Creating a Western Pagan Village in UE4
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Creating a Western Pagan Village in UE4
6 August, 2018
Environment Art
Environment Design

Another Wild West Challenge entry! Jonathan Arellano talked about his UE4 scene that combined the Old West and paganism.

Project References

For the Wild West challenge I chose to splash the pagan theme after landing on the idea that it would be cool to have a cult village in a old western time. I stumbled on some pictures of paganism while looking for different types of cults. I thought it might be the best way to mix the two ideas.

After gathering images for my mood/reference board, I found that symbols really added that layer of story I needed. Additionally the skull and the church played on both themes really well, which I felt worked perfectly to  tie the themes together.


The blockout for me is usually a chance to help embody the mood from my concepts into a 3D space. I usually try to keep a sense of scale in mind, but it’s really a time to establish what I’ll need to make. Extra geo helps to envision the shapes and the overall feeling of the scene. Even the lighting at this stage helps me give mood to simple shapes. It’s also a great way to test out the meshes and see which are actually going to work for the scene and which are not.

Working On the Meshes

All my modular building pieces were done in Maya and assembled within  Unreal. I didn’t need to sculpt the modular set for this particular scene, as I found that my tilables were enough to get the detail I was after.  The rocks and props however, were done within ZBrush. I started with a base mesh from Maya to get the big forms down. To make my lowpolys I used ZBrush’s decimation master to get something I can work with in Maya. From there I do a lot of my cleanup and retopo within Maya to move to Unreal afterwards. For baking process, I used Marmoset.


I made all my materials using Substance Designer. The rock material was a bit tricky to balance with my ZBrush sculpts. I had to make sure it wasn’t too noisy and worked well tiled on my large rocks. All my materials including my plants were made using Designer. I usually like to create the most basic tilables first and from there branch out to other tileables I’ll need. Most of the time I like to add object on my textures that are made up of a different material to add variation across the tileable material.

For my material presentation, I used Marmoset to render out .pngs which I then brought into Photoshop. My backgrounds are made in Photoshop using a gradient and an overlayed noise. Fairly simple set up. I then place my material renders on top and call it a day. I try to make my backgrounds feel similar to my scene so that they tie together. It also gives a little atmosphere that I usually have in my scenes.


I love playing with lighting in my scenes. Whenever I make a big change to my scene I tend to use it as an opportunity to play with lighting. I’m constantly trying to improve the mood of my environment with each milestone and I’ve found that lighting plays the largest factor. It’s become a part of my iterative process to constantly push the overall feeling of the scene. I don’t use any special shaders. My master materials are fairly simple with parameters that allow me to adjust my textures slightly within Unreal. It’s mostly a combination of my rim and bounce lighting. I usually start off with a directional light and a sky light and little by little add few point lights to act as bounce lighting and to illuminate the focal areas. I find adding some lights to enhance or act as bounce lighting can add drama to those areas. For this particular project I found it to be a great opportunity to play with Unreal’s volumetric fog. I used it sparingly, but it was a fantastic way to cool the background colors and separate my foreground assets.


I ended up using a mix of baked and realtime lighting for this scene. I baked the lighting for the scene originally to get all the nice bounce lighting and then I changed my directional light to cast realtime shadows. I found this to be an easy way to get the best of both worlds without having to go through all the assets and turn up the shadow map resolutions. It worked particularly well for the church building since it was the only asset not assembled modularly within Unreal.

Colored Lights

The lights were an idea I had earlier, but I wasn’t sure how to implement them with my earlier lighting. Later in the challenge, I decided to add some color and really change things around. I knew the mood I wanted to capture and I wanted to see if there might be better a way to achieve it. After some critique I received I decided to run with it. I made some drastic changes that worked out in the end.


For this scene I did end up using the post process volume within Unreal to push some of the colors and saturation. Once I took my scene as far as I could with just lighting, I found myself playing with the the mid-tone and shadow hues to get a slightly cooler mood.

I also created a few particles for the scene including some dust particles and a volumetric fog particles. I used cool colors for the volumetric fog particle to add some contrast to the scene.

Jon Arellano, Senior 3D Environment Artist at Intrepid Studios

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev


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Shane Schultz
Shane Schultz

Thanks for sharing your process Jon. Always appreciate it.

Really cool, man. Thanks for sharing a writeup!

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