Cel-Shaded 3D Environment Creation

3D artist Lamar McHaney discussed his first experiments with UE4, talked about 3d asset creation and texture production.

Not so much time ago, Lamar McHaney published a very interesting stylized scene, created in Unreal Engine 4. In this interview, he discussed his first experiments with UE4, talked about 3d asset creation and texture production.



My name is Lamar McHaney and I currently live in San Francisco. Originally from the precincts of Brooklyn, I came to San Francisco to attend the Art Institute. I paid for some of my tuition with money from professional gaming. Playing “Gears of war” and “Halo 2” at MLG (major league gaming) I was able to earn a total of $50,000. I’ve been a freelance artist since graduating 4 or 5 years ago.  I’m currently not at a studio. Many studios send me rejection emails or don’t respond back. It’s understandable, there’s a lot of competition out there. If a studio isn’t choosing me over someone else, then I need to improve my work. I mainly work freelance for local companies around the city. Most of the work is for mobile games, some commercial, and occasional indie projects. On the weekend I work as a cook as I need to make sure my bills are paid. I was a part of a project named “Heartlands” however the designer and I didn’t see eye to eye. It’s a good project people should look forward to.


Normally I roam Polycount, looking at works in progress, the “what you’re working on” thread, or many of the other awesome threads. Artyom Vlaskin’s concept was posted in one of the “Monthly Environment Art Challenge” threads. The environment was easy to break down into modular and unique assets using Photoshop. (The images are of another environment I made).





I haven’t had a chance to play with Unreal Engine 4. I used this environment as an opportunity to re-learn the engine. Understanding post-processing, material development, and lighting. In school, I spent most of my time in UDK so I wasn’t unfamiliar with the Unreal Engine. 

After finishing my layout in Photoshop, I began to develop the props in Maya. I changed the Maya grid to match the grid in Unreal. Models are made to snap to the grid.


I read a tutorial by Kevin Johnstone (Senior Artist at Epic Games) about developing for Unreal.  “Always model to the grid” or “make your models like lego blocks.” I’ve been following his advice for 6 years. Once the models are done, they’re exported as an FBX. The models are imported to Unreal to begin building the environment. I use the concept as a reference to place the models. Something I’m really trying to maintain is 3D art matching the concept art. I think it’s great to create your own environment with your own concept. But getting into the habit of learning to work from another person’s concept is great practice.

For the props, I added things that were not in the concept. For example, the trash can in the corner of the concept is a simple cylinder. Ideally, the texture is simple. Orange/red color with a gray top, but I decided to add more to the prop. If you’ve been to the DMV or any type of public office you’ve seen a trash can with an ashtray on top and a swivel door trash lid. Old cigarette buds in the ashtray, trash around the can, feels realistic.


The fan prop was a little bit of a headache. Making alphas are fine but sometimes they just look weird. Maybe it’s something I need to work on.

When I thought about making the textures Jim Lee (DC comics Illustrator, Writer, Executive), Scott Williams (DC comics Inker and Colorist), or Alex Sinclair (Freelance Colorist) immediately came to mind. I was making a comic style environment, so my references were comic artists. I referenced “Batman: Hush” and some of the New 52 Justice League comics. Something I really wanted to add to the textures was visible brush stroke.


In Photoshop I created 3 brushes, line brush (pen pressured), fat line brush (pen pressured), and a flat paint brush.


I don’t own a Cintiq, I use a Wacom Intuos 3. It’s a bit hard to get a decent thick to thin line on a curve without drawing natural. But you have to work with what you got. For the noticeable wear, hatching or cross hatching was added instinctively. As a younger artist, I wanted to work in comics. I even did an internship at Marvel Studios in manhattan. Not saying I’m GODLIKE at inking. Just saying I have a bit of experience.  

The old diffuse direction was fine for this environment. I didn’t go crazy on the gloss or spec map. If the object is metal or glass I gave it a gloss or spec map with little variation. I love color, sometimes I get a bit carried away with the saturation levels. With each prop, I maintained an even level of saturation. At the end, I used the post-processing to turn down the saturation levels a bit. The hardest thing to make was the edge detection post-processing material for unreal 4, I haven’t made it since UDK. Thankfully, I was able to reference a stylized environment release by Epic Games. 


Lighting is my weakness, it’s something I’m still working on. To produce the lights in the scene I used several spots. There are 4 at the pillar, 2 in front of the wall_light and 2 on the floor of the pillar. The lights on the floor don’t cast shadows, they are there to produce the bright light exposure on the floor referenced in the concept. The wall_light and rectangle_light prop share one light. Another light is placed at the rectangle_light behind the desk. The last 2 lights are spotlights placed outside the scene. The spotlights  don’t cast shadows, they’re used to lighten up the dark areas in the scene. None of the lights are pure white. The lights are either slightly orange or slightly blue.


Never use pure white or black, that’s something you learn early as an artist. It’s a rule I follow regularly. 

This environment is definitely something that can work for a game. It isn’t costly, most of the textures are 1024 x 1024. To squeeze more performance out of this environment I can lower the poly count on some of the props. I knew this environment was going to be a personal piece. I took the liberty of beveling edges to give the props a smoother look and cleaner normal map. Also, kill some of the lights. Fewer lights mean less work for the game engine, increasing performance.  

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This style has proving to work in games already. Gearbox Software has done well with Borderlands 1 and 2 using their comic style in unreal 3. There are still things to come. Unreal 4 opens up so many opportunities for game development. Dream companies to work are Respawn Entertainment, The Coalition, Bungie, 343, honestly, there are many companies.

Lamar Mchaney, Freelance Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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Comments 2

  • Anonymous user

    that's life I guess. you need to hustle.


    Anonymous user

    ·7 years ago·
  • Just another artist

    This guy is a talented artist, and he still has to work as a cook at weekend. So sad :(
    His works look really great, and I believe he will land on some big studios soon.


    Just another artist

    ·7 years ago·

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