Modeling and Texturing a Sci-Fi Room

Modeling and Texturing a Sci-Fi Room

Timothy Colin gave a breakdown of his sci-fi 3d environment production. He talked about materials, the choice of lighting, and the way to approach modularity in asset production.

Timothy Colin gave a breakdown of his sci-fi 3d environment production. He talked about materials, the choice of lighting, and the way to approach modularity in asset production. 


My name is Timothy, I am a student looking for an internship, in final year at the Haute Ecole Albert Jacquard where I have been studying for two years to become an environment artist. Basically I was not fit at all for this type of study. At first, I studied to become a computer scientist and the day I got my diploma when I was 18 year old I told myself that I still had to try something different before starting working even if I should fail. In any case, I already had a graduation. The only thing that always prevented me from doing artistic studies is that I could not draw but I never really had a problem with that. So I started learning Computer Graphics in secondary at Saint Luc in Brussels, which allowed me to learn and master programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator among others but also allowed me to acquire a solid basis of use of color in an artistic composition.

After that, my devotion for video games lead me to the HEAJ, where I am now to learn a field in this area. Unlike what a lot of students might think, studying video games is not so easy. Only the bravest and most passionate people fared living this experience. Many people confuse playing video games with making video games, but these are two different things even if you have to play the latest games to feed your gaming culture.

Despite the fact that I am in a school that teaches me many things, my learning is not limited to only what I learn at school. I spend most of my free time reading professional documents about new techniques / technologies in the world of video games or simply watching a tutorial before sleeping. It is very important to be interested to break into this field, this is why I never stop learning and I know I will never stop learning. You don’t have to be afraid of criticism. All the reviews, whether how good or bad there are will help you to evolve. It is a profession in constant evolution, we must evolve with it and not be left behind.

Sci-fi Room

The Sci-Fi Room is my second final school project during my second year at HEAJ. The first work we had to do was on Unity and it took me a lot of time, especially as this was the moment I did most of my learning. I had a lot of constraints because the console was a GPD Q9 and it is almost impossible to find a solid documentation about this console. The test phase took me so much time because I like to challenge myself and push the consoles in their latest performance limits.

This left me two months to get the second work done. This one was an Unreal project and it gave life to this Sci-Fi room. Again I challenged myself to finish this one in 20 days, anyway, the circumstances did not really let me more time.

The first thing I had to put in place was a solid production schedule that I had to imperatively follow to have the essential at the end of those 20 days. So I divided my schedule in 2 x 10 days. The first 10 days were spent on researching references (it is important not to neglect this step and leave at least one day to discover maximum universes and have a solid documentation before starting), creating different modular assets and the compositions of the scene to make it as realistic as possible.

After those 10 days, I made a break, which allowed me to take back to my work. I also got some feedback from my teachers who have revived me in efficient production. The second 10 days were devoted to set up all the scene into the engine, the UV unwrapping, texturing and the course the lighting.


Given the short time that I let myself, it was obvious that I had to make considerable concessions in terms of modeling and polishing. To avoid a complete process, I opted to only make mid-poly to avoid having to create complex poly high and baking step that would have slowed me enormously down in my work. So I could say goodbye to long hours of normal maps adjustments.

In the scene, there is only the bedsheet had to undergo a complete process with baking to provide a good visual quality assets. Other meshes were created only with bevels and through the use of combination of harden and soften edges (smoothing groups for 3DSMax users) .

This process has saved me a lot of time for a few more edges and it does not deteriorate at all the final quality compared to a mesh that was created using a high poly. Moreover, it participates fully to the sci-fi mind that I wanted to have my scene.

It was imperative that I remain simple in modeling and not spend more time than expected while keeping in mind that it must be plausible and realistic.


I created the scene in a modular way at first because it was one of the imposed work instructions. In a second time, the modularity helps building scenes of varying size in a very short time which was perfect for my goal. Obviously it is possible to make things much more elaborated than what was done here but it is very effective when we are focused on the essentials. In my case, I have only two kinds of ground plate and some tileable ceilings made with modules and that allowed to make a corridor of the desired length. The walls can also be reused and are based on two different lengths as the floor and ceiling (it is obvious that the height should preferably be maintained for all the side walls).

Reusing the door and the corridor allowed me to create a false depth into the scene, letting believe that it is much bigger than it seems.

It is always better to add a hero asset and other assets that serve as separation and come break the repetition and make us forget this modularity.

I didn’t have time to do it here but you can also build a generic wall and add modular elements over to create several different walls in a minute with a few basic modular elements.

The use of decals and the vertex painting are key elements to also hide the repetition when working in modular.

Opting for scale values that fit to grid and have a smart management of pivot points to facilitate rotation of the meshes are also element to not forget.


The vast majority of the scene are classic materials like the decal or the light function. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to build my own modular materials in that short deadline on Unreal. It is a simple master material that is used in 90% of the scene based on the RMA export that has been wisely established by Quixel team in the SUITE.

I preferred to work the modularity in DDO rather than Unreal. I will explain a little further down in the article.

The scenes provided by EPIC teach us a lot about the workflow to use in Unreal as well as the creation of more complex materials. This is especially thanks to the scene of Wiktor Öhman that I could learn how to create the LED panel hardware that is located above the door.

All Sci-Fi normal details were made in NDO using simple white shapes converted into normal maps with some tweaks.

The main thing that allowed me to accelerate the process is that I used in the ID Preset in DDO. You just have to tweak the texturing of the main element of the scene which includes the vast majority of materials that will to be in the scene. Once it is finished, you can save this as an ID preset.

After that, I just have to create an ID map with the correct color code for all the other elements of the scene in order to achieve a rapid, effective and harmonized texturing in a few clicks.

Obviously this is not black magic, I will still need to add or change some details but broadly, it allows me to find the right color and the right materials in a short time.

Since Quixel is linked to Photoshop I fully feel in my element. I love the “paint mask in Photoshop” option in DDO when I want to edit a text because I can easily find my bearings. This is mainly how I add a text element in my work after importing a UV snapshot to have a landmark.

For the signs, I simply created a smart material that replied to the best that could be to a sign sticker (or use a plastic already provided in the SUITE). Then you just have to drag and drop in the albedo tab of the desired sign. Then you have to edit the mask so that the effect applies only to this area and duplicate the mask on all the other maps. I also added a bump map to make them stand out.


It is very important to keep a certain color harmony across the scene to not shock and send too much information to the viewer’s eyes at the same time.

To avoid this, it is advisable to use a color palette that has been defined before the texturing and that we must respect throughout the whole process.

I personally use Adobe Kuler. It is really useful when you’re looking at a consistent color palette. For this scene, I used 4 colors close from one another and and a fifth color flashy to break the monotony.


The Lord Lighting you mean? Yeah! It’s the best and one of the most significant part of the process. The lighting can take considerable time to be controlled and be optimized throughout a production. To remain optimal, it is imperative that the lights cast minimal shadows but still realistic. To do this, I used a combination of point lights & tube lights (with shadows only when necessary) and spot lights (no shadow).

To bring an extra touch of realism to lighting, I used IES profiles that can be easily found on the internet.

About the atmosphere, I wanted to recreate the contrast hot / cold that can be found in games like The Division & Battlefield.

For that, there is nothing simpler than using real value in Kelvin as 4300K for the warmth of a star in space that illuminates the scene from the outside and 5600K for a more futuristic lighting (+ a color grading in post process).

It is important to combine quality and performance during the building of the lights to not be left with an amazing numbers of lightmaps. For me who likes controlling every little detail of in my work, it is inconceivable to let Unreal calculate my UVs lightmap. I always take care to create my own UVs lightmap in Maya. Since I take my time to make clean UVs for texturing, I do not see why I couldn’t reuse them as a base for the UV lightmaps. At least, I’m sure there will be no problem during the light baking So your lightmap density should looks like this if you made it correctly.


The biggest challenge of this project was obviously the time I allowed myself to do it. The most important is to believe in is from the beginning to the end and to follow the steps as defined in your schedule. The ideal is to provide 1-2 days of balance in case you are confronted to any problem.

Starting with a solid documentation helps tremendously to be effective and consistent. Taking a break in the middle of the production is something that I highly recommend to be able to take a few steps back from your work and take the time to ask the real question, ask for feedback …

Never give up and always give yourself at 100% until the last second even if you feel that the project will not succeed. In all cases, it is a way to judge your skills to work with short deadline and that is what I wanted to test with this project. Last but not least, do not forget to make a report of what happened, note somewhere what was not good, what took longer than you expected, it will only be beneficial for the next challenge that you’ll start!

Timothy Colin, Environment Artist 

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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Comments 3

  • Олег

    Отличная статья, благодаря ей многое понял как лучше реализовать!



    ·2 years ago·
  • Bryan

    Awesome!  I love tech demos and proofs of concept!  Its great how you detailed everything here.  I used to be into level design back in high school but I've sorta grown out of it because I realized I can work these daggum newfangled modelling programs



    ·4 years ago·
  • Crumpler Clinton

    Really nice work!


    Crumpler Clinton

    ·4 years ago·

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