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8 Tips on how to Create 3D Environments

In this article I’d like to cover the process behind my 3D environment Essoladen. Looking back, I feel I have improved so much since then. As I discuss my workflow and approach to completing Essoladen, I will share the lessons I learnt from my mistakes.

tomer-meltser-031) Planning

Essoladen was chosen as my final project at the Israeli Animation College. I was initially given 2 months to complete it. I knew I wanted to get into environment art, and a project of this scale was a great opportunity for me to learn the fundamentals of environment creation. Simon Stalenhag is a big inspiration for me, so I decided to base my project on his work bellow:


2) Referencing

The first step as with everything is to do a lot of reference gathering. I began collecting reference to help me understand and establish the key actors in the composition. There were a few challenges with the concept art which I tried to address directly:

1. The background elements introduced very large scale objects. They were hard to read and difficult to interpret correctly in my 3D view.

2. The gas station building did not contain enough detail in the concept. I had to reference a similar design and stray a little off from the concept.


3) Layout

I wanted to reproduce the image with an extreme wide angle composition shot. I began by blocking out the main forms as simple boxes and shapes. This was critical in order for me to visualise the placement of detail later on.


After I was satisfied with the perspective angle I refined the forms into a readable silhouette.

There was a lot of guesswork involved in the the gas station and ship. A lot of time was spent testing out different forms and shapes. I utilised references as much as possible to help guide my decision making.

One thing I like to do when I’m uncertain of something is a paint-over. This helps me identify key elements that I might otherwise miss.


4) Modelling

Since the ship was based on many repetitive elements I decided a kit-bashing approach would provide the best result. While reviewing reference of various mechanical parts, I designed 6-10 pieces that helped establish the rest of the ship.

Furthermore, I had a number of floater elements to help streamline the modelling process, including bolts, panels, and holes. One of my mistakes was not taking into account the repetitive nature of those parts. My work was therefor doubled as I had to individually separate and UV each duplicate piece.


When I was done with the high-poly it was a typical process of designing the low-poly form that conforms to the silhouette. Creating the low-poly was fairly straightforward. Most of my topology ended up clean, so it was a matter of going back and cutting down on the edge loops.

After I completed the UV process I named all my individual parts for baking and moved my asset to Substance Painter.

5) Texturing

The whole texturing process was quite new to me. I had to invest considerable time in learning the tools and relevant techniques for game texturing. The Substance Painter process is an enjoyable experience due to the real-time feedback I get as my asset comes to life.


If the colours do not feel good together it is always a good idea to step back and analyze the color palette through a tool like Adobe’s Color Wheel.

I followed these steps from Tim Bergholz for texture painting and workflow:

1. Divide the asset into its individual materials using an ID mask or other colour coding workflow. Within the layers I create a separate folder with a mask per material.

2. On a per material basis I establish the main lookdev and get the material to read as it should according to reference.

3. Produce any info-graphics, patterns or other “painted” details which the material’s surface may contain. Height-related details can be introduced via mask painting an empty layer with the height channel.

4. Only once I’m satisfied with the base look and feel I begin to think about material wear & tear. How was the surface used? What was its history?

5. Global weathering. In this case I thought about the elements in this world and the weathering the object is subjected to. This helps frame the entire object as a single unified piece.

Related Link: How to Make Awesome Gaming Assets using Substance Painter

I also enjoy following Tor Frick’s various tutorials. One of his approaches to texturing is the use of gradients to create interest in key areas and lead the eye. I used a gradient from top to bottom to help create more colour variation and better contrast on my ship.

6) Composition

After completing the main assets I decided to go back and address the composition.


I had an idea of making all my elements float on a piece of that land as if it were a fragment of the world. The idea behind this is that I could produce an interesting diorama shot and create a more manageable scope for my environment.

The sculpting of the rock surface took me surprisingly little time as I had made extensive use of my references and alphas to help with the design-phase.
A few of the elements I attempted to include were moss between the crevices, floating rock debris on and around the island structure, and an interesting silhouette.


The biggest obstacle was finding the correct texal density for the ground. I had to break down the asset to two pieces of 2K resolution. Next time I will make greater use of seamless textures and vertex painting.


7) Polishing

As I entered the polishing phase I added additional storytelling elements such as the travel bags on the cars and the subtle paint splash around the lamp posts. I also quickly made the foliage elements using photo-reference.

Additional elements with less significance such as the oilcans, tyres, barrels, the bicycle and large billboard were all done using trim sheet textures.


8) Rendering

Throughout the work I made use of Marmoset Toolbag as my primary renderer.
Working with this tool is very convenient and straightforward as it allows me to quickly prototype different looks.

Areas of Improvement

There were a number of mistakes in the development of the asset:

– Shadowing Errors: The shadows around the contact details are too strong. This is most likely due to AO artefacts.

– Colour Composition: The chosen colours did not work together well and this was due to my poor understanding of colour theory. Had I used basic colour rules (such as complimentaries) I could have achieved a more pleasing texture result.
If the colours do not feel good together it is always a good idea to step back and analyze the color palette through a tool like Adobe’s Color Wheel.

– Visual Clutter: Had I been more careful with the balance of detail I would of achieved something easier to look at. Introducing “eye-rest” within elements is critical to a successful composition in my opinion.


Overall, it was a fantastic experience which introduced me to the intricacies of environment production. I also learnt a lot that helped me carry over my skills to newer projects. I would like to thank The Rookies for providing me the opportunity to share my journey.


Author: Tomer Meltser

My name is Tomer, I am a 3D artist from Israel. I've been doing CG art for many years as a hobby and recently began my studies to take my skills to a professional level.
I am looking forward to complete my showreel at the Think Tank Training Centre within the next few coming months.


  1. Mosta Fizur
    mosta fizur
    July 31, 2017 at 8:48 am ·


  2. Ajinkya Rajbhoj
    Ajinkya Rajbhoj
    July 28, 2017 at 11:44 am ·


  3. Patrice Lacour
    Patrice Lacour
    July 28, 2017 at 6:24 am ·

    praxis studio

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