Think Tank - Advanced Project WIP

Work In Progress / 04 April 2023

The third term of the Think Tank online program ( is primarily focused on a single large project. This is an opportunity to apply what we've learned so far and create a scene over the entire four-month term.


  • Create a realtime environment to walk through (not just a piece of art/screenshot)
    • Previous projects were designed specifically for one angle/shot
  • Increase my speed by increasing the number of props needed to be modelled in a timeframe
    • Try to stop getting stuck on one thing or spend too much time fiddling/tweaking
  • Showcase my skills in hard-surface, modularity, and lighting
    • Stretch Goal: showcase scene with different lighting setups


R6 Extraction: Monolith Gardens by Kevin Macio →

This concept was chosen because it offered the opportunity to experiment with different lighting techniques in a sci-fi themed environment. Additionally, the concept provided an opportunity to explore cloth simulation in Marvelous Designer (for the tarps on the floors, walls, and ceiling).


To get a better understanding of the player’s intent when exploring the scene, we were encouraged to write a little background to set the stage.

We didn't see it coming. We didn't have time to react. We had lost before we knew what was happening. 
Rumours of victories and progress feel like myths to just keep a sense of hope. 
They say there's a neutralizer being worked on. Our best people are on it. Best or just who's left? 
I can't believe I found one. A lab. Hidden in the basement of a derelict university. 
Everything is here. Equipment, supplies, specimens. Even the monitors are still running. 
Except people. 
Where is everybody?

Note that this backstory also explains why I am not including characters in the scene.


There are a lot of reference images and categories since I wanted to capture as many aspects and props as possible.

Since this concept is from a game that is available on GamePass, I was able to find the specific room and take a bunch of screenshots from various angles. This mostly helped with what the concept angle isn’t showing along the left and right sides.

Prop & Material Tracking

Considering this was going to be the most number of props I’ve created for a scene so far, I needed a way to keep track of everything and what stage each prop was at.

For this, I turned to an old friend: Airtable.

I could enter all props, materials, and cross-reference between so I could quickly see which materials would be used on the most number of props. It also allowed me to create Kanban boards for each type to track progress.

Prop Tracking

Material Tracking


Personally, I find Unreal Editor to be the fastest prototyping & blockout tool. It’s especially useful to quickly hit Play, walk up to a table, and get a feel for how tall it should be.

Camera & Lighting

Version 1

While I knew there would be other camera angles, it was best to match the concept as much as possible first.

Version 2

The blue boxes were starting to throw me off during this early prototype stage so I started to create simple versions of the major props in Maya. Note that they are still mostly just boxes (it was more important to get the scale right)!

Placing them in scene helped to get a better feel for the shot.

Version 3

To better understand the lighting and other camera angles, I needed a few more details (like the scaffolding on the walls and ceiling). Plus, I added basic flat materials to see how the colours would bounce around the scene.

Wow, that’s a lot of yellow!


With the headphone cranked and coffee flowing, it was time to run through each prop and create a quick low-poly version. This was a good test of one of my goals: being able to create props much more quickly since there were many more to do.

UVs & Smaller Props

Testing tileable textures was coming up soon, so it made sense to run through and make sure I have at least a rough set of UVs to work with.

The scene was also feeling a bit bare so it was time to add in smaller things like pieces of paper, folders, posters, post-it notes, and some cables on the floor.

I’ve added a new camera angle since this workspace was completely missed before. 

Cloth Simulation & More Props

This is it! One of the reasons why I chose this concept in the first place… cloth simulation in Marvelous Designer! Admittedly, I struggled with this at first. Line Tack on Avatar wasn’t working, for example. After detouring into Blender’s Cloth Sim and Maya’s nCloth, I came back to Marvelous and got something that looked decent.

This high-poly mesh was brought into Maya and retopologized to a lower poly count.

Then the two were baked in Substance Painter.

Finally, added a rough material.

Oh, and the scene had more props scattered about to give more life and detail.

Hero Prop

Version 1

At this point, it was becoming clear that the canister at the centre of the main shot wasn’t interesting enough to be considered a Hero Prop. I toyed with the idea of having the glass broken (and may still come back to that) but opted instead to build a more robust containment device.

Of course, I needed new references to work from!

And with that primary reference as the guide, I created this version that extends from the floor to the ceiling.

Version 2

One of the goals for this new Hero Prop canister was to get more practice with trim-sheets. I had some experience with them in the Intermediate Final Project but I still didn’t feel confident in it’s potential.

First step was to create an, admittedly, basic trim-sheet to work from. The priority was establishing a proper workflow that I could use in future projects.

This model was then baked in Substance Painter. The thing that’s a little different this time was that I only needed the Normal and AO textures exported. No diffuse, metal, rough, etc. The intent was to use the Normal details across many different tileable textures.

Multi-UV Workflow

First, I needed to setup Maya so I could create a second UV set and preview the trim-sheet UV in the viewport and play around with positioning.

With the baked Normal texture plugged into a basic Lambert as the Bump Map (set to Tangent Space Normals), I could then use the UV-centric Relationship Editor to connect everything up.

This was great for aligning the trim-sheet UVs in Maya, but what about in Unreal? The trick here was to use a BlendAngleCorrectedNormals node to keep the details of the tileable texture and have the trim-sheet on top. The new Normal texture was also set to the second UV set and the baked AO was Multiply+Lerp’d into the Base Color so the details would stand out more to the camera.

Final Touches

In Maya, beveled edges were added to the mesh to smooth things out and give little light highlights.

While in Unreal, a few props were scattered around (cables, papers, tarp) to integrate the Hero Prop into the scene more. Oh, and I added a bunch of industrial sticker decals for a bit more detail.

Now, let’s see the old canister next to the new one!

Other Props

With the Hero Prop in a decent place (we will hopefully come back to it), it’s time to get the rest of the scene up to the same standard. Ideally, each pass would raise the floor and keep the overall scene looking better and better.

The challenge is adding wear n’ tear that Unreal can display effectively (which usually means exaggerating some effects) and not turning the whole scene into a decrepit dungeon.

To be honest, I think the initial version of these props lean a little too far into the dirty side. Some of the dirt can be accounted for since the lab has been abandoned but the amount of wear is questionable.

I’ve now created a “Prop Showcase” map in Unreal to see how everything looks in neutral lighting. This map will be helpful when it comes time to submit and need a clean way to show all the parts of the scene.

Lighting, Again

Since there were a few smaller lights added to the scene, I started to do some quick optimizations such as reducing Light Complexity by narrowing the Outer Cone Angle and Attenuation Radius on a few lights.

Color temperature has been updated to create more contrast between the cool middle around of the Hero Prop and the warm surrounding area.

Fog adds a bit of depth to the scene too. In Unreal, this is using Exponential Height Fog with the Volumetric Fog enabled and Volumetric Scattering Intensity cranked up for just a couple key light sources.

More Updates

As you may have noticed in the previous screenshots, the scene now has some “alien plants” in the containment canisters. I don’t claim to be a creature artist so I used assets from ArtStation ( and played around with the textures a bit.

Also, there is a consistent “logo” for the imaginary company that is funding/using this laboratory and marked on all their equipment.

I tried added some dust particles to the air using Niagara Particle system but the look hasn’t quite fit yet so I’ll need to play around with it more.

Here’s what the main shot looks like so far…

Final Pass

It was time to wrap things up and get the major missing pieces in place. Screen UIs, papers, posters, and textures on a few more props helped address anything glaring.

The center Hero Prop also received a pass of scuffs and wear. Especially on the bottom where lots of traffic would be walking through.

Lighting was given another iteration with much more contrast and added better dust particles.

The center alien texture was updated with more variance in the roughness and sub-surface scattering effect.

The final artwork is best viewed on my portfolio:

Many thanks to my Supervisors who provided valuable feedback during the whole process
Jeremy Cerisy →
Teodor Ivanov →
Julian Rabe →