Creating and Lighting Library Interior
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by Shayne Byrne
46 min ago

Maybe they should focus on making their games they already have run a bit better first. There are many complaints about the game play in World of Tanks. The platoon aspect needs fixing so it is more fairly ranked.

>Evangelion on TV I see you're man of the culture, Thomas :)

give me some names. Who's doing great environment work with Unity these days? I'd be happy to interview anyone who's showing some cool stuff!

Creating and Lighting Library Interior
25 January, 2018
Environment Art
Environment Design

We’ve talked a little bit with Alston Tan about the production of his lovely library environment.


Hi, my name is Alston Tan from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I’m a former unity based mobile app/games programmer who decided to transition into 3D modeling/environment art. I’ve recently graduated from Seneca Post Grad Game Art Animation Program and am currently doing freelance contract work for a web based app, and using spare time I have to work on this portfolio project.

The library is a game ready scene being built in UE4. I started this project because I felt I needed a stronger portfolio piece to replace old school work. I also took this as a chance to experiment with substance designer. My initial inspiration was the Wayne manor library from the tv series Gotham, I really liked the wealthy feel of the set and in particular the library study (center image).

I initially started with something smaller like an office library type of layout. Using reference I started creating a few key assets such as the executive chair/desk and used simple boxes to blockout the walls/bookshelves. I created those assets first to start building the scene around. I made use of unreal standard content materials to help set the tone.

I first focused more on creating a modular kit that I could use to build the layout. For that I had create couple of key assets/materials: a modular bookshelf kit, hardwood flooring and coffered ceiling.  For the modular set I used the standard highpoly – lowpoly workflow. The tileable elements such as the coffered ceiling and floor were created them using Substance Designer.

Initial bookshelf/wall panel kit

With this layout I felt that it was too claustrophobic. I played around with expanding the space and ended up deciding on a second level (unfortunately I didn’t make more wip shots till later). I created a new wall panel/bookshelf kit using substance designer to better fit the needs of the scene.

WIP with windows added

Experimented with using fog to lighten up darker areas.

With some feedback from the polycount community, I changed the layout and lighting with better composition and focus in mind. Looking back at my references, I brought back the original focal point of the scene and removed the center display case as it was overshadowing the desk.  I moved the windows to the other side of the room so that I could direct the window light towards the desk. Scene was too dark at this point, but was effective at drawing the eye to the center.

The chandeliers were repositionitioned to align towards the desk instead of towards the window. There is actually a second one in the scene but the second is mostly visible from a far shot. I kept it as as another light source and also to lead the player/viewer towards the desk.

Current State

Production of the assets 

The production of props was fairly straightforward. They were modeled in 3ds max, sent to zbrush for a quick pass, then baked and textured using Substance Painter.

The modular assets on the other hand are based on materials created using substance designer. Assets such as the bookshelf use a trim/atlas material that is shared with wall panels, railings, staircase, pillars and windows.

Wood panel trim/atlas used by all of the walls, bookshelves, railings etc.

For the bookshelf I re-used the bottom squares of the wall panels and the blank areas for the vertical dividers and shelves. Most of the arched area is unwrapped straight to make use of trims. Bevels were added to break up hard edges. I used the same method for all of the other wood architecture. All of the bookshelves, wall panel etc. parts are split into 4 pieces so that I have flexibility in laying them out.  


Out of curiosity I decided to create all of the books procedurally using substance designer. For the books I created two separate materials, one intended to be used as a facade where as the other would be used to create individual books (open/closed) to be placed around the level. For the facade material I created a template of the book spine in a top down isometric orientation and then added tiling and thickness variations using tile random. Making use of the color parameterization parameter and histogram scan node, I was able to mask out and apply different styles/color to the book spines.

For the book cover material I used a similar method as above, relying heavily on histogram scan to add variations to color, text, spine and cover designs. I used the bottom row for the pages.

In 3DS Max I used the book spine material to create facades and the cover material to create individual books. I left some facades with gaps so that I could add some height variations and allow the individual books to fill them.

Wood textures

A large chunk of the scene is wood so this problem I had to deal with quite often especially on smooth wood surfaces. To avoid having shiny wood surfaces looking like plastic I added very subtle bump variations in the normal map based on the wood pattern and noise in the roughness map that is slightly rougher than the base roughness value of the material. This helps to add subtle intensity  variation in specular light all while maintaining the overall base roughness of the material.

You can see here in the wood panel specular that it is not completely smooth by the subtle intensity variations.

In the roughness map there is quite a bit of wood grain/vein noise but it remains close in value to the base roughness so you don’t get the heavy dark patches in lighting.  I also applied this to various other props as well, the chesterfield chairs/couches for example are very reflective but the specular is not completely uniform.

Lighting setups

The light coming from the windows are from a single directional light, it is also the primary source of ‘natural’ light in the scene. Using natural lighting is a bit of a challenge since the room is so large. The scene was too dark in many areas so I had to increase the indirect intensity to get better bounce lighting. A large point light in the center of the room acts as a fill light (shadows off), it’s quite subtle but does improve visibility.

Fill light On/Off

Exponential height fog also plays a major role in brightening up darker areas as well as adding some contrasting blues into the scene.

Exp fog On/Off

Display Cases

I built these individually separate assets so that I could add some customization using painter. The cases are still quite empty at the moment and I’ll be looking to fill them with some interesting objects. I added these to the scene as a way to display assets not entirely related to the scene, I got this idea from 3D Mark Time Spy and The Order 1886.

The glass on the large display cases still need some tweaking, so I used one of the smaller cases as an example instead. All of the glass in the scene (including wine glasses, cups) share the same master material which is very basic using refraction and opacity to work.

Master material for glass

I kind of cheated the glass and made use of more than just the roughness map as you’d normally do in regular assets. Relying on just the roughness resulted in a cloudy plastic look which is what I wanted to avoid. The dirt/scratches are added to both the metallic and opacity maps, and are more subtle in roughness maps.  Using this setup, my glass looks clear but the dirt and wear is clearly visible under the right lighting/reflections.

Since metallic has a large influence on the reflectivity, I used it to make dirty areas slightly less reflective. These details are visible in the reflections on the surface, most notably the dithering of the chandelier reflection. Opacity used for the stronger dirt that affects the clearness of the glass.

Thanks for reading!

Alston Tan, Environment Artist.

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.


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Stephen Cordes
Stephen Cordes

This is truly inspiring work. Is there any further resource you can point me to for trim sheets. It’s something I really need to get into.


Any chance this will be on a marketplace? Would love to purchase it!

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