Tropical Adventure

Tropical Adventure

Xandra van Antwerpen
by xandra on 1 Jun 2020 for Rookie Awards 2020

Handpainted environment created within Unreal Engine 4. I created this project at the end of my graduation year over a period of 10 weeks. It is the result of all the skills I've been learning and is my passion project.

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My tropical adventure scene is a game-ready environment I created during my 4th year of school. For this project I wanted to improve my handpainting and vegetation skills, especially inspired by the Sea of Thieves art style. Their focus on color and shape was the main driving force behind my art direction. I used Photoshop, Maya, Substance Designer, and Unreal Engine for my main development. Blender was used to create the video.

Initial concept

I started off with creating concepts based on gathered references. The way I went about gathering them was both in-game and real life references, with a dash of inspiration from other artists. My main focus was on trying to keep the amount of painted in AO and lighting info as low as possible, while still maintaining the painted feel I wanted. 

Above you can see the eventual concept/textures I used for the end result.


After the texture creation I used Maya for the creation of my models. I focused on an exaggerated shape of the original real life plant while still keeping it visually stylized and interesting. I created a UV map per plant, and made 2-4 variations of the same plant as seen in my previous concept to fill up the UV space. I generated roughness and normal maps within Substance Designer, which were tweaked to fit my models within UE4.

Next to vegetation I wanted to add some variety by creating trees, rocks, and flowers. Aside from that I started thinking about decals to break up the floor.

Within this stage I iterated a lot after receiving feedback from peers, teachers, and friends.


After the modeling of my main elements I was a bit stuck on how to continue. I wanted to create a whole environment with them, as this wasn't something I had done before, but I was severely intimidated and thus decided to take a step in between by creating prefabs for easier world building (or so I thought).

I focused on shape and color while creating them and tried to think how a level designer would use these assets. Instead of just thinking about these things, I went ahead and contacted a level designer to ask for his opinion on them and iterated more on my compositions and sizes. 


For the environment I started out with a very basic block-out in Unreal Engine 4 to get the main shapes and composition right. After this I focused on a base lighting pass, which I later iterated on until I got the desired result. After getting the basic shapes in I replaced them with my assets and worked on my landscape. I chose not to use the prefabs I made as I wanted more control of the landscape and placement of assets. Luckily the prefabs still serve as a great way to show off my vegetation. 

After the main environment was done I started focusing more on the details within the scene such as subsurface scattering and the overall movement. I added a wind material and a small rotation component that makes certain parts of the mesh move on a sine wave to simulate additional wind. This added a lot of life to my overall scene and pushed it a bit further. 


Throughout the development I kept tweaking small things within the composition, textures, and models. But next to that I spent a large chunk of my time on post processing and lighting. I had dabbled a bit in lighting before, but wanted to push my skills further and focus on it in a way that would greatly benefit this project. The skybox was re-colored within Unreal and I changed the sun blueprint to change it to a size that I wanted.

In the process view above you can see my unlit scene, detailed lighting, and the finished project. A big lesson I learned was about subsurface scattering, which was a completely new thing to me. It added a tremendous amount to my scene in terms of lighting and overall feeling, it is especially visible in the detailed lighting picture.


For my final render I didn't just want to show a static image as I had put a lot of effort into making the environment 'alive', so I created a short video with the general ambience/mood of the scene. The render was made by rendering out seperate frames in 4K, after which I rendered them out within the Blender video editor. 

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