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Making a Cozy Tavern Scene in Unreal Engine

3D Environment Artist Madeline Rosa revealed the working process behind the Maddy's Tavern Project, shared some insights on modeling and texturing buildings, and explained how Vertex School's mentors helped her achieve the result.


My name is Madeline Rosa. I studied Studio Art with a focus on Traditional Drawing, Painting, Photography, and Art History for 4 years at The City College of New York. After finishing my Studio Arts degree, I studied Foreign Languages and Literature focused on French and Italian for 4 years.

I started doing 3D Art around 2015 when I joined Pluralsight, formerly known as Digital Tutors, and I self-taught myself 3D modeling at the time. I have not worked for any gaming company yet but I have worked on a few personal projects that I plan to revisit and remaster with the current training and knowledge that I have now; including the PBR workflow.

Joining Vertex School

Approximately a year ago, I started looking for online schools and I came across Vertex School. I decided to get in contact with the school and moved on to a round of interviews. This school was perfect for me because it offers flexible online training focused on the concepts and the pipeline used in the gaming industry. Most importantly, it is taught by industry professionals. When joining Vertex School, my goal was to boost my texturing and lighting skills. My current focus is on perfecting those skills.

The Maddy's Tavern Project

For my term 2 final project at Vertex, picking a place or reference for my modular environment project took me a few days of research to find suitable references since I needed to develop a project that was focused on a corner building. I had many options to choose from but it needed to be something achievable within the timeline I was given. I found Crown & Anchor in London, England which is a pub or the equivalent of a bar in the United States.

As soon as I saw this reference, I knew I had found the perfect place for this project because of the various elements it has such as the foliage, a rich variety of colors, the props, and most important the architecture itself. This is exactly what I am passionate about when I do 3D art.

When working on a 3D environment like this, it is very important to have a story behind your concept or the environment itself, because it gives you all the tools you need when it comes to texturing and modeling. For example, when you are planning to build an environment you need to ask yourself how you are going to texture the outside walls. What type of details do you need to add? What type of props do you need to model? What type of environment? Do you need to add weathering? Is it abandoned, inhabited, sci-fi, medieval, modern, apocalypse, etc?

Also, there are many ways and techniques to achieve the same goal. For example, in some cases, you can fake adding details using a normal map instead of actually having to model something. The use of Trim sheets is very common and it is a time saver when it comes to saving texture memory within the engine and at the same time being able to texture multiple meshes with a single texture set.

In the real world, Crown & Anchor is a social spot where people come to gather, drink, eat and play arcade games. I was inspired to recreate this environment because this is exactly what was going on in my personal life at the time. I was always looking for visual reference everywhere I went and I picked ideas not just from photographic images I had of this place, but also from my surroundings in NYC.

The Workflow

My process of creation for this environment was modular. Every wall, sidewalk, and street pavement was built with a modular technique. The props were built separately. I used Maya for modeling and Substance 3D Painter for baking high poly into low poly for the props. Substance 3D Painter was also used for texturing the props. The final scene was assembled in Unreal Engine 4. I used ZBrush to create a sculpted Trim sheet which was later imported into Substance 3D Painter for texturing. The final materials shots were rendered in Marmoset Toolbag. The final environment was rendered in Unreal Engine.

As for the vegetation assets, I originally planned to build them myself, but that workflow takes time which I didn't have at the time to finish this project. I ended up using Megascans from Epic. I knew I wanted different varieties of flowers, and I was able to find different types of flowers in different colors for my scene.

For the extra details on the building, I was able to achieve a different variety when texturing by using Vertex Painting to add dirt to the walls. Damage and cracks decals were also used on the building walls to add that sense of wear and decay. I also tried to experiment with the Parallex Occlusion technique for the wall bricks which adds a sense of depth by faking the normals. I also added water puddles on the sidewalk to get that special reflection effect for the lighting. This material was built inside of Unreal Engine.

The lighting process was very fun to do. I knew since the beginning I wanted to do a sunset scene. I started researching multiple lighting scenarios from my personal photography collection. I used an HDR map with the sunlight positioned at early sunset. My goal was to achieve a warm-looking image but at the same time to show the different textures and details I had added to the scene.

Later in the project, I decided I wanted to make a night scene as well. I started planning out the things I needed to change to achieve this goal. I knew certain special effects would be more visible during nighttime such as the fireflies. Working on this night scene was also a very important learning process since it was my first night scene. I knew the firefly’s effect would give it a nice visual touch.

After this I started adding visual effects, I am super passionate about 3D effects, and I did not want to present my work without some special 3D effects. I started researching visual effects and how I would be able to specifically add what I wanted. Growing up I always watched fireflies in my backyard, and I immediately knew I wanted to incorporate some of them into my scene. I started playing and learning Niagara System and I was able to come up with a firefly effect that I liked. I also knew I wanted to add steam coming from the manhole in the middle of the street and the sewer and smoke coming from the chimneys in the building. These two special effects were built and added with the Niagara system inside of Unreal Engine as well.


At Vertex School, I received help and support from day one. My mentor, Vlad Vanzariuc, was very helpful and he made sure I learned the workflow and techniques I will need in the gaming industry such as Trim sheets, and Modular Environments kits. He strongly emphasized the importance of snapping vertices and modular kit pieces to the grid! That was something completely new to me and I thank him for teaching me how to do that correctly. My lab mentors Salvador Sánchez and Paul Layton were extremely helpful and supportive during this project. They provided me with tips on how to break down my scene, the importance of having a block out for your scene, how to texture certain meshes, how to fix the lighting, etc.

My time at Vertex School has been an extraordinary and amazing learning experience. When I first started looking for schools, I had no idea where I would end up until I found Vertex. I have learned so much and so many things I did not know before and for that I am forever grateful. Being able to work and learn from industry experts and having the opportunity to participate in school events is super helpful and exciting for me.

Madeline Rosa, 3D Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Burton

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