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How To Build a Realistic ‘The Mummy Tomb’ in Unreal Engine

My name is Alexander Samuelsson and I am from Sweden. My art background is in traditional painting (mostly watercolor), faux painting and concept art. I am currently a second-year Game Art student at The Game Assembly in Malmö.

The Mummy Tomb

This was a school assignment where I took a subject which has intrigued me for a long time. Ever since I first saw the movie The Mummy from 1999 I fell in love with art and gods of that period, so I wanted to recreate that mood during this project.

My primary goal was to have 2-3 camera shots that I could send as a concept and mood images to potentially pitch as a level for Tomb Raider.

So after taking some screenshots from the film and researching Egyptian tombs/ caves, I started to block out the base concept in Maya.

Modeling Assets

Maya is a great tool to start in. The most important thing for me was to create a space that felt cramped, claustrophobic and atmospheric.

I knew that this would be a very important element for the whole scene to work. I feel that a good way to make something feel narrow is to have something to compare to, so I wanted to break the scene up with a high ceiling area to contrast that and have light coming down from that area as well.


For a fast workflow, scale is key for me. I blocked out a human cube (180cm in height) and based all proportions on that. Based on this I could answer questions like “How high is the ceiling?”, “How low is a bench?,” “How long is a step on the stairs?” and so on. Based on those measurements I started to block out the whole scene.

This was done very quickly then I selected everything and exported to Unreal Engine as soon as possible.

I used ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider‘ as a game reference, so I used Unreal’s 3 person template to run around and feel out the scene.

I was constantly testing different lightings as well to narrow down the composition and feel.

Then I took a screenshot of that and then painted over to find colors and light that would fit the scene.

Top right is the Unreal blackout, and the bottom right shows the final concept

I used a total of 11 assets and 6 planes that I replaced all the blockout pieces with.


Because my workflow is very conceptual I want to be able to scrap and redo assets very fast and very often, so knowing that the scale in Maya and in Unreal Engine is the same is super important for me.

It’s the same when I do my high polys in ZBrush, knowing that it’s the right scales and that the pivot points are placed on the low polys makes the work go smoothly and I can easily replace all assets I have blocked out in the scene.

I was constantly testing different lightings as well to narrow down the composition and feel.

Starting with the big shapes and fill the scene with them to not get stuck in details helpt a lot the keep the project going forward.

After the second week, I had baked the majority of the high polys down and imported it to Unreal Engine to see if it read as I wanted. The rest of the material parameters was in the Unreal material.

Also having a fast way to export a lot of assets and knowing the export settings are right is very helpful. I have been learning Python and created a script in Maya exporting everything that is selected as separate fbx files. Just run the script choose where to save it and click save.

Re-exporting everything keeping the same names and overwriting them, made it really fast to change things.

I decided to use few fairly low-poly assets and instance them a lot to keep the performance high, but this project was more a pitch/conceptual level to get an OK from a potential art director or studio to make it into the game.


I made a smart material in Substance Painter for most assets in the scene so it would feel like they were made in the same place. Using the projection tool I did the hieroglyphs on a black mask so I could paint away parts of it and make it look worn. This also gave me control of the fill layer where I can change the color of the metal and how deep it goes.

For the sand material that I used on the floor was made in Substance Designer and I did up a vector shader for some of the more noticeable assets. This was to help tie the whole scene together with colors and transitions between things.


Most of the lighting is using point lights placed around the scene and a directional light mimicking moonlight.

The spider web and dust particles are done with planes using alpha. I have 3 different spider webs and 3 different dust particles. Scaling these and rotating was really useful and they blended nicely with the overall lighting of the scene.

The colors were mainly set with the light sources using a lot of cool colors like blues and greens. This to break up all the warm colors in the assets.

I had a hard time getting the correct lighting and exposure in Unreal. I am quite new to the software so I used Photoshop to change the exposure and added some smoke to get some more edge interest in the image.

If I had more than 3 weeks of half-time work (4h a day, 15 days) I would like to learn how to polish a level to get that running in real time. And learning more about lighting and post effects since that is something I barely scratched the surface on.alexander-samuelsson-01A couple of weeks after the finalisation of Tomb, I came back to it with fresh eyes and a lot of feedback. I was not entirely happy with the contrast as well as some aspects of the color and effects.

With that in mind, I gave myself one week to adjust and tweak. I kept most of the compositions but decided to scrap the things I didn’t like about the lighting and I started from scratch.


I think I succeeded in doing the overall mood and pushed my knowledge of Unreal Engine to the limit. Doing this in the two stages made me reflect a lot on my planning and execution. Locking cameras early and taking a break before finishing, helped a lot.alexander-samuelsson-05


Author: Alexander Samuelsson

Game Art student from The Game Assembly in Sweden. Interest in environments, concepts, lighting and texturing.

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