Tips On Quick Environment Building

Tips On Quick Environment Building

Level artist Alexandre Christmann showed the way he created the destroyed environment in UE4.


My name is Alexandre Christmann, I live in France, and I’m 25 years old. My alias is McBaguette and I love playing video games! Currently, I’m a Level Artist at Ubisoft Paris toiling away on an unannounced AAA project.

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I studied at Creajeux in the city of Nimes in Southern France. After that, I was an Environment Artist on Cyanide Studio’s Styx. Later, I was part of a great team at Watch Dogs 2 and helped to create DLC on that game as well. If you’d like, check out my portfolio or website to see some of the art I’ve created in the past!

Moving Into Smaller Spaces

Typically, I prefer to work on hard surfaces, weapons, and ships in my scenes. But, change is good for an artist!

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I made the decision to zero in on interior environment with this scene as I didn’t get the chance to explore it through Watch Dogs 2 as I primarily focused on exterior assets for that game. Having never worked on vegetation either, I also saw this scene as an opportunity to develop simple techniques for modeling ivy that could easily be integrated into video games.


For this scene, I collected many references and drew some quick sketches. Looking over concept art from Naughty Dog, I observed lighting sources on vegetation and tried to transcript this on my scene.

First, I fashioned the foliage on a little scene before doing my blockout for the layout. And after performing many tests to create the ivy, I concluded I didn’t want to buy a tool like the one sold on the UE4 database. As such, I used the free 3ds Max GuruWare tool, which was very useful to say the least!


Although it’s incredibly helpful, I still encountered some challenges with the GuruWare tool when producing my meshes. It took too many resources to operate on my computer, and the generated roots the tool produced did too much poly as the tool is made for pre-calculated scenes. As a result, I needed to find solutions to reduce the wireframe to bake a normal on a plane and ended up using ProOptimizer Modifier to keep the bigger roots on mesh for the illusion to properly function. Ultimately, I managed to have an average count of 400 poly per root with a tiled texture.

I made a set of different roots for the sake of diversity.

Concerning the textures of the vegetation, I used photos and modified these with Bitmap2Material to delete their shadows and create normals. This software is easy and quick to use—it’s definitely worth the cost! But, I would like to try photogrammetry for a better result at the end. And the shader I used on the foliage is very simple, some light with sub-surface.

Using Vegetation

With the vegetation ready, I made a classic blockout with placeholder meshes that I replaced little by little with the final mesh.

Then, I used modular mesh for the walls, the roof, the barricade, the ground, and the stairs.

It’s essential that I can easily modify my layout, especially when collaborating with level designers. Consequently, I placed the pivot to make it easy to assemble and to ensure a correct value.

For the object’s pipeline, the object has been textured with substance painter after being modified on ZBrush and modeled in Maya. All textures except the foliage have a 2048 resolution.

  • Maya – Placeholder
  • Maya – Model final
  • Maya – UV mapping
  • Painter – Bake all map
  • Painter – Texturing
  • UE4 – Rendering

Using Unreal Engine 4

Prefabs are a good solution to save some time with prop setting.

To quickly assemble most of the books, I did many compositions with the same assets to place them in the scene. I did three to four prefabs (pile plates, foliages, boards) by an object’s type to avoid repetition, even if they are the same props. And I placed the pivot point on the ground to make the placement of props easier.

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Decals helped my creation of the foam, mud, and water on the ground. I utilized the same shader for the spiderwebs as I used on the vegetation, but I added a little movement as well as some sub-surface and alpha.


For the lighting, I wanted to create an atmosphere with heat emanating from the exterior. Hence, I opted for a blue-orange tone. I also added a light blue to the building and fog to the scene.

The intensive use of post-treatment in UE4 greatly contributed to the lighting. Here’s a ventilation of every aspect of the render, including unlit, AO, normal, and more.

As seen with The Last of Us concepts, I included a strong light that strikes a very dark place to attract the eye. Technically, I incorporated mostly stationary lights within my scene.

I utilized three primary lights for the scene’s main lighting and another smaller light as well.

To reinforce the orange light’s exterior power, I placed some light down to the windows in addition to several other places that helped the scene’s composition. God rays on the windows also heighten the blind effect of the scene.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article as much as I had fun creating this scene!

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Alexandre Christmann, 3D Artist / Level Art – Ubisoft Paris

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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Comments 2

  • maura

    oh what game will that be i used to play myst online i loved it



    ·3 years ago·
  • Daniel Mokobia

    I loved reading this article Alexandre Christmann. I really like how did the lighting in the environment. Am(Teesside uni Student leaning to be a Technical Artist)  leaning how to do good lighting like you have, could tell me the type lights you used and % used on each light to get the colour and feel you wanted in the scene?


    Daniel Mokobia

    ·3 years ago·

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Tips On Quick Environment Building