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Making a Stylized Pottery Cart in Blender, Substance 3D Painter & UE5

Léo Thiery showed the workflow behind the Pottery Cart project, explained the modeling and texturing pipelines in Blender and Substance 3D Painter, and showed the rendering setup. 


Hello! I’m Léo Thiery, a freelance 3D Environment Artist. While I was studying, I started getting into 3D until I found out it was my passion. Eventually, I dived deep into what I always loved – video games. Since most architecture schools in France are pretty old school, I had to learn everything by myself with the help of the community.

My first experiences were in architecture agencies doing ArchViz stuff, and eventually, I got the skills necessary to do environment art for various projects and studios. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to get into a full-time position in a studio!

Pottery Cart

The idea behind the Pottery Cart started when I saw the amazing Pottery shop by the concept artist Gliulian. I guess he used some kind of sorcery because I immediately wanted to make a real-time environment out of it. However, I thought it missed something: a hero asset.

In fact, I wanted to show off the skills I learned lately by making a hero asset for this scene. I knew some sort of cart would go nicely in the scene, so I remembered the amazing concept of The Pollinator by Matteo Leng. To make the cart blend with the rest of the scene, the objective was to take some architectural elements, textures, and details from the Pottery shop and mix them with the actual pollinator concept art. 

Initial Idea

To be honest, I didn’t plan anything for the final composition and, in fact; I decided to make an entire environment way later in the process. I did have, however, a clear workflow for the creation of the main asset since the main goal was to use trim sheets.

The plan was then as follows: make a blockout of the asset to get the proportions right, make the trim sheet for the wood and roof tiles, texture the cart and smaller assets hopefully with only 2 textures, and figure out something for presentation.


Thankfully, Matteo Leng did an amazing job for us, so the blockout was quite simple: just follow the proportion given by the concept art. But since I wanted to mix up the style from the reference I had, I took some time to block out what I wanted to add or remove from the pollinator. The main things I wanted to add to Gliulian’s concept were the textures, colours, roof tiles, the chimney and the different smaller assets, such as the pots.

With that in mind, I started blocking out the bigger shapes in Blender while adding those elements to the cart. A great thing about using a trim sheet workflow is that most of the shapes from the blockout will actually be the final ones, so to save time, I made sure to model everything clearly from the start.

Another great thing about trim sheets is that I did not have to worry too much about my UVs since I’ll be mapping them to the texture later. However, I took some time to map out what would be textured with the trim sheet and what would be textured with the second material.

For the smaller asset, I tried to keep the geometry quite simple, and I used different techniques to make the texturing process simpler. For example, I kept the hanging cloth UVs as simple planes, to simulate the natural stretching of the texture when I would simulate them in Unreal Engine. With all my assets ready, I made a different UV set for them and prepared them for baking inside Substance 3D Painter later.

Trim Sheet

I’m far from being professional when it comes to trim sheets, but I learned a few things while making this project. To plan out the texture, I used a 4x4 meter plane, which I cut using loops in different sizes for maximum reusability. The idea is to limit the amount of stretching I’ll have to do when mapping my UVs, so it is important to plan different sizes of wood planks in advance. I wanted a bright wood, a slightly darker one for contrast, and the blue-ish roof tiles to fit into the map.

For the sculpting itself, the workflow is quite simple: I remesh simple cubes, add bevel to them to have that sweet normal information, and add wood/tile information. I was going for a specific stylized look that I quite liked, so I didn’t want to add too much sculpt information to the trim sheet to keep the shape fairly simple. To make sure the sculpt tiles are in the X-direction, I simply activated the tiling option in the X-axis every 4 meters. 


For both the trim and the smaller assets, I used Substance 3D Painter to bake the Normal, AO, Curvature, and Thickness maps. When it comes to my texturing workflow, it is also quite simple since I’m no hand drawing artist. To still get that stylized, almost hand-painted look, I relied heavily on Painter’s masks and filters. I would say the secret sauce is using the Blur Slope filter above almost every mask you make. For example, to make the wood texture for trim, I used whatever grunge map that comes with Painter, distorted it on the X-axis to make it look like wood grain, and added a Blur Slope filter on top to make it look hand-painted.

I repeated this idea on basically everything in the scene, keeping in mind to not be afraid to use funky colours as they always look cool in stylized scenes. Another cool tip is to use a gradient from bottom to top. Even if it is really subtle, a gradient makes the asset pop and blend nicely with the rest.

With my trim sheet completed, it was now time to go back to the original blockout and take it to a fairly completed state. I think that was my favourite part. It was just too much fun to see the blockout become alive with one texture. The workflow was quite simple and satisfying: map the UVs in the correct location of the texture, make planks, copy, move, rotate, etc. As you can see from the pictures below, I could texture 95% of the cart with that one trim sheet. 

The last thing to do before exporting to Unreal Engine and preparing the final scene was just to check that no normals were inverted, joining together some parts for easier placement and rotation in the scene, and to prepare the assets that needed cloth simulation in UE. I made a single copy of the little hanging flag, so I can run a simulation inside UE and copy-paste from there. 

Set Dressing 

In the beginning, I had honestly no idea what I was going for in terms of composition. I knew I wanted to have a stylized look, and most of all, I wanted to experiment with new techniques inside the engine. One of which was RunTime Virtual Textures. The idea behind this in my case was simply to paint the landscape and scatter foliage which would inherit the colour of the ground. This workflow is actually quite useful because it allows you to really quickly change the colour of the ground thanks to a landscape material instance and completely modify the look and feel of the scene.

To give the grass that windy feeling, I created a simple windy-ish warped texture using Photoshop, panned it using UE, and change the normal orientation based on the value of the texture. It is in fact not actual wind that will displace the geometry but a fake movement using the orientation of the normals. To still give it movement, I still used the simple grass wind node, masking the bottom of the grass to move only the top part. I used exactly the same technique for the rest of the foliage in the scene. 

To really make the scene pop and make it feel alive, I used Niagara to create floating leaves as well as smoke. I could spend hours explaining my process, but I’m such a beginner with Niagara that I would just suggest looking through tutorials online. Still, to explain briefly, I created a smoke alpha using Photoshop, and I scattered it using the fountain preset inside Niagara. I then just tweaked a few settings to make it float away in the wind and feel dense. For the leaves, I shamefully used the floating leaves preset inside Niagara and replaced the Sprite with my leaf mesh. It is as simple as that. 

Composition and Lighting 

I spent some time playing around with the overall composition, but I settled to make something really simple: some sort of plain top with trees in the distance. The real challenge for me was to get the camera angle and lense right. After some tweaking, I chose 3 different camera angles. The first is almost from under, to show most of the asset and the hero cart. To frame the image, I used the tree behind the camera to create a natural vignette on the bottom and used the cloud behind it to frame the entire cart. 

For the lighting, I decided to go for the golden hour using Lumen, because it is just a simple way to get some nice contrast on the asset and has saturated colours. The lighting setup uses a directional light, the skylight, and an exponential height fog. I will not go into too much detail about the light since it is just really simple and not the main objective of the project.

However, I did tweak a few settings inside the Post-Process Volume to make the image pop. The few important things to note are obviously to increase contrast and saturation a bit to get those vibrant stylized colours, but also to inject some blue/purple into the shadows. In real life, shadows are never totally black, so in a true stylized fashion, I used this concept and pushed it a bit further.


Overall, I’m pretty satisfied with the outcome of this project. It was my first time creating something stylized, since I was more used to creating realistic stuff. I would say the process went smoothly from start to finish, but I struggled a lot with getting the composition and lighting right. However, I think I can say I learned a lot during the process, especially the process of creating a game-ready asset, which differs a lot from creating CG scenes in Blender.

If I could give any advice to my fellow Artists is to find the right balance between planning and producing. I think I spent way too much time planning the creation of the asset because I was really scared and didn’t know where to start since I had never done the trim sheets. Even though it surely helped me to plan stuff in advance, the process was way more enjoyable when I finally started creating the asset and figuring stuff out along the way.

Thank you so much for reading! It was a pleasure creating an article and I really hope I will have other opportunities to discuss more projects in the future. If you have any specific questions about my process or anything, feel free to contact me on my ArtStation

Léo Thiery, Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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