Ithris Cemetary

Environment Breakdown

Rasmus Kristensen


Rasmus Kristensen

Senior Environment Artist


Hello, my name is Rasmus Kristensen, I am currently a Senior Environment Artist at Starbreeze, previous Hexworks and Ubisoft.
I like creating scenes with a story often multiple stories scattered around, big and small.

Project & Goals

At the moment I’m really into darker eerie scenes though this preference changes with time.
With my latest project Ithris Cemerery, I wanted to create a scene with fairly extreme depth and composition in a dark fantasy world.

This project is mainly inspired by my love for Souls-like games, at the time Bloodborne (which I recommend playing, a very wholesome and pleasant game).

Before deciding on what new project to make, I figure out what areas (theme, subject, workflow) that I want to improve, I usually stick to a few learning subjects since trying to improve many subjects either takes too long or decreases the learning of the subjects as you will need to focus on too much.


For this scene I started out with finding 1 main reference with 2-3 secondary references, this allows me to have a solid base idea with the secondary ref giving smaller ideas.
Witches Place by Kostya Che was the main inspiration, with 2 concepts from Bloodborne being secondaries.

Concept 01
Concept 02

These concepts gave a solid base for the mood, style and general art inspiration.

After that I added my own ideas, art style and composition, I knew I wanted a larger scene with a small Chapel and background buildings to give a nice depth.

Doing your own world-building is incredibly fun but also challenging, you will have to create your own composition, story, designs and more, I really recommend having 1 or multiple concepts to take ideas from, it doesn’t have to be straight-up copying but simply getting inspired and letting the ideas flow, which leads us into blockout stage.


In this case, the composition was the main goal, with lighting being secondary. I used a month or so on the base composition idea, adding in the major landmarks, chapel, road, and backdrop buildings.

Adding the default UE mannequin early on is a good idea to make sure the scale is fitting, same with starting out with the third-person player controller, again to see if the scale is good.

While this looks somewhat decent in terms of world design, the composition was flat, in-direct and generally not readable, it was missing the height and depth of the final version
as well.

About 2 months into the scene creation I received some great feedback from Justin Myles Emerson which made me rework the composition of the scene, I wanted to push the dark and warped feel of the world much more, taking inspiration from Dark souls 3 Dreg Heap with its gorgeous collapsed area, Tim Burtons Nightmare before Christmas with it’s warped and curvy shapes.

The result is a much more guided composition with the depth I was looking for, the scene did change after this but the main landmarks were in place.


While the rework did take some time it was without a doubt the best thing done during the scene creation, it only goes to show how important feedback is to the environment creation process, be it personal or professional work.


Modelling Workflow

My main modelling software is Blender with all the sculpting done in ZBrush.
I will showcase a few different ways I approach creating the statues, trim sheets and modular construction.

Statue Blockout

I started out with a very simple ZBrush sculpt (white one) to get the size and pose figured out, later on, I did a more advanced blockout, using a female base mesh and adding wings but in the end, I decided not to go with wings as it added too much silhouette. I knew she would hold something, it was initially a lantern but I decided to go with a water bath instead as it read better.


I used a Female Basemesh from Vincent Ménier which was then crudely deformed into the pose I wanted, I added some simple wings and a robe to figure out the silhouette, this is the stage where I found out the wings weren’t going to work, it both conflicted with the story and made the statue feel too bulky, especially since they would be used extensively through the scene.

The robe was fully sculpted with, a move brush, standard brush and clay build-up, I could have used the build-in Zbrush cloth system or Marvelous designer but I wanted to try and hand sculpt fabric.

For the water bath, I used radial symmetry for the base shape and JRO Ornate brushes as alpha brushes for the detailing.

Low poly

For the robe and female statue, I used decimation as I didn’t want to use too much time on retopologizing while the water bath was a mix of hand modelling and ZRemesher, the bottom part was hand modelled since it was a simple shape and I wanted to have the ornate details to bake properly, while the top part was Z-Remeshed then attached on the bottom part.

Modular Construction, Trim Sheets and Height Displacement

Let’s talk about modular construction assets. These asset types are using a mix of:

1. Custom baked details.

2. Trimsheet either a flat surface, using Parallax occlusion or using the heightmap to displace the mesh.

3. Tileable texture, either a flat surface, using Parallax Occlusion or Heightmap displacement.

Let’s first go over how the timesheets are created. I have 2 trim sheets, we will call them Trim 01 and Trim 02 (because I’m exiting like that)

Trim 01 is used for flat or larger detailing areas and roofs since I had space.

Trim 02 is used as ornate detailing trim.

I recommend having some decently large flat surfaces and I should have either added more of those or created a third trim that had more flat surfaces since I sometimes was forced to add detail where I might have preferred non-detailed surfaces instead.

I created the main shapes in Blender, I knew I needed a mix of flat surfaces, linear trim details, curving round shapes with strong height (since I wanted to use the heightmap as displacement), roof tiles (top part of Trim 01).


This is the stage where I add the ornate details (JRO Ornament Kitbash Vol1), medium and small damage and general surface deformation, this could be done in Designer but I find this part fun so I did it in Zbrush.

I recommend avoiding adding too many unique details since the trim will be used on multiple assets and unique details will be easy to spot when the assets are repeated. Having large sloped shapes is also great since your normal map and in my case, the height map will displace mesh better with less stepping and errors.

Substance Designer

In Designer, I add micro detailing, dirt in crevices and of course the needed texture maps. The graph is very small, here are the nodes for micro detailing.


The diffuse map is mainly made with solid color, HSL for color variation which is masked with histogram select, BW Color Variation, masking basic noises for random color marks.


As you can see there’s not that much color information, this was mainly because I wanted to keep the textures cleaner as they already have a lot of height detail and wanted to use vertex painting for the material breakup.

Displacement Workflow

Now it’s time to create the modular assets, lets’s go over one of the walls. First, you model your asset, then align the UVs to the trim details (I highly recommend getting Ultimate Trim UV), then you get this, pretty cool but a bit too flat, especially the ornate details, let’s fix that.

Also below are the modifiers I use.


First Subdivision to get very dense mesh (I recommend making your faces as square as possible before subdividing to get the best result).

Then a Displace the heightmap assigned. Decimate to make a less dense mesh that can be used in the engine. Triangulate since Decimate can cause odd mesh which can cause flipped faces when Unreal engine triangulates.

Weighted Normals to get nicer shading.


The final result looks like this in the engine. I used this method for most modular assets, including the chapel, it saved me a lot of time and it’s easier to create a modular set, different wall heights, curved, rounded and many more types of assets.


Polish/Final pass

The polish pass was longer than expected, the main workload came when I started to record the cinematic.
I realized that there needed to be more points of interest throughout the scene, this was either done by modifying what was already placed in the scene or adding new storytelling areas.
Choosing where to place the new “stories” was mainly up to if there were enough space and how the camera path was laid out.



Lighting was one of the key areas I wanted to improve on, I always had an idea of how it should look, the large stretching volumetrics from the direction of the moon, and red light from the chapel being the main dominant colors.

There were a few challenges with lighting the scene, mainly that I was unable to use real-time time light and raytracing features like reflection, AO and GI.

This came down to the scene being fairly large which made my performance too low to work with.

I then resorted to using baked light with the GPU Lightmass which I highly recommend using as it’s very fast and gives good results. One of the larger changes was switching the Red moon to blue, I really wanted to keep the red moon as a homage to Moon Presence from Bloodborne, but it detracted from the main focal point which is the chapel entrance and it conflicted with the blue light from the sky, it did not make sense.

Scene Light Breakdown

The light is split into these categories.

Light Primary:

This is for directional and skylight both are Stationary to give nice reflections and allow for volumetric shadows.


Light Chapel

The Chapel light is simple and relies on strong red colors, it uses the main entrance and door as shadow casters to give a nice directional light emitting from it, only the light inside the door is Stationary to give nice red reflections.

I made sure the chapel was the only area where strong red was used to maintain the strong focus, having it in other places might detract from its importance.

Light Fill

Fill lights to give extra light where needed, I tried to keep their Attenuation Radius somewhat small, avoiding too many odd shadows if the lights are shadow casters or simply having more control with shadow and lit areas.


Light Candles

The candles were used for either secondary storytelling areas, like the scattered graves, or as guiding lights going towards the chapel. Note that not all of them are on and it’s often only a single light lighting the area, to avoid too many shadows and have a more concentrated light zone.


Light Background

These are background fill lights, all static light since their range is very large. The background areas would be almost black without them, I tried to angle them to give a nice look from the main camera angle.


Light Advice

I would recommend starting small, setting up your directional light and skylight, figure out the best angle for the scene you are making, in my case I wanted to have nice light rays and reflections and the red glow from the chapel.

Then start placing fill lights, and secondary lights (candles in my case). Another cool trick is to use Post process materials, I have a sharpening material assigned. Dominique Buttines has a great tutorial for this.

Pettles, clouds and fog

The scene relies heavily on different particles and effects to give extra depth and character, from the clouds in the sky, the fog on the ground and the petals flying in the wind.

Ground fog

The ground planes use noises to mask out certain areas, it has depth so it reacts to the surrounding geometry and panner tiling animation.



The cloud shader is very similar to the ground fog but with an additional Parralax Occlusion effect to give it more depth as the clouds would feel too flat without it.



I hope you found the article informative, if I had to give final advice it would be to take enough time for the composition/Blockout stage, really nail it down and continuously ask for feedback from other artists, some great communities include.

The Dinusty Empire, Beyond Extend, Experience Points. I sometimes hang around in the voice chats so if we meet and you have any questions just ask away.