Creating Volumetric Tarot Cards with Layered Material

Creating Volumetric Tarot Cards with Layered Material

Oleg Knyazev and Lekso Tiger (Yulia) talked about their Tarot Cards project: Yulia created 2D illustrations and Oleg implemented the idea in UE4.


Oleg Knyazev: Hi, my name is Oleg. I am a digital artist and I do everything. For a long time, I worked in a video production team for (aka We created commercials for new project announcements and major updates of already existing projects. This was extremely creative work, as it covered the full cycle from creating ideas and video concepts to post-processing and sound engineering. The awesome creative atmosphere in the team allowed us to fully unlock our creative potential. When you work on videos for games, you have to work with video game content of various nature. I was in great demand as I had a wide range of skills. I could work with 3D geometry, effects, etc. And thanks to working in a team, I got great experience in directing and video composing.

My multifunctionality originates from my childhood. I loved (and still love) games so much that already in childhood, when I played one of the adventure games, in my thoughts I dissected mechanics and game logic into components. Ever since I was a child, I really wanted to create games, stunning unique worlds that captivate with their depth. And so I started to create models based on my rough concepts. And where modeling is, there is texturing and skinning – and then animation. In general, rushing from one work direction to another, I got a very diverse foundation. But a person who is engaging in too many different activities cannot become a professional in everything. My soul mate, Yulia, balances this out. She is a wonderful artist who loves what she does. And she does it professionally.

Yulia (LeksoTiger): Hi everyone! My name is Yulia, aka Lekso Tiger. I am a 2D environment artist and most often I draw landscapes for games, although usually, this is not the only thing. Currently, my biggest project is Ash of Gods, an isometric turn-based strategy game with a branching storyline. At the beginning of my career, I drew absolutely everything – characters, icons, user interface, illustrations. But over time, it became more interesting to me to work on the environments – I really love nature. I am currently working on Knock on the Coffin Lid, a game in Early Access on Steam. 

Tarot Cards: About the Project

Oleg: Our little adventure started with a shader. Apart from programming, I am interested in many things related to game development and I'm more captivated by the visualization process. A year ago, I first tried to make a material that would mimic the multidimensional effect (first rough attempt based on Janna Sophia's work):

In the past, I also had experience in something similar when I was working on this card:

In this case, guided by her own taste, Yulia drew an excellent card deck that suited the Tarot card setting greatly. I just had to properly integrate it in UE4.

Yulia: I love mysticism and magic, and I have wanted to draw something like this for a long time! When Oleg offered to work on this project, I was very excited. When I was looking for references, I was fascinated by the cards from Dragon Age Inquisition. I relied on them in terms of color and texture. Sometimes, I looked at old engravings and medieval fresco paintings in search of ideas and interesting techniques. 

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Creating the Concept

Yulia: Usually I only need a title to come up with a rough plot and feel of the drawing. It all starts with a sketch and becomes more detailed over time.

First, I draw a sketch (usually linear). Then I choose an approximate palette of the future drawing. I go through a lot of references and choose those that best suit the mood and storyline. Over time, some details ger removed and others added. But in general, this process can be compared to the creation of a marble sculpture – you cut off as much excess material as possible, leaving the most important parts that work for the viewer.

Advice for Novice Artists

Yulia: For novice artists who want to develop their skills, the most important thing is regular practice. Like food! Every day, in small portions. I can recommend a few things:

  • First, develop your artistic taste. Explore paintings by old masters and those contemporary artists you want to be like.
  • Secondly, try to avoid dirty colors (which is definitely caused by the black color).
  • And thirdly – draw what you adore and love!

I think that now, in the age of the Internet, it is difficult to recommend something particular – everything is already written about and available for free, you just need to keep looking for what suits you.

Card Material

Oleg: When I first created this material, we decided that this effect worked great with oracle cards. But at that time I used many separate images for each “layer” of the illustration, and I decided to try to optimize the whole structure. I began to think about what could be done to make this material work using a minimum of textures and instructions, and at the same time make it convenient for designers to work with. This has caused some technical limitations, but usually, any limitations force you to get the most out of the current conditions.

The textures used in the Star card:

And this is how the card looks in the engine:

If we wanted to work only with one texture, then we had to include all the layers in it from the beginning. Yulia split the illustration into layers, and I created an algorithm in the material that reused one texture map several times but set an appropriate offset and scale for each new iteration. Then the logic of the material arranges all these pieces in one row, and the designer sets the depth of the composition that suits this or that illustration.

The offsets and scales:

In order to increase the visual impact, we decided to add glow effects. You can select any pattern, set the strength of the glow, color, speed, and direction of movement. The main point is to create a mask for the effect. In the case of the Star card, you can see how orange triangles gradually move upward inside the fire while drops slowly fall down in the jets coming out of the egg. We love such details. They allow simple things to become unique.

This video shows the logic of the texture splitting algorithm:

The backs of the cards contain a cool gem, but it's not that simple. For the purposes of art visualization, I added a glow to it which looks like nebulae. I saw this design done by Dzung Phung Dinh, and this trick worked very well for us!


Oleg & Yulia: We have published these materials on the Unreal Marketplace, and anyone can support us by purchasing them. The master material will allow you to create your own cards, and of course, you can use the current cards for your needs.

When it comes to working on a project with someone, I think it's all about mutual respect and total love for your work – without it, nothing would have happened.

Oleg Knyazev & Lekso Tiger (Yulia), Digital Artists

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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Comments 1

  • Tokarev Kyrylo

    This is incredible work, guys! Love this stuff.


    Tokarev Kyrylo

    ·9 months ago·

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