Alice Le Coguic revealed the workflow behind the Teapot House project, shared the texturing process in Substance 3D Designer and Painter, and explained why Unreal Engine 5 was chosen for the project.
Hi everyone! I’m Alice Le Coguic and I’m currently in the middle of a career change, thus this is my very first 3D project as a self-taught artist (I also have relatives in the industry who guided me through the process). I specialized in environment/props art because I want my work to reflect my interests and my sensibilities: observe the beauty and the complexity of nature and appreciate the know-how of a craftsman.
I started a few months ago with the Teapot House project. I wanted to practice a complete workflow (modeling, sculpting, retopology, UV, baking, texturing, and final composition) since I was starting from scratch in terms of knowledge and skills in this industry.
Unreal Engine 5
I chose Unreal Engine 5 as the rendering engine because I find the rendering technology and the post-processing really efficient and beginner-friendly.
Also, UE5 has a larger and more active community, which allows you to progress quickly. I learned a lot during the 3 weeks formation I attended, plus I completed my knowledge from these YouTube channels: William Faucher, Sir_Fansi Gamedev, and Rimaye.
The Teapot House Project
I was looking for a complete scene including props, vegetation, and a bit of FX to approach many different 3D notions. Nevertheless, the concept had to remain quite simple since I was a beginner. The “Teapot House” concept by Inès "Ourka" Rotzinger fitted the art direction I wanted and had a core asset (the teapot) which I found interesting.
First of all, I did a study of all the assets in the scene, breaking them down by size, proportions, lines, materials, colors, place in the scene, etc. Here is an example with the teapot:
This study gave me the methodology to follow for the future (which workflow for which asset).
For the materials and textures, I was inspired by the work of Michael Vincente “Orb”, Vincent Dérozier, and Jimmy Malachier. Concerning vegetation, I took inspiration from Florian Elie, Jasmin Habezai-Fekri, Helder Pinto, and Adrian Drott. More generally, I love moods like those from Journey, Gris, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Kena: Bridge of Spirits.
All the props were modeled in 3ds Max. I didn't make a modular kit since the assets in the scene all have a unique silhouette and they don't repeat in the scene (except for the roof tiles). I began to do a rough blockout just to set the scale and placements. For most of the assets, the workflow consisted of:
- Modeling: 3ds Max
- Sculpting: ZBrush
- Retopology: Maya
- UVs: 3ds Max
- Baking: Marmoset
I started with the core asset, the teapot, and then I modeled the little props such as the flower pots, the letterbox, etc.
For organic materials such as the stones, the wooden door, and the little damaged ceramic and terracotta, I made use of the Orb Pack in ZBrush (mainly Flatten Edge, Cracks, or reversed Rubble to dig some impacts in the ceramic for example).
All the props were textured in Substance 3D Designer and Painter, apart from the vegetation, whose textures were made in Photoshop.
As for the teapot, I mainly used mesh paint (by painting different textures on the RGB channels of the mesh) to add moss to the base of the asset so that the transition between nature and object was smoother, more natural, and it made more sense to have a more “used” look for the teapot. Furthermore, I tried to reuse the materials as much as possible.
Concerning the stone, again, I went for a painterly look made in Substance 3D Designer, using a lot of Slope Blur nodes and Splattered shapes as masks to give a “brush” touch. Furthermore, I wanted a smooth blending between the ground and the stones, so I made a Runtime Virtual Texture Height-Blend in UE5.
For vegetation, I wanted an organic yet cartoonish and hand-painted finish. As in every step, my approach was the same: how can I achieve the result that I want in the most efficient way? For instance with the flowers, here’s what I did:
- Modeled a basemesh in SpeedTree
- Downloaded an opacity map from Megascans (or drew it myself)
- Did a hand-paint in Photoshop using the opacity as a guideline
- Made the other PBR maps on Substance 3D Designer based on the opacity and
base color maps
- Fixed the basemesh with the new materials, arranged the petals, leaves, etc.
Regarding the grass, I watched this tutorial but instead of creating meshes, I made alphas in Photoshop to fit the grass identity of the concept. I made a bigger version of the grass to bring some variations and to stay true to the concept:
As for the smoke, here is what I did:
- Sculpted a simple bubble-shaped mesh in ZBrush
- Made a material in UE5
- Used the Niagara system to emit the “bubble-shaped” mesh
Regarding the composition, the aim was to remain faithful to the concept and have a balanced scene (in terms of colorimetry, volumes, lighting, etc.)
I did a study of the concept, where I dissected the elements that define the general atmosphere of the scene: ambient colors, volumes of the land, shadows, and lights. It helped me a lot to detail as much as possible what I had to reproduce.
Also, to help improve the scene, I often took screenshots of the final scene that I reversed or that I put in black and white to have a fresh eye on the project.
I had this “sunny morning mood” in mind: rising sun and the light is not yet at its zenith, a little mist, clouds are moving away, there is a bit of wind, and the leaves are falling from the trees.
As for the lighting, I tried to guide the viewer's eye by adding light to the points that I considered important: for instance, the color of the grass is lighter around the stone path that leads to the teapot, and the directional light is hitting the teapot.
I also used an exponential height fog colored in light blue to add depth to the scene and to fit the concept colorimetry.
Then, I added a Volumetric Cloud with blueprint Cloud Mask generator following this tutorial and then played with the settings.
I wanted to bring the scene to life by emphasizing the "lush" aspect of the flora. To do this, I added a slight breeze to the vegetation (grass, trees, bushes, and flowers). I also added loose leaves falling from the trees for consistency.
To finish, I added a Post Process Volume and mainly adjusted the color grading category: temperature, shadows, etc.
The whole project was a challenge for me because when I started, I didn't know anything about 3D: how it works, what the different stages are, using complex software, or working on my "artistic style", everything was new and complicated.
If I had to give advice to a beginner, I would give these tips that were a game-changer for me:
- Work methodically: organize your files, respect a strict nomenclature, and make "to-do lists" at each stage to clarify what has been done and what remains to be done. It also allows taking a step back, to realize that you have forgotten something or simply appreciate your progress.
- Surround yourself with references to make sure you remain consistent in the artistic direction but also to draw inspiration from the most talented artists and dissect their works.
- Regularly ask for feedback from professionals: if you have a bit of a network in the industry, don't hesitate to ask them for their opinion throughout your project, both on the method and on your artistic choices. They will also have a fresh eye when you no longer have the perspective necessary to improve your project.
I want to thank 80 Level for giving me the opportunity to share my workflow! I hope this breakdown has helped some of you. Thanks for reading!
Alice Le Coguic, 3D Artist
Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie
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