The Drunk Lake Inn: Stylized Environment Breakdown

The Drunk Lake Inn: Stylized Environment Breakdown

Ivan Blinov did a breakdown of his stylized project The Drunk Lake Inn modeled in Maya, textured in Substance Painter, and rendered in UE4.


Hello, everyone! My name is Ivan Blinov, I’m a student at Scream School. My introduction to 3D started with creating non-game models at a technical university and it was only after graduation that I decided to combine my desire to create 3D models and love for games that started in early childhood. I realized that I needed technical and artistic knowledge to create game models, so I went to study further. I'm inspired by my tutors at the university, they're great people and come from the gaming industry; I'm pleased to be friends with them.

Currently, I'm working on my portfolio.

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The Drunk Lake Inn: Start of the Project

The Drunk Lake Inn was my term project for the Stylized Environment course. I was inspired by the universe of World of Warcraft where I have spent a lot of the free time in my childhood. In addition to that, I was encouraged by the work of my mentor Anna Kirilenko.

At the beginning of any study, I set the goal to do my best. This work was no exception, although it was the first time I faced stylization; I wanted to do everything possible to get a decent result.

A large amount of time and consultations with my mentor were devoted to the selection of the concept. It was decided to give up the room and make a diorama instead, with a reduced number of assets. The changes were made in order to meet the deadline of about 3 weeks. To make working with the color palette easier, I pixelized the concept art image in Photoshop.

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You can see the final version of my reference sheet below:


At the moment, I mostly use Maya, — it has a lot of handy things, but it’s not without flaws. I customized the workspace in Maya for quick access to commonly used scripts and windows that I have placed on the shelf and in folding windows. 

I used a classic pipeline:

  1. Model mid poly assets in Maya
  2. Export them to ZBrush for sculpt
  3. Retop mid poly models to low poly in Maya with perfect high poly form match

The chest was my first stylized asset in this project and in general. Working on it was good practice for me, I used techniques that I could apply to other props later. Wooden patterns were sculpted based on the references I chose earlier. 

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To create the high poly model it was important to convey the basic features of the material, in my case wood and metal. From a large number of references for wood and forged metal, I chose the closest in style to the concept. For sculpting, I used standard brushes and Orb's pack. I came to the final sculpt iteratively, making mistakes and constantly consulting with my mentor. After the chest was finished, working with wood and metal patterns became much easier. For example, I sculpted the chair with only one leg and one backrest support and then rotate them in Maya to save time.

Preparation for Texturing

I did not have a clear limit on geometry for each prop, the task was to meet the necessary topological minimum (enough polygons to preserve the forms of the objects). UV mapping was done in Maya's UV Editor. Before sending the low poly to Marmoset, I triangulated the model in Maya to prevent possible shading problems. 

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I used Marmoset Toolbag to bake the maps Substance Painter required, namely normal, world normal, position, curvature, AO, and MatID if necessary for current SP generators. Firstly, I  imported the low poly and high poly models to Marmoset, then set up DirectX ready baking parameters: Samples 64x; Resolution multiplied by 2 (twice as big as needed for texel density); Normal maps - flip Y; AO - Ray count 1024 to make AO softer. 

Texturing Stage

For the style of the location, I returned to references from Blizzard games such as HoTS and WoW. The textures for assets were created in SP, and I also used Photoshop for the blend the textures for wooden beams.

Again, the first fully made prop was the chest, and I consulted my mentor about it the most. FOr this prop, I created two smart materials for metal and wood and then used them for the textures of the other assets which helped me to maintain the general style and save a lot of time. Most of the changes in each prop involved tweaking the color palette and adding detail if necessary. 

I used masks with color selection to isolate different materials, it makes the work with textures easier. I also used multiple color layers to create a gradient of gradients. Mostly, I work with AO and curvature generators to make a few layers of gradient and soften it. Metalness and Roughness were set according to PBR, i.e. Metalness 1 for metals and 0 for nonmetals. Roughness was chosen to make the textures as similar to real materials as possible. Unfortunately, later in UE4, I made some surfaces a little smoother to create a glare on them.

Examples of the chest and sword textures:

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Rendering in UE4

I assembled the scene step by step. First, I made a grey box and created test lighting. When the assets were created, I imported them into UE4 and checked how they would look there. In UE4, two MaterMaterials were created, one for props with an Emissive, and second for props without it. Then, Material Instances were created for convenient texture editing without shaders recompilation.

After import, I decided to change the lighting scheme to a classic one with warm and cold light sources. I used a lot of Reflection probes to build correct metal reflections. You can see the comparison of two lighting schemes below (top two screenshots — the first iteration of baked light with low resolution and wrong lighting scenario; below them is the final scene). I increased Lightmap Density when the scene was completed.

The first thing to do was to set up an Ambient light from SkyLight, followed by a warm light source that fills most of the diorama. I also used a cold background light with Cast shadows turned; it highlights the details in the shadows and also creates additional reflections from the surfaces making the scene more vivid. When the lighting fitted my needs, I tuned the Post-Process a bit and rendered the shots with simple Camera actors with the Field of view set to 70. 

In Conclusion

For me, this project was an excellent experience, and I am glad that I completed it before the graduation project at the university. I understood my mistakes and I know how to deal with them now.

By the end of the project, I realized that it is very important to consult mentors about any issues, it is normal and helps to learn faster. It is also important to work with a large number of references and learn to choose the best and most suitable ones from this mass.


Many thanks for consulting and support to my mentor in the Stylized Environment course Anna Kirilenko, my course curator Viacheslav Bushuev who helped me with lighting, and my tutors Elena Alt and Anna Morgan

Ivan Blinov, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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    The Drunk Lake Inn: Stylized Environment Breakdown