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Setting Up an Eerie Hospital Room in Substance, 3ds Max & Unreal

David Wood has shared a breakdown of the Shock Therapy scene and told us about creating assets for a spooky-looking hospital room.

Introduction

Hi, I’m David Wood, a 3D Environment/Prop artist from Birmingham, AL. I studied at Virginia College at Birmingham and was hired as an instructor there after graduation. My heart was always set on game development, but opportunities in Alabama for that type of work were quite slim. I eventually worked my way to an industrial training company where I modeled and animated industrial equipment and processes. One of my biggest achievements there was switching the entire company from using a render farm over to real-time rendering in the Unreal Engine. I’m currently unemployed and looking for opportunities.

The Shock Therapy Project

The Shock Therapy began as a loose idea I’d had for a video game that takes place in an abandoned asylum. The concept came to me years ago when I was staying at the hospital overnight with a family member. A hospital is not a happy place, I had a notebook with me and made a few sketches. A few months ago I wanted to update my portfolio. Most of the work I had done the past several years was confidential, and I needed to start a new project. I absolutely adore Killing Floor, so I thought it would be fun to try to make props that might look like next-gen Killing Floor. Since I already had an idea for the Asylum, I chose a shock therapy lab. I did a lot of research on abandoned hospitals and asylums as well as the equipment they had in the past.

Creating the Room and Assets

The room setup was pretty simple. I knew I wanted double doors and a single staircase to the right, a slightly elevated ceiling so I could have the old-style barn lights as the main light source. For the base mesh I modeled and UVed the building blocks, got them in the engine, and started putting things together. Once I had the hall and stair setup, I added the room in the back, then I began modeling props. 

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I modeled each asset with a human model for scale reference. I used 3ds Max for modeling and UV Unwrapping. I’d typically block out the props and use that mesh to create the high poly, then I’d take the high poly and reduce it down to the final low poly model. For some props I used ZBrush, mostly for cloth and cushions, leather, etc., most of the props were textured with Substance Painter. I didn’t use any ready assets, I felt it was important to show that I could model and texture my own props.

Texturing

The floors are pretty standard as far as geometry goes, I was pretty specific in the type of floor I wanted, asbestos of course. I spent a long time trying to get it just right. I used Substance Designer to create the base for the floor material and finished the textures off in Photoshop. I created a master material that let me add dirt maps with roughness, and detail normals as needed.

For the walls, I used two plaster textures from Megascans and blended them together with vertex painting. In texturing the scene and props, I felt it was important to make everything look aged and dusty. 

Assembling the Scene

The composition was fairly basic. I left a few areas to rest the viewer’s eye. Most of the props in the room are pointing toward the open doorway or to something that is. Their arrangement also helps to move the eye around the image. I wanted the focus to be the medical chair, but I wanted the surgical light to make the thought of being in that chair more intimidating. 

I tried to work on a little storytelling. The asylum was abandoned back in the ’80s, but lately, the lights come on in the wee hours of the night, and somebody’s up to no good, likely Dr. Carver returning to the institution he once called home. The chair with the light shining on it implies that the chair has recently been used, the X-Ray there is to imply the Doctor was focusing on the patient’s brain. The mop bucket suggests a recent cleanup.

Post-Production

The scene was built in Unreal 4.26, but I ported it over to the Unreal Engine 5 preview for the lighting. I wanted the scene to feel warm and inviting, but I wanted the chair to have very cool colors to make it stand out. I didn’t use a lot of post-processing in the scene, I did adjust the brightness slightly. 

I used a lot of resources I’d look up abandoned asylums to get a feel for the isolated and abandoned mood I was trying to convey. For most of the props, I used resources to try to get a realistic feel. The eerie atmosphere is mostly lighting and materials. Each object in the scene has wear and dirt and dust on it like it’s been sitting there for years. Things look like they were used and then just left alone. There is also just a touch of fog in the scene, and that gives it just a hint of dreariness. 

Conclusion

The main challenges were definitely the props, they took the biggest chunk of time. The medical table/chair for example. I had to make sure it was right ergonomically, and that it functioned and could be smoothly animated between a flat, seated, and fully upright position. The steel slats for the arms and frame needed to be long enough to support the range of motion for the chair. The headrest is movable, so are the metal clips on the rails, It needed to work with removable leather restraints as accessories. This project took about 3 months. I really learned a lot during that time. 

I’d advise anyone doing environment art to get involved with a community like Dinusty Empire and soak up all the information you can from every resource you can. and push yourself past your comfort zone from time to time. I know it's been said before, but fail often and as quickly as you can. That’s how we grow.

David Wood, 3D Environment/Prop Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore Nikitin

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