Vintage Journey: Environment Creation

Vintage Journey: Environment Creation

Specially for, Nastya Ermakova shared some of the techniques and production tips she learned during the creation of her amazing art deco virtual space. is happy to present a talented 3d artist Nastya Ermakova. In this write-up, Nastya talked about the creation of her amazing art-deco inspired virtual space.


Hello. My name is Nastya Ermakova, I’m 24, I was born in Balakovo, Russia and now live in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. I’ve been doing 3d modeling for 3 years.I studied engineering in the University but decided to quit and was looking for an occupation that would suit my soul. The providence itself lead me to the world of 3D and I’m glad about it.

I gained the basic knowledge of maya at online course and then was hired by Sperasoft through their bootcamp program. I worked in Sperasoft for 1,5 years and all the projects there are under NDA. I still feel like I’m a beginner at this work (and I am).

Vintage Journey

I accidentally found the contest “A Vintage Journey” on Polycount. The sponsor was XMD Academy. The task was to show an alien glaringly-spectacular world in Art Nouveau / Art Deco architectural style.

I started the work from studying these styles, because I knew little about them. Both styles are rich in materials, luxurious and ostentatious. Art Nouveau is more fluid, Art Deco is solid and more geometric. I made some kind of mix. Many of curves and spirals, angular ornaments are placed inside these forms. Also, I wanted to show that this world is alien, though it looks like ours.

During this competition, I learned a lot of new things and can see my own mistakes now. I will try to indicate them below


I started blockout in Maya and then transferred it to UE4 as one piece. The initial idea was to create the room in overview tower with huge windows and a cityscape on the horizon.

This initial room plan gave the direction for a future idea. I didn’t have full vision of what I want in the end at that moment. And then the details began to appear in my mind. I had a star sky map in my room that was a birthday present from my mother and somehow that became the theme for my entry.

The final scene looks bigger and have several plans that increase the interest in the scene. During the process the ceiling was raised because it was stealing the big piece of space and the scale was not felt.

I broke the blockout into pieces and started to detail them. As I had no complete concept and had only reference images and rough direction, I had to try different shapes and had to re-model them again to match the other details that appeared later.

Later as a more detailed picture appeared in my head it became more like upgrading assets rather than to re-doing it from the scratch.

I remade the same element several times. For example windows and the column were changing their shapes often.

¯_()_/¯ I need to study.

Adding Details

I’ve had a bunch of primitive pencil sketches of patterns, obviously it is quicker and easier than trying to find the right shape modeling it. First I copied the patterns that I liked and then I combined them trying to get something for better fit and new patterns appeared. The good idea was to create UV chunks for lightmaps for repeating elements before copying them, like for example, as I have a lot of circles I mapped only one before cloning it and scaling.

The floor. I spent a lot of effort on it. I wanted to make it unique, but eventually it is almost not visible on the final shot. It had to represent some sort of big astrolabe. The most difficult part was variety of unique patterns (I could tile only the rim pattern). But I didn’t want to give up on that idea. I decided to cut the geometry so that the picture on the floor remained sharp and readable even from the low angle view. I don’t know if there are easier ways, I did it with booleans and corrected the geometry after that, extruded width and added chamfer. It turned out that it is pretty tedious work. There are a lot of polygons, but it was not a problem and also I did it without the textures and baking, just assigned needed materials.


Constellations and planets: The whole stars-and-planetary theme started after I came up with idea of constellations-bulbs. Their shapes coincide with our constellations, but during the process it was tweaked for ceiling and I deleted something, so there won’t be strong conglomeration.

1 of 2

Planet device: I added orbits and fence during last days of the contest deadline. It felt empty and I decided to add it to make the picture more consistent. No matter on what stage I was, I was always thinking about how I could improve the scene.


For materials in most cases I used standard Unreal and Substance materials, just tweaked some values. Every material has lack of depth, weathering and micro-relief. It is the price I paid for the speed. Gold and glossy surfaces in general are pretty hard to work with. The outcome depends on reflection and illumination. Even insignificant changes of light could strongly affect it. Besides on the material like that, with many carved elements you can see many artifacts in light baking. The resolution of 2048 for lightmap was not enough for ceiling. I probably should have broken it into several elements to keep the lightmap detailed enough.

I had serious problems with reflections, UE4 reflections consists of both screen space and cubemap captured reflections. The placement of reflection capture actors drastically change the appearance of glossy surfaces and it appeared that reflection works awkward with some effects and anti-aliasing types. The exact problem that I had was that it only reflected atmospheric fog with Temporal anti-aliasing and Temporal AA does not work with high resolution screenshot tool in UE4 and, so I had to make screenshots from the game launched with a bigger resolution.


I spent a lot of time with the lighting here. I like the light you can get in Unreal. It’s atmospheric and gentle. Unreal is good, clear and friendly engine. For me, as a newbie, it was easy and comfortable to start working with it. There was pretty much of experiments with the light. Initially I planned the accent on sun so that the enhanced bloom effect would fill the room. I re-build lighting every night and looked for improvements. The calculations are quickier in preview quality but as you get closer to finish the final tweaks are better done with the production quality. It turned out that the room appears to be overexposed and you could not see anything but the Sun. Also, each element got out ahead and your eye couldn’t concentrate on one main element. Bright sun, planets, constellations and even the stairway – the mess of details. You don’t know where to look. And finally, I gave up on that idea in the last few days, despite it was my initial idea for lighting from the beginning. I dim the sun and constellations. The stairway went to shadow too. I tried to distinguish the device with planets and I toned down the little planets too. So the planet device and the sun goes on the first place.

I would like to mention this points so that other beginners didn’t repeat some of mistakes that I can see now and those that I got from feedback from more experienced artists

  • The center is not picked out enough anyway. It could be done with light and size of the element and separating it from the background.
  • Monotonous materials.
  • Add even more fog to the city so that it would get further to the back ground and separate it from the room
  • The patterns have even rhythm and detail density.
  • Saturation of sky and gold is the same


The structure of light has become pretty heaped. There were many additional point lights and reflection capture actors. They highlighted the darkest places, where the sun could not reach but because of this the editing became harder. The setting of light should be done with minimal efforts for the flexible result.

The Sphere Reflection Capture have radius of influence. The less it the biggest priority in rendering of reflections. So, you can set one big first and correct the reflections with smaller spheres. And don’t forget to recapture them after changing the light settings.

Volumetric light through Particle System:

I used huge soft particles to balance the scene with sort of volumetric light.

The darker is it’s color the lighter the spot of particle light is. You can experiment with size and color of cloud easily.

As I couldn’t use the High Resolution Screenshot tool as it did not support Temporal AA and other AA types did not reflect my atmospheric fog (as I mentioned above) I made screenshots right from playground but they appear to be very noisy.

The advice from ue4 forum helped:

Write in console magic “r.ScreenPercentage 200” to increases the quality to 200%

“Screenshot” – saves screen with the command.

The main goal was – to finish the work in time. So when the time is running out it is more important to make decisions fast than to look for the right one.

One advice –  enjoy the process. And if something goes wrong and you are upset – go snooze a little. It helps me.

Nastya Ermakova, 3d artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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    Vintage Journey: Environment Creation