Retro Barbershop in UE4: Workflow, Assets, Materials

Retro Barbershop in UE4: Workflow, Assets, Materials

Brice Besson shared some of the production details behind the recent UE4 project Barbershop: Asset Production, Composition, Materials, and Lighting.

Brice Besson shared some of the production details behind the recent UE4 project Barbershop: Asset Production, Composition, Materials, and Lighting.


Hello there! My name is Brice Besson, I’m from France and I’m currently working as a senior 3D artist at Ubisoft Paris.

It’s been years now since I got into the video game industry. I have studied Fine Arts and Graphic Design for three years and Game Art for a year at Objectif 3D in Montpellier. Environment creation is what I like the most because it means working on different aspects such as modeling, sculpting, texturing, composition and lighting. I usually use 3ds Max, ZBrush, Substance Designer, and Substance Painter but everything depends on your art direction and the shapes you will have to model. For more specific elements and organic shapes, I also use Marvelous Designer, SpeedTree, and World Machine. As a 3D artist, it’s important to be constantly aware of new tools at any time. The latest techniques, brand new software solutions, and plugins will enable you to improve your work and save valuable time in your production process.


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Let’s talk about Barbershop! This scene has been made in Unreal Engine 4. From the very beginning, I wanted to sketch an uncommon scene that would take place in the past using a realistic rendering. I like ancient objects and the decorative arts…  this way, the idea of making a barbershop has become more and more obvious in my mind.

I started collecting photos and creating a moodboard focusing on the inside of the future barbershop.

The overall look has been inspired by retro interior designs, Edward Hopper and Gustave Caillebote paintings, and of course, by the art of Bioshock Infinite. The color palette is a mix of wood and leather of brown shades, aged gold, and green. Adding a broom in the corner, hair under the chair and a thread of light coming through the open door helped me to tell a story and bring life into the scene making it look as if time there was just frozen.

Asset Production / Workflow Improvement

Saving time while creating game assets has been my key goal. That’s the reason why I have tried out different features and tools to find the best way to reach this goal.

ZBrush‘s Zmodeler feature is very useful to sketch a base mesh or a blockout very quickly, so I decided to use it for a series of assets.

Every single prop has been fully modeled with ZBrush. The same goes for the retopology.

As for the baking of the maps, I used Marmoset Toolbag where I wanted to try the possibilities of the Projection tools, a really useful feature for very complex and detailed areas of an object.

The barber chair, also modeled with ZBrush, is the hero prop of the scene. The Zmodeler and the Dynamic Subdivision have been used to build the main shapes. Combining hard surface areas with vintage curvy ornaments has been the main difficulty.

The main ornaments have been made using the shadow box.

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To create its basic shape, the vintage cash machine has been created using the same method with Zmodeler, Dynamic Subdivision, and Live Boolean. I have sculpted the ornaments separately and then used the Match Maker to integrate some of them in the final object.

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Keeping the composition simple to push the light and shadows forward has been my aim. As I was looking for the best way to maintain the balance between empty spaces and details, I quickly realized that I would need large windows to bring more depth into the scene. Showing a street with buildings in the background has been really useful. By the way, the main issue with it was to merge the outside and inside light within the same scene.

Regarding the background, I reused some of the modules that had been made for another scene called The Courtyard. It has helped me a lot not to waste time and keep the focus on the inner parts of the barbershop. And it worked!


The painted wood material for the door and window frames was created in Substance Designer following a two-step approach. First, I created a wood basis and then added a painted color effect leaving some blank areas to emphasize the vintage look.

The ancient wallpaper design is directly inspired by the decorative arts. As for the greenish tint, it reminds me of the corridors in the floating city of Columbia in Bioshock Infinite. The substance was planned and made reusable and can be edited in terms of the pattern and color.

Here, I used a polished UE4 material Wood Floor Walnut as a starting point, then tweaked the initial color and chose a warmer one for it to match the color palette of the scene. I also adjusted the roughness in order to simulate the wet effect of a freshly cleaned floor.

The panes were actually made with a standard glass shader directly in UE4 (I just tweaked it).

The main issue I have encountered in this stage was avoiding distortion and reflection artifacts. I have added a blurry and milky effect to the scene to strengthen the contrast between the interior and the exterior.

To master its position and shadows, the ‘barbershop’ lettering on the panes has its own shader. It’s made from a standard decal and foliage shader.

Projecting lettering shadows on the floor was something I have been thinking about from the beginning of the project. In the end, leaving empty spaces in front of the windows has been the best way to highlight this effect.

Lighting & Post Process

The lighting system is a mix of directional light used for the outside space and the general atmosphere and point lights and spot lights for the interior of the barbershop. I also faked the god rays and added particles to keep control and ensure that everything was visible in the final shots.

During the post process, I ended up rendering using a LUT to equalize the values and contrast while giving a warm mood to the scene on the whole. In the end, I also spent some time tweaking the depth of the field and camera.


This scene was created during my spare time, and the whole project took several weeks. It has helped me a lot to improve my workflow and also enriched my portfolio!

Judging from personal experience, personal projects are a great means of practicing, learning, and mastering new skills. For example, in this work, I focused on the interior of an environment, while previously, I had worked on modularity. Organic world building will be my next step!

Brice Besson, Senior 3D Artist at Ubisoft Paris

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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    Retro Barbershop in UE4: Workflow, Assets, Materials