Stylized Water For Game Environments in UE4

Stylized Water For Game Environments in UE4

3D artist Olivier Cannone shared some techniques he uses to build outstanding stylized water in the new game he’s working on.

3D artist Olivier Cannone shared some techniques he uses to build outstanding stylized water in the new game he’s working on.


My name is Olivier Cannone, I live in Bordeaux and I work at Asobo Studio as environment artist / lead artist. I started modeling when I was 16. I studied at Isart Digital Paris and I was hired by Asobo Studio in 2007 as environment artist. I had the pleasure to work on a lot of games in this company: Ratatouille, Wall-e, UP, Toy Story 3, Fuel, Kinect rush, a few Hololens apps, Recore for Microsoft. I’m working on “A Plague Tale Innocence” as a level artist with a lot of very talented people.

3В and modeling has always been my passion, I always try to learn to use the latest software. So I do a lot of personal projects during my spare time: illustrations, contests, mobile games and lately, I’ve started to learn how to use  Unreal Engine 4 and I love it. You can do anything with it, any artist can create an environment by itself without having to pay for plugins and programmers.


I was getting a bit bored of the town environment and wanted to make something new. Last summer, I wanted to travel but I couldn’t go to the Caribbean,so I started to create this environment to compensate for the lack of the paradise island. I love the pirate atmosphere, I wanted to create a real caricature of a Caribbean island paradise, with a saturated turquoise water, green coconut trees and the white sand. I had never done this kind of environment and I hadn’t done any water shader with Unreal Engine 4 yet. So I started looking for references and I created a Pinterest board with this kind of references.


The basic idea was to reuse everything which was already created in terms of blueprints and assets for my first environment, and, of course, reuse what I’ve learned by doing the ‘Town’ environment.

So I reused the character and the camera of my first environment for navigation, then I recreated a landscape and a landscape shader with only one Sand Material at the beginning, some rough palm trees to set the tone and start working on the design of these directly in 3D. When I was happy with all that, I watched what takes the most part on the screen and what to do first. In this case sand, water, and palm trees. And without these 3 elements well executed, the decor will not work. I started with the fastest thing to do: the sand.

Water Shader 

Honestly, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to get (check out the photos in the reference section) and no idea how to get there. I broke down the shore part into 3 elements: water / foam / caustics. I realized how to make the water with a very simple tutorial that I found on Youtube.

Then, I added new elements: color, movement, tessellation and then foam. I was then forced to rework the landscape sculpt to get a little depth and variations under water.  Finally, for the caustics, I chose to add a non-weighted blend layer that I painted by hand under the water. It’s inexpensive, fast enough to do and it seemed to be the best solution.

Click to enlarge and see the image in full glory!


I wanted to get the same kind of visual style that you can observe in “Heroes of the Storm“. So I chose to use Zbrush and Substance Painter. We can surely get the same result with Substance Designer but as I don’t know how to use it, it would have taken a lot of time. For the ground, I made tilable sculpt with ZBrush. I used standard brushes, and some homemade brushes, and some brushes of Michael Vincente (download it here). For the material itself, I worked with Substance Painter. I tried to make simple shader not to bring too much noise to my objects (which would harm the readability.) Then I blended the different tiling textures in UE4 with the landscape shader. I painted a few textures like grass by hand with Photoshop (I made it for my other scenes) simply because I wanted to get a more ‘hand-drawn effect’ and, anyway, I knew I was going add grass in 3d later.


For the fir trees, for example, I fully modeled the foliage and I could easily go back and forth in 3ds Max and Unreal. For the plants of Pirate Bay, I preferred to do them with alpha because it would be much more numerous on the screen than the firs. I still wanted to keep the stylized aspect of the firs, so I quickly made a block out version of the plants, and I worked the alpha to get a shape simple enough to be readable with the top down view of the game, it’s, indeed, important not to detail too much the objects so as not to make everything noisy and keep recognizable silhouette. Once this shape locked, the work is done. I make the sculpt and the low poly model.

Polishing the scene

When all important elements are placed, I try to detail the image and add motion. To add the movement and life, I first think of modeling the seagulls, but it occurred to me that seagulls shadows would be just as impactful and much less time-consuming. So I animated planes with alpha masked textures and it worked. Regarding the starfishes, they are small but they have a strong visual impact with their very saturated color. They created a strong contrast with the sand. And honestly, I couldn’t make a coastal environment without starfish. another thing which was really missing is the footsteps on the sand. I found this simple tutorial on YouTube, I just modeled a footstep with 3DS Max. The most important thing was to get the same noise an the same color on the footstep decal textures to keep the consistency between footstep and sand.

Olivier Cannone, Lead Artist at Asobo Studio

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.

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Comments 7

  • Anonymous user

    Do a great job, like it, learn from you


    Anonymous user

    ·18 days ago·
  • David

    Very nicely done. And yes, it would be amazing if you could share some of the blueprints / base assets, even if that's on the marketplace for a price. Good stuff.



    ·2 years ago·
  • Sanjith

    You are awesome.



    ·2 years ago·
  • Olivier Cannone

    Hi guys, Thanks for your comments. I've just added the shader on my artstation portfolion :

    Regarding the tutorial, Sorry, I didn't find it but this one looks pretty similar :


    Olivier Cannone

    ·3 years ago·
  • FrogPride

    Would you mind sharing the tutorial you used to get started with your own water shader? It's not really possible to reproduce your work just looking at the screenshot in the article. Really nice result, by the way.



    ·3 years ago·
  • Jonathan

    Such lovely colors in this scene. Thanks for sharing :)



    ·3 years ago·
  • Shawn

    would it be possible to get a better look at the material blueprint so we could play around with it?



    ·3 years ago·

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