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Creating an Abandoned Retro Office in Maya, Substance 3D Designer & Unreal Engine 4

Amrit Kirpal talks about the workflow behind the Abandoned 1940s Office project, demonstrates some technical tools used in the scene, and shows the lighting setup in Unreal Engine.


Hi, my name is Amrit Kirpal, I’m a self-taught 3D Artist currently working as an environment artist in India. Growing up, I was always fascinated by game development and wanted to learn every aspect of it: from animation to coding to art. I just like to try my hand at everything game-related. Recently, I have been really interested in environment art and level design. I have worked as an environment artist for VR projects since the beginning of 2021 but currently, I like to work with game studios on a contract basis.

The Abandoned 1940s Office Project

Although it may be very obvious, I took most of my inspiration from Dishonored 2 because I was fascinated by its interior, but moving forward, I started to shift towards the look and feel of the offices from the 1940s. I didn’t have a story when I started the project. I only planned it to be a Dishonored 2 fan art because I just wanted to play with Dishonored-like assets but as the project grew into a full-on office building, I thought I might be missing an opportunity to tell a story here. Although I would like you to guess the story by looking into the scene, just in case I did a bad job, I'll give you a little summary and tell you why it was important to me to have a story.

As the title suggests, it took place in 1940s France during World War II, and at the time, an epidemic happened which forced the business to close and buildings to be left abandoned. During the production of the scene, I found that having a story to tell made the process more interesting, it helped to break the monotony to set-dress the assets in the scene, gave me a clearer goal to follow on what needs to be made for the scene, and just made the whole process more fun.

While looking for references for the scene, I couldn't find specific pictures that I could use as my main reference for the area, so I would look up different references, for example, ‘lobby’, then I would block out the area by kitbashing until I started to get the right feel for it; the same goes for color and light. To set up my mood board and references, I used PureRef, where I categorized them by areas: lobby-cafe-staff, then lighting, color, etc. My main sources of references were Pinterest and Google Images.

Design, Building Structure & Modular Assets

When I first started this project, I didn’t have an exterior building in mind but I knew it should be a mix of Victorian and Italianate architecture, so to visualize what it should exactly look like, I drew some rough sketches, took some inspiration from Dishonored again, and created a rough 3D model in Maya based on the blockout. With this, I was able to translate the idea into the concept really quickly, and it also helped me understand what type of materials, colors, and story would work with the scene. Although I did make quite a lot of changes to it later on, it was really good practice.

After this, I started breaking it into modular structure set pieces for the exterior and interior. I also created some extra structural pieces using trim sheets and other techniques, like roof deco, balcony pieces, archways, etc. After this, I was able to create blueprints to combine all the pieces to make complete structural sets, which allowed me to create more variations of these pieces in the scene. 

For medium/large assets and some special wall sets and pieces, I used trim sheets to maintain texel density and to speed up the process. This also allowed me to use these pieces I originally didn’t intend to and was able to explore more possibilities.

Textures & Materials in Unreal Engine

For tileable textures, I used Substance 3D Designer as I found it to be best for the job, but to save some time, I also created some materials using scanned images and turned them into PBR tileable images using Substance 3D Designer and Photoshop. For the walls and other structural pieces, I first created tileable textures and set UVs accordingly, then, to break the repetition of the tiled textures, I created some masks and different sets of textures and set them all in Unreal Engine 4 shaders. I also used this opportunity to make it all dynamic, so at the end of the material creation, I was able to control parameters for overall color, grime, damage roughness, and vertex painting. This was really helpful as I could make almost all the changes from the editor, which really sped up the process later. 

Technical Tools

While working with this large scene, I found having a few technical tools can really speed up the process. So with the help of a friend, I created four tools that I think are necessary to have during an environment production similar to this. 


Since this scene has both exterior and interior, I drew my inspiration from two different sources. For the exterior, I was inspired by Half-Life: Alyx as I loved the vibes I got from the first scene of the game. I really wanted to recreate that cloudy overcast setting. And since this is supposed to be a sort of an abandoned scene, for the interior, I jumped straight to The Last Of Us 2 as it has some of the best lighting scenarios that I thought would suit my scene.

My process for the lighting was to start with good ambient lighting, so I started looking for a good HDRI to use for my sky. Finally, after a long search, I found something close to what I was looking for, then I set up a sky light with a Sky Distance Threshold of 15000 and added the HDRI texture to an inverse sphere. It didn't give me the right look at first, so I took it to Photoshop, made some adjustments to it, and removed the sun from the photo because I wanted to make it auto-adjustable with the engine’s directional light.

After some tweaking, I added the sun (directional light) and started making adjustments to the Lightmass setting. I mostly used the standard settings recommended by Unreal Engine, just pumped up the Diffuse Boost to 1.2 to give my interior more of a color boost. It was a simple setup as my ambient light was doing most of the heavy lifting.

After this, I was able to move to the interior setup. Although I was happy with the initial setup first, I later found that some areas were still looking quite dark because widows were the primary source of lighting, so I decided to fake some lights that were coming from the windows and added more sources of light to fake the bounce lighting of the windows, which ended up giving me more control over where to take player's attention. I am somewhat happy with the results but I could use more practice.

The biggest challenge I faced was the transition between the interior and the exterior as their lighting setups had different Exposure settings and the transition was always sudden, so I couldn’t find a solution for this for a long time. It actually was quite simple: all I had to do was to play around with the Post Process volume settings to set the Blend readings to around 300 and decease the interior volume size to a little shorter than the size of the building.


This was a very long project. It took me almost a year to finish, so the main challenge during the production was to keep myself motivated and consistent throughout the project. I had to take a few breaks from the project. Another challenge was the lighting as I realized it was something that could make or break the scene, so I researched and studied all the good lighting scenarios I could find, and then I found some great tutorials by William Faucher and 51Daedalus. Their lighting tutorials really helped me understand lighting in Unreal Engine.

My only advice would be to always plan ahead, especially when it comes to big scenes. Spend as much time as possible in the early stage of reference gathering, blocking out the scene, and planning the props and trim sheets. It will really help you in the long run and will save you a lot of time.

Lastly, thanks, 80 Level, for conducting this interview and giving me this opportunity to write this article to share my thoughts and journey with the community. Feel free to reach out to me on ArtStation if you have any questions.

Amrit Kirpal, Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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