Magical Tree Environment Breakdown

Magical Tree Environment Breakdown

Handi D. Putra talked about the production of his amazing award-winning environment piece.

Handi D. Putra talked about the production of his amazing award-winning environment piece.


Hi, my name is Handi D. Putra, I’m from Bandung Indonesia. I’ve graduated in late 2016 from ITENAS with major in Visual Communication Design. Although we’ve mostly studied visual art, I’ve become more interested in 3D. Funny thing, I’m entirely self-taught in this field. Internet rocks!

I have not been involved with games yet, because most of game studios in my city work with mobile, 2D mobile games, or web games. I’m not really interested in these kinds of things. That’s why after graduation I wanted to use my free time to learn more about 3D game environment design.

I work as a freelance 3D artist and make product visualization or anything that require 3D-roduction.

In the nearest future I’m planning to work in a game studio and actually right now I’m going through the interview process to get a job in a company. I don’t know what the results will be but I hope for the best. Wish me luck!

Beyond Human

In August after I’ve finished my freelance work, and merely by chance I saw a challenge from Artstation. Immediately I’ve made this challenge my sole priority. The goal here was to see how far my skills that I’ve learned so far will take me. And at the end of the challenge, I finally got Honourable Mention from Artstation and I was quite satisfied with the result.


I wanted to make something different and something beautiful. It seems like there are too many works which have an elements of destruction, dirty look. I tried to avoid those elements in my scene. The story that I’ve offered here is actually quite simple: “a tree of life that provides a source of energy in the village”. And for the visual style, I wanted to have a traditional element for the buildings and other human stuff, and the sci-fi look for the research facilities like hologram, vehicles and etc, and the fantasy one for the main tree.

Blockout and Composition

The first thing that I made were four buildings that have various size. A big tree was created to set the position of the focal point and I also used a human model that I’ve downloaded from somewhere to be a size reference in my scene. With these base models it helped to create my initial block out, and I just placed them one by one manually to get a good composition.

At first I was having troubles with the composition. But I remembered that I had a personal work that I had not finished before and I really liked the composition there. I tried to use that composition and apply it to my new block out.

The thing that I did in the previous scene and I tried to apply to this work was to create an imaginary line that directs the audience’s view to the focal point of this block out.

I was quite satisfied with my first block out and to make sure that it works, I’ve asked my friend Yurian Abimanyu, he was my college friend back in ITENAS, for help. At that time he was studying concept art at FZD School. So I asked to him about the composition that I had at the time. He sent me back my image with a pretty positive feedback. From that feedback I just remembered one important thing in composition that I forgot – the Golden Ratio. It’s a very common composition tool, but it slipped my mind entirely for some reason.

But fortunately, my block out already had a good composition. So I just needed to set and add more objects in some areas that look empty and adjust it to fit with the golden ratio. Of course, I’m not trying to follow the spiral line perfectly, just striving to get a good the overall look.


I realized that this environment would have a lot of buildings that fill the space, and I also had a time limit of 2 months. I decided to make it in a modular way by splitting the important parts of the building such as window, door, tiles, wall, etc and make some variation of it.

After that, I imported those models into Unreal Engine and put them together into Blueprint Actor. This way I can make some variation of the buildings. After the building was done, I started to place the buildings manually one by one and replaced the previous block out models.

This technique was actually inspired by an article on 80 Level. I found a good article about how to build an environment by Tobias Koepp in here. He made a big environment alone and shared his technique. Thanks, Tobias!

Magical Tree

The tree was so challenging. I already had the overall image of it, like I wanted the crown to be umbrella-shaped and have “something” interesting on it. But because I don’t use any concept art it really made things difficult.

I tried to explore the shape and the light with rough model and texture. The goal in here is to find a good shape, light and also fit to the composition. And of course, along with the changes of the objects, the composition, and etc, I also needed to adjust the camera position slightly upward.

The Crown

Actually, in the beginning I used fungus or mushroom as my reference for an umbrella-shapes. But my sister saw my WIP screenshot and she just said “why are there jellyfishs hanging on the tree like that”. So, from there I just realized that the jellyfish also had the same shape and looked more magical than simple fungus. So I began searching on Google and I found a lot of great references.

For modeling, it is not so complicated because the shape is just simple. The trunk is just a cylinder. Same goes for the stems. I placed them manually and then combined them together in zBrush with DynaMesh. I’m not using zBrush to make detail, I just used it to help me combine the stems and the trunk so it became one mesh. I added the detail by using Substance Painter. It was faster to paint the normal on the tree rather than sculpt it. Of course, this technique depends on how much detail we wanted but because I need to do it all fast, I just let Substance Painter handle this. The leaves and grass are scattered using MASH feature on Maya. I mostly played a lot with color and lighting to get the visual that I wanted rather than messing around with the model, because it’s easier and faster.

To make the crown, I just assembled the objects that I’ve made like the leaves, the “tentacles”, etc in Blueprint Actor in Unreal Engine 4. And then I duplicated and placed it on the tree which I’ve textured before.


I really like the night scene, because at that time we have a lot of opportunities to play and explore the lighting and color. Also, with sci-fi and fantasy themes, it’s helps to bring up the stunning lighting.

For the set up as can be seen in the image of the Crown Setup before, I have placed some point lights on the blueprint actor of the crown. And to make it more dramatic, on the leaves material I used subsurface to get a little highlight on the crown, and then I just tried changing the value of the lights and the color of the subsurface texture to get what I wanted.

As well as with the lights from hologram and the device. I put the objects and the lights into one blueprint actor and duplicated it to the scene. With this setup I don’t need to change the hologram’s lights one by one, only change some value in the blueprint actor and it will change the rest.

As for the building, I put emissive texture to the window material. However, for some buildings I also gave some point light in the front of the window. I placed the point light in some buildings so it could made balance with the lights from the tree.

For the overall lighting, I used 2 directional lights to add a nice highlight on the roofs. Then I added skylight to get a little ambient so the scene is not too dark. Furthermore, I added ExponentialHeightFog and tried changing the values on volumetric fog section to get a more dramatic lighting.

As a note, all the lights in the scene has been set to movable light, because I wanted to get the results in real-time without having to wait too long to bake it.


There are only three particles that I used in this scene. The two of them are the leaves that fly up and small particles that are orbiting the crown. I put both of the particles into crown blueprint. While the other one is the global particle, it is a dandelion that fly around the scene. This particle is heading towards the left side of the camera.

Regardless the logic of how the particles behaves. These particles are intended to give a dramatic impression on the environment that I made. In addition, these particles also add detail to the environment and make it more alive, especially because there is no character in this environment.

Duration & Challenge

I started working on this environment when the second phase of the challenge began. After that I’ve been consistently making this environment until the challenge ended. It took me less than 2 months to make this environment.

The most challenging thing in making this environment was when I tried to explore the tree. Because this tree is my focal point, this is the most important thing in this environment. But I couldn’t have imagined how it would look like, especially because I don’t have a finished concept art. And when I started exploring the shape of the tree, I actually hesitated whether the result would be good or would ruin the environment.

But since my sister saw the first block out and said that it looks like a jellyfish, that’s when I got a great references and very inspired me to exploring further. References really matter here, it helped me when I got stuck. Of course, technical mastery will help us to provide a good quality. However, with the right reference it will inspire us to give a new idea and make our work be more interesting.

Handi D. Putra, 3d Artist.

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.

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Comments 2

  • Stoelcki Pawel

    love the design of the tree


    Stoelcki Pawel

    ·a year ago·
  • Krystal

    That's stunning! Beautiful work.



    ·a year ago·

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