The Manor

Environment Breakdown

Hugo Colauto


Hugo Colauto

3D Artist


Hello there, dear reader! My name is Hugo Colauto, an aspiring 3D artist from Utrecht, the Netherlands. Currently, I'm studying Game Graphics Production in Kortrijk, Belgium, at Digital Arts and Entertainment, and I'm preparing to find an internship for my final study year in spring 2024.

I enjoy creating characters, environments, and props, but what I love the most about 3D is sculpting in ZBrush, especially when I'm sculpting semi-realistic stylized objects. That is my passion!


Inspiration & References

The questions in this article were formed by‘s Theodore McKenzie. And the article is being used with permission.

This project was my final exam for the environments course from DAE. First, I searched for a concept that I could stylize to my liking in art. The goal for myself was heavy stylization of an art piece, an adaptation. I stumbled upon the work The Manor by Yvan Jeanmonod and fell in love with the lighting and the design of the building itself.


Yvan’s Concept

I saw a vision of the stylization for this project and gathered references for art and ideas based on the vision I had for it. I was inspired by many medieval fantasy art pieces I found on Pinterest and ArtStation, but also by the articles from Silke van der Smissen, Tatiana Devos and Jasmin Habezai-Fekri.

I read these to understand how to approach the task at hand. I highly recommend reading these. After this, I knew that it needed to be bulky, compact, crisply textured, vibrant, and have a lot of contrast. Throughout the whole process, I never closed my mind to new inspiration. If I found something on Pinterest, I would put it in my PureRef.

Dissecting the art I found and looking at what elements I wanted for my own style was a joy. I also gathered references for medieval houses, the materials I wanted to create, the FX, and what kind of presentation I wanted to do.

I wrote down quickly in Photoshop what I probably needed to sculpt, model, and what kind of textures I needed to make. There were some spelling mistakes in this, and I kind of wrote some things down in Dutch. But it just needed to be quick.

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Blockout & Planning

I really liked the thumbnail from Yvan on his ArtStation, and it gave me the idea of having a horizontal frame for this piece instead of making it horizontal like the original. The balcony was a focal point that I wanted to have, so I put it on the rule of thirds, and I wanted there to be a road leading the viewer back to the house when looking down.

That was my goal with the composition of the blockout, besides getting my proportions right. I did my blockout in Maya. I found this easier than making it in Unreal with the modeling tools, and every time I could just update the blockout mesh by importing a new version.

Through my process, I overlaid the concept a lot over the blockout in Photoshop to see if things matched. Before going to the final stage of the blockout, I looked critically at my work and gave myself feedback. This is also done in Photoshop.

These are not pretty to look at, but they give me a good indication of what I have to change in the final version of the blockout. I made one for the translations and shapes and another for scaling parts.

Modeling Workflow

In my modeling workflow, I worked closely together with a trim texture I made. I modeled some beams to use in the house. Whenever I could, I would use the trim texture and model it very blocky to make sure I could use the trim.

There were props that I couldn’t fit in the trim so these were unique. These were, for example, the tree, the pointy cones on the roof, and the lantern. These were unique, and I sculpted a high poly for them so I could bake the detail on a low poly.

Modeling Workflow

In my modeling workflow, I worked closely together with a trim texture I made. I modeled some beams to use in the house. Whenever I could, I would use the trim texture and model it very blocky to make sure I could use the trim.

There were props that I couldn’t fit in the trim, and so these were unique. These were, for example, the tree, the pointy cones on the roof, and the lantern. These were unique, and I sculpted a high poly for them so I could bake the detail on a low poly.

Before starting on the roof and walls, I needed to make the textures in Substance Designer. I specifically wanted to work with a texture for my roof rather than real tiles.

This is because then I could easily control how big or small these were going to be and I could use less geometry. In the end, when I’m satisfied with the texture of the roof, I place modeled tiles at the border to give it more silhouette. The programs I used for modeling were:

  • Maya
  • Zbrush
  • TreeIt

The roof and the walls are both grabbed from the final blockout and subdivided so that I could vertex paint on them. Vertex painting takes some geometry to paint on it; this is why I subdivided it.

I didn’t focus on modularity because there wasn’t a need for it in this project since it was one house. It saved me more time to just grab the ones from the blockout and shape them to my liking. I divided the house into sections and worked on these individually and imported them individually into Unreal when done.

This made me feel the task at hand wasn’t that big, and I could iterate on them individually.

The trees were fun to make. I made leaves in TreeIt. It was my first time using this program, but luckily there was a super good tutorial on it by Victoria Zavhorodnia. For the tree itself, I sculpted this in Zbrush, retopo in Maya, and textured it in Painter.

I added some leaf particles that are falling to sell it a bit more. There are some things that I did that saved time. I spent a good amount of time making a nice trim texture; this saved me so much texturing work.

To make sure there is a color difference, I made in Unreal another material that is slightly darker. Second of all, I did not model everything. When looking beyond the house, there is nothing. I only modeled what the player would see.


Third of all, closely working with Substance Designer in Unreal gave me quick modular options for my textures. Blatantly, I also reused the same leaf mesh for every tree and bush; I think it also kept things a bit consistent.  I also reused the bricks from the stairs for the brick road.

Lastly, I didn’t fully texture some stuff because I took the philosophy into account of having rest areas, and I believe areas of lesser detail give more attention to your areas with detail.

For example, the stone part of the house that touches the water has just a flat color with some modeled stones, the same goes for the road and the water. I could have textured these and done fancy things with them, but due to having other exams, I had to prioritize my textures and details.

Texturing Workflow

For me, texturing was one of the keys to my stylization. I used in my texturing workflow:

  • Substance Designer
  • Substance Painter
  • Photoshop
  • ZBrush

I wanted to be consistent and fast, so the best option to do so was to make a trim texture. Planning was crucial, so I made a little blockout texture of where things were going to be. I sculpted the wood and stones in ZBrush together with other elements.

When something needed to be tiled, I used the wrap mode in the settings tab. I used some of the Orb brushes. Most things in the scene use this trim texture. I assigned colors to my objects so that when baking in Substance Painter, I could bake an ID mask and easily mask things out.

Every color is a mask. In Substance Painter, I gave the edges a lighter color and more smoothness in the roughness map, and I gave the crevices a darker color and more roughness.

By doing this, I make my sculpted detail pop. Besides that, I slightly hand-painted some parts.

The plaster, bricks, moss, and tiles were done in Substance Designer. They were imported as an SBAR into Unreal to make sure I could still change the textures immediately in the engine with the parameters I gave in Substance Designer to efficiently and quickly get the look I wanted.

If you want to know how to do that, I recommend watching this video from Adobe.


Once the moss and the tiles were done in Substance Designer, I pasted the moss in the file of the tiles and began setting up a mask for combining the two. I grabbed the AO from the tiles as the base of the mask.

I overlaid some blown-out clouds to give variation to the AO itself. Then I made general noise for the moss and blended this with the AO. Once that was done, I used the histogram scan to determine the amount of moss.

This node will remap the values of your grayscale image. I exposed the position of the histogram scan so I could use it in Unreal and change the amount of moss on the fly. After getting this material in Unreal, I made 3 different versions: lots of moss, a little bit of moss, and no moss.


I had a vertex paint setup that worked with the height of the material to blend between them. I also had this for the wall and the bricks. This allows you to paint different textures on your models. This does require having extra geometry on your mesh where you can paint.

If you want to know more about vertex painting, here is the tutorial I followed.


The main selling point of this material was the parallax occlusion mapping, which made it look like there was actual geometry. It is a bit more expensive than just a normal map, but I think it’s better than placing a lot of tiles by hand.

If you want this for yourself, here is the tutorial I followed for that.



The biggest challenge was the technical side of things. I only had a small year of experience with Unreal, so making materials in the material graph was something confusing and frustrating, but I learned so much and I now have a better understanding of Unreal.

I bet the next project things will go smoother and better.

Composition & Design

To assemble the final scene, I first focused on getting all the parts of the house in Unreal. I then proceeded to vertex paint the walls and roof to give the details and texture they needed.

The last touch to the house was placing unique things like doors, the cone on the roof, the modeled tiles at the edges, the stairs, and the front porch. Afterward, I would go on to the environment. I wanted to have more of a colder feel to the grass so that the sunlight on the house would pop, so I gave it a bit more of a bluish-green color.

I keep the lighting in mind when doing color changes. I never really changed the composition much since the blockout, and I found it already matched with the camera of Yvan, so I didn’t touch it that much anymore.

Personally, I’m a fan of a short field of view so my camera settings are mostly around 16-35. I also noticed that this came close to the perspective of the house.

When searching for new shots for the presentation, I looked for something dramatic. To create a more epic feel to shots, I let the camera look up. Everything looks more big and menacing when looking up.

I wanted my scene to feel very 2D, and I noticed that my clouds didn’t feel right. At first, I was going to sculpt them and have 3D clouds, but then I decided to paint them, and this gave inspiration to a sprite animation for the waterfall.

To help guide the eye of the viewer more, I made crates and pots that were scattered along the road to the house.



I loved doing the lighting and post-processing. It’s one of my stronger skills. I always spend multiple days on post-process and lighting because that is what is going to sell your piece, in my opinion.

The concept already had strong lighting to it, and I wanted to recreate the same vibe. I started by placing a whole wall in the background to give this big, crispy shadow over the whole building.

Then I just placed trees there and disabled cast shadows so that you would still get this nice shadow. I often disable cast shadows for some props to get better lighting results. I also did this for the lanterns because they were casting shadows that I didn’t want on the building.


I didn’t want anything else to be lit by the sunlight except for the building, so it would be clear that it was about that.
In the shadow, I used some lights to give more clarity and focus.


I tried out a lot of different post-processing before committing to the one I have in the final result.
I also tried to make a more yellow-black-and-white version with red lines, but in the end, I didn’t like it, so I did not publish it.


To achieve more of a 2D look, the outliner, RFX, shapes of models, and stylization of materials were key. At first, I wanted to do a black outline for everything. However, I remember getting told in a drawing tutorial that it is interesting to have colored line art for drawings.

I wanted to have some rules for this piece in terms of color and line art. The main subject gets a tinted white outline so that it would stand out against the sky and framing element but also stand out more in the shadow.

The rest of the objects get a colored outline that is either a bit lighter or darker and around the same hue as their own color. I achieved this outliner by following a tutorial by Evans Bouhl; he explained very well how this effect worked and is definitely a good one to follow.

I went into the custom depth part of this material and to add more than the 3 colors in the tutorial, I added more ‘if’ statements to it and made these color parameters.

You can add as many as you want, but I only needed a few.


The Rfx are all drawn in Photoshop and aimed to increase the feeling of 2D. There are in each of them drawing mistakes, especially in the clouds, which I think convinces the viewer of more of a drawing feel to the whole piece.

I also didn’t feel the need to texture everything since I wanted the principle of resting areas, and making this makes it also feel a bit more flat like a drawing. For example, the stone part is my textures and shape language is very stylized by itself, which does a lot of heavy lifting as well.

But combined with the Rfx and line art, it finishes it off. What helped was also adding a framing element to the final render, which happens a lot in drawing, and I think it also gave it a bit more of a painterly look.

One of the Rfx I’m really proud of is the smoke. It was pretty simple to make but really fun! I started with a cylinder with some geometry. I then made a texture, panned it in the Y direction, and added a faded gradient.

After that, I made strips of gradients and panned this also in the Y direction and plugged this into the world position offset to affect the geometry, making the waviness over time.

The flag was hand-animated in Maya. The waterfall consisted of the mesh itself, particles for the water splatter, and a sprite animation of when the water was landing. Over this surface, I just panned the texture I made for it.

The panner node became one of my favorites in this project. It’s a really powerful node and it’s funny what you can do with it if you combine it with deformed or tapered geometry.

For example, the ripples are just a squashed half-sphere. When working with the panner, I made the UV of the geometry always the full square.


Lessons Learned

One of the hard challenges was getting colors right when working with many saturated and vibrant colors. It is quite difficult to find harmony and make it feel easy on the eye. I often switched out a lot of colors.

Another challenge was keeping true to the concept while stylizing it in my own way. It’s definitely weird to look at the concept and then back at your own work and then work further on it in a different style.

I felt a lot of times it didn’t feel right, and that’s because it’s the same thing in a totally different jacket, and in this situation, you have to not get beaten down by that strange feeling.

It’s hard because you feel like you are not going in the right direction. The advice I would give to avoid this feeling for fellow artists who want to do the same thing is to have a clear vision of what your stylization will be and plan it out.

Planning is crucial in this, and I recommend not to neglect it. Have a clear vision and you will not be easily demotivated by that feeling and work faster.


Research and reference are very important! It will make sure you won’t stub your digital toe against difficulties in production. I learned that reading is also very handy. Normally, I research hard with videos, but this time, I also heavily implemented reading articles into my research, and that definitely helped and inspired me, so do not only watch videos but read articles as well.

Pretty funny because now I’m making one. Another tip is that when doing lighting, I highly recommend putting your work in black and white to check values. By doing so, you can increase the readability of your work.

Also, always be open to inspiration, advice, and feedback from everywhere. An open ear can give birth to great ideas and steps in your project, even if the person is not a 3D artist. Make sure you spend a lot of time on post-processing, presentation, and lighting because it will sell your piece.

You can model something really well, but if you don’t nail these three, you won’t be able to show off the work that you did.

Something I learned to motivate you is to update your scene often. If you make something or have a new version of your block out, put it already in there. Don’t leave it for the end.

It will put a smile on your face to see your project take steps and inspire you. Make often screenshots so you can look back at your previous steps. And having a good block out is crucial! Don’t think lightly about this.

With that, we have come to the end of this.

My deepest thanks to all the people giving me feedback, and thank you to my dear readers for visiting this article!

I hope you all enjoyed and learned something! Hope to see you maybe next time!

The questions in this article were formed by‘s Theodore McKenzie. And the article is being used with permission.