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Creating a Realistic Slavic Village in Blender, ZBrush & UE5

Anastasiia Pliusnina discussed in great detail her stunning project The Village, talking about pre-production stage, scene setup, modeling in Blender, level creation, and final renders in UE5. 

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Hey everyone! My name is Anastasiia Pliusnina. I’m an Environment Artist at People Can Fly. Recently, I had the opportunity to create The Village environment. It was a challenging but rewarding experience. In this article, I'll walk you through my process of creating it – from the initial concepting stage to the final renders. I'll share some techniques I used to create a compelling and believable environment that immerses viewers in another time and place. I'll also discuss some of the challenges I faced and how I overcame them. If you're interested in learning about the process of creating an environment art, read on!

Research and Pre-Production Stage

Research and pre-production is an essential stage in the creation of any environment art. It's important to gather as many references as possible and to study them carefully to understand the culture and architecture that you are trying to recreate. This will help you create a believable and authentic environment that captures the essence of the culture you are representing.

During this stage, it's important to focus not only on the aesthetics of the environment but also on the materials and shapes that are unique to the culture. This will help you create an environment that feels organic and authentic. It's also a good idea to study the mythology and folklore of the culture, as this can provide inspiration for the design of the environment and the props within it.

Taking the time to research and plan your environment before diving into creation will save you time and ensure that the end result is of a higher quality. It will also help you better understand the story and history behind the environment, which can add depth and meaning to the final art.

I ultimately decided to create an old Slavic village because I was drawn to the atmosphere and the rich mythology that surrounds this culture. I also wanted to challenge myself by working with wood and creating modular building assets that could be used to construct various types of buildings. During the pre-production phase, I planned out the layout and structure of the village based on the references and research I gathered earlier. This helped me create an environment that feels genuine and authentic. 

Tools and Software

Creating a complex environment art project like this requires a wide range of tools and software. For this project, I used:

  • Blender for modeling, UVs, blockouts, rigging, and animation of a Baba Yaga building.
  • ZBrush for sculpting intricate details in high-poly models.
  • Rizom UV for the UV unwrapping of Nanite meshes.
  • Marvelous Designer for cloth simulation of the clothes and bags.
  • Substance Painter for texturing assets and baking.
  • Substance Designer for creation of custom tools for Substance Painter and materials.
  • Unreal Engine 5 for custom shaders, set dressing, level creation, and final renders. The ability to work with real-time lighting and see the results instantly was incredibly helpful in creating a believable environment.
  • Quixel Megascans for some of the props, foliage, and textures, which provided high-quality assets
    that saved me time and effort.
  • DaVinci Resolve was used for video montage and editing. 

With the help of these powerful tools and software, I was able to bring my vision to life in a way that was both efficient and creative. 

Blockout and Scene Setup

As an environment artist, establishing the overall scale and proportions of the environment is crucial when creating any scene. To achieve this, I started by creating basic blockouts of buildings in Blender, which I then imported into Unreal Engine 5.

Additionally, I added a UE Mannequin to the scene for scale reference, ensuring that everything was sized appropriately. Once the initial blockout was created, I used them to plan out the layout and structure of the village. This allowed me to experiment with different compositions and make adjustments before moving on to the more detailed creation phase. Finally, I created blockouts of props to populate the scene and gain a better understanding of the types and sizes of props required to make the scene interesting and appealing. 

Next, I added the base materials and lighting, which allowed me to get a sense of how the scene was shaping up. I made sure to focus on creating the key materials for the environment, as these were the most important for the overall look and feel of the old Slavic village.

By planning and setting up the scene, I was able to create a solid foundation for the environment art and a scope of props that I’ll need to create. This allows me to focus on the creative aspects of the project.


With the basic scene set up, I then focused on creating a modular kit of assets. Modularity is a key aspect of my workflow when creating environment art. It allows greater efficiency and ease when building scenes, whilst also being preferable in terms of technical budget.

To achieve modularity, I set up my models and assets as a modular kit, with particular sizes (1 or 2 meters for example) which means they can be snapped together like puzzle pieces utilizing Grid and Snap option inside an Unreal Engine. I create each module with attention to detail so that when they are assembled, they appear seamless and cohesive. To achieve this, I modeled a more refined version of a building and split it into modules.

One of the main benefits of modularity is that it allows me to create many building configurations using only a few core assets. This not only speeds up my workflow, but also helps me maintain a consistent visual style throughout my environment. Additionally, by using modular assets, I am able to easily make changes to the overall look and feel of the scene, without having to spend time reworking individual assets.

In short, modularity is an essential part of my workflow when creating environment art. It allows me to work efficiently while maintaining consistency and quality throughout the project.


Throughout the modeling process, I relied heavily on Blender to create the various assets that make up the environment. Blender's robust toolset and intuitive interface allowed me to quickly prototype and iterate on models until I achieved the desired look and feel. For more intricate assets, I turned to ZBrush for sculpting. ZBrush provided me with the necessary tools to add fine details to the models. This combination of Blender and ZBrush allowed me to create a wide variety of assets while maintaining high levels of detail and quality. 


Once the modeling process was complete, I moved on to the texturing phase. For this, I utilized 3D Substance Painter, a powerful texturing software that allowed me to create high-quality textures for my props. SP's user-friendly interface and extensive library of materials and textures made it easy to achieve the desired look and feel for each asset.

When working on the texturing of the props, I utilized Substance Designer to create custom filters and masks to use in Painter. These filters were created to enhance the texture and details of the props, and allowed me to create unique and interesting textures for each prop. By creating custom masks, I was able to save time and streamline my texturing workflow in Substance Painter, while also giving me greater control over the final look of the textures. 


To create the foliage in my environment, I used Quixel Megascans trees along with custom-made plants. Firstly, I created texture atlases from photos of leaves and used them in ZBrush to help with sculpting. After sculpting, I baked the results and textured them using Substance Painter. Next, in Blender, I combined separate parts of the plant models and utilized modifiers to achieve the desired shape and form. Lastly, I imported the plants into Unreal Engine and used the foliage tools to scatter them throughout the environment.


Lighting is an incredibly important aspect of environment art, as it can set the tone and mood for the entire scene. A good lighting setup can breathe life into an environment, making it feel more immersive and believable. With careful attention paid to the placement and intensity of lights, I was able to create a warm and inviting atmosphere for the viewer. 

I chose dawn as the time of day for my environment because it offers a unique lighting scenario that is visually stunning and sets a particular mood. The soft, warm glow of the sun rising over the horizon is perfect for creating a peaceful, serene atmosphere. It also allowed me to play with interesting contrasts between light and shadow, which can be seen in the deep blue shadows cast by the early morning light. I opted to use Lumen technology in Unreal Engine to achieve more realistic lighting and reflection. I find that Lumen gives a more natural and dynamic look to the scene. 


Creating this environment art has been a valuable learning experience. I have gained a deeper understanding of the importance of modularity, the advantages of using different software for specific tasks, the power of good lighting and materials, and the importance of atmosphere and mood. 

For aspiring Environment Artists, I would offer the following advice:

● Keep practicing: Whether it's modeling, texturing, or lighting, practice is the key to improving your skills. Keep creating and pushing yourself to try new techniques, and challenges.
● Plan ahead: Before you begin working on an environment, make sure you have a clear idea of the overall design, lighting, and mood you want to achieve. This will help you stay focused and avoid getting lost in the details and reference. 
● Use the right tools for the job: Different software is better suited for certain tasks, so don't be afraid to experiment and find what works best for you.
● Don't be afraid to iterate: Environmental art is an iterative process, so don't be afraid to make changes and try new things as you go. This will help you refine your vision and create a more polished final product.

Overall, creating environment art can be a challenging but rewarding experience. By following these tips and staying committed to your craft, you can create stunning and immersive environments that captivate and inspire others. And don’t worry! Everything will be fine in the end.

Anastasiia Pliusnina, Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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