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Modular Buildings: Tips and Tricks

Polysquid Studios shared their approach in recreating the 1930's themed New-York building for the Private Eye VR project. 

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We are Polysquid Studios, an art production studio from Riga, Latvia, that focuses on game and real-time application assets and environment development. Most of the time we work with Indie clients and offer our environments and assets on Unity Assetstore and Unreal Marketplace.

About the Project

Our work, modular New York style buildings were done for a client, who was developing a VR-based project - Private Eye VR. The task was to create a building set for a 1930's themed New York. In the game, the buildings would be seen from outside of the window, as the player was located inside all the time. A set of buildings was needed to fulfill the view. For this, the modular was the best approach for the design. There are many challenges to making buildings in 3D, so the first step was to study references for downtown New York buildings. After this, we can identify the distinctive blocks that make up the architecture and plan out the parts that will be needed.

The workflow

 There are two types of parts here: baked parts with the unique mesh and tiled material parts. Baked parts would be re-used for all of the buildings, these parts that have a lot of unique details, that cannot be tiled, like doors, windows or concrete decorations and require high-poly to low-poly bake workflow (in this case Substance Painter work) 

When splitting the building into vertical slices, you can see the mesh pieces needed to construct the building, in this case, there are 6 parts for the front facade. We place the baked pieces into the modular tile-able wall and arrange them to make a believable design.

Now it's a good idea to use the array tool in the 3D package (we are using Blender 3D) to copy the parts in a horizontal direction, to see the design come together. When creating modular buildings like these, it is possible to create many different looking variations from the same parts in a short amount of time. Changing the materials for walls, or simple changes, like different window shapes, go a long way in keeping things looking non-repetitive.

After this part, all that's left to do is to make the other walls on the sides and back. Additional props were added to break up the monotony, like fire-escape stairs, neon signs flag, and so on.


For the presentation, we are using the Marmoset 3D renderer. In this software, it's possible to create high-quality screenshots and videos using real-time workflow, meaning that we don't have to change textures or meshes for the render. There are also some nice visual effects, like real-time global illumination and area lights that would be more time-consuming to replicate in Unity or Unreal

Some additional street props were placed in the scene to make it feel as this was a part of the city, not just stand-alone building.

Lighting played a big role in this presentation. There's a single directional light in the scene, meant to replicate moonlight; this gives some focus to the front facade and helps showcase the details in the architecture. Additionally, there are a couple of smaller, local lights - spotlights for the streetlights and some point lights for the neon lighting. Volumetric fog gives some softness and a ‘rainy’, overcast look. The lighting setup for both renders is similar, but the second one is a little darker and some emissive lights for the windows were added - this was done to mix up the feel of the scene.


 Good advice for making such buildings would be to study reference and carefully plan out the baked mesh needed parts before starting to model the building itself. This is somewhat difficult because you have to model things without seeing the full picture/finished building, but it saves a lot of time later on.

It's also important to avoid repetition in the building floor patterns by adding some decorations, and changing up the shapes, a little bit. 

Another good idea is to use tri-planar mapping for tileable materials, to avoid visible texture seams.

Polysquid Studio, 3D Content Studio 

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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