Decayed Environment Creation: Tips & Tricks
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by Paul Jonathan
13 hours ago

Laura, thank you for taking the time to model the warehouse boxes. I appreciate the enginuity. This could be used for games but as well as that, for businessmen to help showcase floorplans and build site images to their co-workers and employees. I highly respect this level of design. Best Paul.

Haha.I can understand English. I am just not good at speaking. It has been a long time I don't speak English, but I can read. Anyway, thanks for sharing my artwork. Thank you for loving it.

Decayed Environment Creation: Tips & Tricks
28 June, 2017

Jacob Claussen shared some tips and tricks he learned during the production of the amazing destroyed environment. Jeremy Estrellado gave a lot of comments & suggestions on this project production, as well.


Greetings,! My name is Jacob Claussen and I’m a 26-year-old currently living in Skövde, Sweden but was born and raised in Borås near Gothenburg. I studied at University of Skövde with a focus on 3D art. Despite lacking a clear path upon entering university, I eventually fell in love with environment work, especially after playing Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us.

Several classmates and I started making a game together our first year of school based on the Warlock mod from Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. We undertook this ambitious project without really understanding how to complete a game from start to finish, and, of course, chose a complicated RTS title for our first project! Even though we’ve encountered difficulties, it has been a great experience collaborating every Sunday on this project. Today we operate as Tarhead Studio and will soon finish RUiN, our top-down arena brawler that we started as first years in university.

Cushing Hotel

RUiN’s art style heavily draws upon hand-painted sources, so in my spare time I try to expand my creative limits by focusing on environment art similar to the style evident in Naughty Dog and Ubisoft games. Learning both styles sharpens my skills and encourages me to continue progressing in my line of work.

Cushing Hotel was my first attempt to finish an environment in Unreal Engine 4. Assigning myself a deadline was crucial for my productivity and meant I would have to prioritize this assignment in my free time. In December of last year, I began thinking about my passions and knew I wanted to design a project that combined several together in a coherent manner. Architecture and nature are important to my life and The Last of Us beautifully illustrated how these two can come together in meaningful ways.

After several web searches, I found an old hotel that was simple in its design yet provided some phenomenal storytelling potential. I’d later learn this structure is the Cushing Hotel and was a setting in The Long Summer of George Adams, an American television film from 1982.


I always write a checklist of the hard skills and general areas of 3D art I hope to improve upon when beginning a new project. For this one, I focused on vegetation and modular-set design but also wanted to try out Substance Painter. Making a large-scale blockout as a reference was my first step towards building my weathered hotel.

Afterwards, I figured out what pieces I needed to make to design the blockout as a hotel but had a difficult time crafting them without making mistakes. However, I eventually discovered and referenced pictures of François-Philippe L. Gauvin’s modular sets for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate that ultimately helped me to understand how to properly craft these pieces for my project.

Listen,! It’s incredibly important to use a proper scale for your modular pieces, like three meters high and three meters wide because it allows you to easily snap them to your engine’s grid. Make sure that the UV is all the same scale and also snaps to 0, which will ensure that bricks in your project align properly.


I used Photoshop to make the tiled-texture and used a mask for nice variation. When working in Physically Based Rendering (PBR), it’s important to remove the light from your albedo and focus mainly on the roughness map because it is the piece of the puzzle that produces important surface details. The props were modeled with Maya and then were detailed in ZBrush after I textured them in Substance Painter.


Thanks so much for your kind words! I’ll fill you in on my ivy workflow as it’s often requested by others too. But, I must point out that I only achieved this feat by learning from David Lesperance, Jason Stokes and Damian Lazarski. So check them out—they’re great artists!

I started by gathering ivy references for the scapes and did one leaf yet wanted some variation. After blocking out that leaf in Maya, I gave it some surface definition in ZBrush. Next, I copied the leaf four times and gave it variation in its shape as well. Then, I baked it out on a plane and used some different photos for the texture of the leaf. Following that step, I cut out the leaves and placed them on a stem alpha card.

If I had optimized this environment for in-game use, I would have also baked a texture from the finished ivy and used it as a Level of Detail (LOD) card. Half a year later, I came back to this project and improved the ivy by varying the color of its leaves and correcting the leaves’ scale because they were too large in the original.

High poly leaves

Feedback from Jeremy Estrellado

Jeremy Estrellado has a Twitch stream as well as a community on Discord. I joined the latter community a month after completing my scene and was excited to receive great feedback both from Estrellado and the larger community. Estrellado streams twice a week and always ends his stream with constructive criticism on environment art submitted by the community. If you want to take your art to the next level and surround yourself with awesome people, you should definitely consider joining us!

Estrellado makes one weekly critique on a portfolio. When it was my turn, I obtained positive and constructive feedback about the main problem with my old scene. He pointed out the scale of my project was off—when I returned to this project with six months more knowledge and experience I clearly understood what he meant.



Something else I realized after watching Tilmann Milde’s Unreal 4 Light Academy series was that my original lightning was way too saturated. This is a must watch if you want to learn and understand lightning in Unreal!

I use a mood board to further push my art towards the style and semblance of my inspirations. When I post my work-in-progress pictures around other game-ready screenshots and notice that mine stick out in a bad way, I know I have more work to do.

Running in UE4

Yes, this environment runs in UE4, and all of the light is baked so it runs well. The scene is tiny at the moment so users would only see a couple of nice vantage points and angles. If I were to turn it into a game, I would have to make it larger and then build some LODs for the foliage.

I finished the project in about a month. However, I came back to it after Estrellado pointed out that it was the weakest part of my portfolio. Fixing aspects of the scene according to his suggestions, I updated Cushing Hotel in under a weekend, with particular care to correcting its overall scale.

At the beginning of this project, I experienced a difficult transition to UE4 as I typically work with Unity. I spent a huge amount of time reading, learning and understanding the Unreal engine. When I came back to this scene half a year later—having gained more experience and knowledge through completing more scenes with an emphasis on lightning—everything was much easier! Time and experience really does make a difference!

Thanks for reading about my project, readers! I hope you enjoyed it and learned something valuable. Best of luck on your future projects!

Jacob Claussen, Lead & 3D artist at Tarhead Studio

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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