiment with different gradients until achieving the desired result.

To make the stained glass more realistic, I took a screenshot of the roof, turned it into a texture using Substance 3D Designer and then integrated the texture into a light function in Unreal Engine. This technique played a key role in achieving the final look I had in mind.

After feeling satisfied with the cathedral and its lighting, I noticed that the scene felt empty, so I started considering what props could bring the space to life. The first idea that came to mind was the Soul gate. Although the story was still taking shape, I envisioned it as a boss door radiating mystery and power.

Soul Gate Creation

The sculpting was done in ZBrush and was a process of trial and error. I intentionally blended shapes and details that contrast with some elements in the scene to capture the viewer's attention. As for the technical part, I went from high poly to low poly and tried to strike a balance – keeping the polygon count manageable while preserving visual richness beyond Normal Map details.

After getting a successful bake, I began the texturing phase; I experimented with different colors and materials, with the assistance of an ID map, I efficiently separated and assigned unique materials to each part of the Soul Gate. Apart from the soul gate, I also created two other unique pieces: the praying sculpture and the side door. These designs were also the result of research and playful experimentation, as I delved into different ideas and explored ways to enhance the overall composition.

Achieving the Cinematic Feeling

The next step was to start working on a short sequence to give the scene a cinematic feeling. I imagined a dramatic shot where the doors burst open, accompanied by a touch of magic. To bring this vision to life, I animated the doors opening and incorporated camera movements for added impact. However, I felt that something was missing – it needed more strength, so I decided to enhance the anticipation by adding a glowing effect to the gate.

Taking inspiration from a YouTube tutorial called UE4 Object Mask by Coreb Games, I adapted the idea to suit my project. Instead of using it for opacity as shown in the tutorial, I applied it to the emissive property of the Soul Gate material. As a result, I was able to control the activation of the emissive parameter in specific areas defined by a box volume.

As a first-time user of Unreal Engine's Niagara, I embarked on an exciting journey. Starting with a smoke effect for the bursting doors, I gradually expanded my knowledge and incorporated four additional Niagara systems, each adding its own unique visual touch. This experience taught me a great deal about Niagara's capabilities.

As for the rendering part, I used Unreal Engine's Movie Render Queue. With the help of OCIO configuration, I rendered an ACES sequence, which gave me even better control during the color grading process in DaVinci Resolve, where I fine-tuned the visuals and achieved the desired final look.

A big thank you to 80 Level for the opportunity, and to all of you who have read this article. Your support and interest are truly appreciated, I hope that this breakdown has provided you with valuable insights and inspiration for your own projects. If you have any questions or would like to connect, feel free to reach out. Thank you, and I hope you found this breakdown helpful!

Ofir Hajaj, Environment Artist

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Comments 1

  • Anonymous user

    What great artwork!


    Anonymous user

    ·10 months ago·

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