21 December 2021

Crypt of The Raven King – Environment Breakdown – Jared Lewin



So for this environment, a big inspiration for me was older horror movies that centered around gothic themes. I’ve always loved the art from movies like Dracula and wanted to make a piece that captured that feeling in time for Halloween. After I knew the mood I was going for I started to collect references I thought helped reflect the mood and construction of everything I was going to need. This included everything from the largest architectural motifs to the types of drips that would come off of melted candles.
Reference is extremely important.

Many times real life has designs that are better than what you might come up with so don’t be afraid to mix and match made-up designs with things from observation. Look at the image below. There is a piece of reference where red cushions are sitting on top of white stone.

The contrast of colors is beautiful and in my mind gives a very good gothic feeling. I used that image of red on white stone to come up with how I used my blood decals. The blood on the stone is extremely useful to create visual interest and help draw the eye towards the focal point. And it’s all because of that specific reference that I thought of that. Another good example of reference that I relied on was the candle-lit rooms on the second reference board attached below. I based my lighting very heavily on this and always used these images to check my scene so that I knew the lighting was natural enough.

Here are what some of my reference boards look like. These are actually small compared to how large they can get.


For blockout I start extremely simple. This is the blockout that I started with for this environment.


The main idea with this blockout was to get a good focal point and then give the main architecture its shape. The final part that helps during the blockout phase is finding the lighting.
With the lighting, the mood is set and I know what kind of light sources I will need. If I could give one big trick to a good blockout it’s that you should really see your finished scene’s design at this point already. You shouldn’t move out of the blockout stage until you are happy with your blockout design. Having the design of your blockout be strong is one of the most important parts of the process. This isn’t to say that changes don’t happen down the line but generally they should be small and help push the big picture forwards. The big picture itself shouldn’t change too much.


The next big step is to start modeling. I usually work big to small, so I tackle the architecture and the hero prop first and then move onto the smaller set dressing. So to give a basic outline for this scene the list went like this.

A. Coffin
B. Columns
C. Trimsheet
D. Altar
E. Candles
F. Steps
G. Debris

This is the basic list, there are some small things here and there but basically, this is the main process. Any model I make starts in blockout form so I can see how it will work in the engine. All of these models are then taken in their blockout form straight into Zbrush and to final modeling. One tip I recommend is to check your sculpts against each other. You really want to make sure they are consistent in style and execution. The more consistency you have the better the whole scene will look. Here are some examples of sculpts.



Every model was taken into Maya for retopology and then UV’ed in Maya as well. Once the UVing is done I take all of the low poly into Substance Painter and start baking. This process is organic. If I see that some of the UV’s could be better I will redo them and rebake. I like to get this part right on the front end so that I know they’re perfect by the time they get in the engine.

No real tricks here just make sure your UV’s are good.


For materials, I use base materials I make in Substance Designer and bring them into Substance Painter to texture my baked objects. These Substance Designer materials are usually pretty simple and are meant to be combined with other materials. So for example a setup might be a simple blend of Stone and Grout. After that edgewear and dirt are layered on top using baked maps. The last ten percent of the texture is hand-painted drips and leaks and small details. One big tip I’ll share for this is to make sure you check your textures in a neutral environment and not in the final scene. A good texture should work in any scene so don’t tweak to very specific views or lighting. These are some examples.



All of the shaders have a very basic setup using base maps exported from Substance Painter with some unique functions like tri-planar grunge or color tinting layered on top to add texture variety. There wasn’t really much more to it than that. A good texture should work on its own so if you want to layer more on top make sure the base is very strong.

Final Pass

The final pass was where I finished up the lighting and did most of the set dressing. The main goal with this pass was to make the space feel lived in and realistic. I also wanted to really push the mood but make the light sources feel natural. Most of that process included going down this list.

A. Candles
B. Debris
C. Decals
D. Putting these props together in the environment
E. Tweak lighting and VFX

A tip I recommend is to find tutorials that help you create the best version of certain universal props. Candles, debris, fog, etc. Once you’ve made these, save them and re-use them in all of
your environments where you can! I’ve made my fog over time and each time I re-use it and tweak it gets better. Getting these small details in is super important. A small amount of fog can make a space feel full and a flickering candle can make everything look like it has a history so it’s important not to forget these elements. All put together the elements look like this.



Overall if I could give one piece of advice it is to always put the mood and theme first. Everything in this scene is made to push the gothic feeling forwards and that’s why I think it works well. It’s important to understand the technical side but at the end of the day, our main goal as artists is to sell a mood.