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Making a Stylized Japanese Village in UE4 & ZBrush

Gary Roberts, an Environment Artist, shows us how to make a Japanese village using 3DS Max and ZBrush.


Hello, world! My name is Gary Roberts Bocardo and I’m from the nice country of Mexico, more exactly from the south of Quintana Roo. After graduating from high school I came to Mexico City to study at the Institute of Digital Art and Animation (INAAD). After I had graduated and had watched tons of tutorials I finally entered the game industry.

Now I am 25 years old and I have 4 years of experience working with several Game Studios like Tiny Talisman Games, Streamline Studios, and Drastic Games where I’m currently working as a 3D Environment Artist on Soundfall.

Whenever I can, I give classes in the INAAD and Escena, both are great schools to learn Digital Art in Mexico.

It has been a road filled with challenges, sweat, blood, and pixels. But my goal has always been to learn more and more, every single day.

Japanese Village: Inspiration

Well, first of all, I wanted to challenge myself with creating some huge Japanese castles because I was playing AOE3: The Asian Dynasties at the time. So I started looking for some references as I usually do.

While doing my research, I found a piece of art with a very nice composition by a concept artist named Taeyoung Kim. I decided to set it as my base concept to start rolling.

The Approach

I love to be super organic in my projects. That's why I always number things in order to know how many assets I might need. After this, I start with a super simple blockout, only for composition purposes and to follow the art direction I wanted to follow in this project.

With all the blockout set and the size of the buildings, it was time to jump to 3DS Max to work on some base models for ZBrush. You need to model only those things that are necessary for the project, less is always better!

After being done with the basics, let's jump to ZBrush. This is my favorite part of the process, starting with the Orb-brushes and with the base mesh, your workflow can be super smooth.
The magic of stylized art is to avoid 90-degree angles and to always make objects chunkier. For me personally, watching The Lord of the Rings when I'm sculpting and modeling for hours works super good. I also focus on good presentation renders so after having all my stuff made, I work on the rendering part and use the Orb_Gloss material to make a very clean presentation.

Textures and Colors

When it came to putting on a texture, a great challenge that I had was to aim for the same colors as on the building I was inspired by. Something very important is the color theory, gradients are generally always used to do this. I highly recommend materials from Zack Maxwell as a base to start. In my case, I like to use a gradient with complementary colors and then an EdgeSubtleHighlights for the edges.

Working with a blockout from the start makes things super smooth because all you have to do is change the boxes for new assets and check that the composition is good.

I really recommend checking YouTube tutorials made by Blender Guru about Composition and Color Theory. I would also recommend Balm Labs YouTube channel as a way to get inspired.

My goal in this project was to draw the attention of the viewer to the red entrance, that's why I chose very vibrant and contrast colors in the center of the render.

I usually use the Viewport Camera to make my high-res render with a Post Process Volume to tweak some saturations. Shadows made with Ambient Occlusion can also work well in the render.

So there you go, guys! Before finishing I want to give a big shout-out to Nicholas Balm, managing and art director at Tiny Talisman Games who helps me with work on the composition and lighting stuff.

Take care all and best wishes from Mexico!

Gary Roberts, 3D Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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