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Learn How to Make A Fantasy NPR Environment in UE5

Viktor Colpaert, a Junior Environment Artist at Airborn Studios, has shared a detailed breakdown of a gorgeous stylized fantasy environment made with Unreal Engine 5 and Blender, sharing useful texturing and rendering tips and tricks.

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Hi everyone! My name is Viktor Colpaert, and I'm a full-time 3D Environment Artist.

Since the last personal project I made, I've graduated and started working at Airborn Studios. As of now, I'm working on the environments for Overwatch 2, which is a dream come true as it's one of the few games that I still regularly play.

However, I started working on the Go Home environment project even before I got started at Airborn back in 2022, so it has come quite a long way.

Getting Started

I'd been wanting to make something that had a Ghibli-esque look to it for a while. Something that looked painterly and fantastical. When I came across the artwork "Go Home!" by Lok Du, it kind of clicked, I messaged him on ArtStation to let him know I wanted to translate his work into 3D, and then I got started.


I put the original concept into PureRef and overlaid it on top of my Unreal Engine project, this way, I was able to get the composition to be as aligned with the concept as possible. After that, I exported the level from Unreal, imported it to Blender, and used it as a general reference for a couple of the larger models and how to scale them. The large tree in the concept is one example of this. Exporting the level to an FBX:


All of the rocks in the scene were sculpted in Blender and textured in Substance 3D Painter, the same goes for all of the trees, small and big. I made the assets for the scene over a span of 2 years with a couple of long breaks in between. So, unfortunately, not all assets in the scene are created equally.

The building structures were made quite low poly and used only tileable and trim textures. For the man-made structures that were closer to the camera, I added some loose pieces to make their low poly mesh look a bit more detailed.

These additional pieces are mainly used to break up the silhouette of the mesh, working away the harsh edges. The loose pieces can sometimes be made using the already existing tileable texture.

This is how I made the loose roof-tile shingles. The bricks were textured uniquely, yet the tileable texture was unfortunately too busy to be applied this way. As a final touch, I added a decal texture under the roof overhang to fake some shading.


Texturing here mostly depended on what kind of model I was dealing with. For a lot of the structural assets, I made reusable tiling textures and trim sheets. The smaller plants, flowers, and grass were made with a single texture sheet each since their models weren't too complex. The textures for those meshes were all made in Substance 3D Designer.

For the larger organic models, I went with unique textures as this was more practical and allowed me more freedom with how I wanted them to look.

Some of the tileable and trim textures:

For the walls and bridge, I mainly used one brick texture. I made a detailed tileable for it in Substance 3D Designer and then enhanced it in Unreal Engine with Parallax Occlusion to give it some more detail.

Parallax Occlusion material for the bricks and the parent material used for the roof tiles:

Some of behind-the-scenes shots:

Assembling the Scene

I assembled the final scene with a lot of back and forth and lots of feedback in between. A lot of time I went into changing up the scale of certain meshes and placing lots of fog planes to separate back and foreground, as well as working on the clouds.

The clouds in the scene are based on this great tutorial by Tyler Smith. It allows for a lot of customization, still letting you create clouds in a more stylized manner. Overall, it's great for clouds with a more painterly look.

The characters were modeled by Steffen Unger. The sheep was animated with marketplace assets, but for the shepherd, I used a Mixamo animation and changed the pose a little bit. The animation is not super visible in the scene but still adds a lot of life to it.

After that, I worked on an Outline Shader to make the characters aligned with their concept. For this, I mainly followed the tutorial of Evans Bohl:


For the lighting, I used mostly Movable Lights. I have two Directional Lights set up, one high-intensity light with an orange-yellowish hue and another low-intensity light with a blue tone. The Sky Light has an intensity of 1 and a yellow hue, the scene is pretty evenly lit in the concept. The Exponential Height Fog has a blue color, a higher density, and a lower falloff.

I mostly wanted the fog to be in the back and affect only the large windmill and giant trees, so I set its starting distance quite far. I also placed a ton of other Point, Rect, and Spot Lights to achieve a look that stays close to the concept, or just to make the models look more appealing. A lot of these lights were in the foreground, and a couple of them were in the background.

Post-processing was used to disable Auto Exposure and to up the saturation a little.

Here are my lightning settings: first Directional Light, second Directional Light, and Exponential Height Fog.

Unaltered scene:

Without additional lights (Point, Rect, and Spot Lights):

Without Sky Light:


I think the biggest challenge to me on this project was its scale. I took multiple long breaks from working on it, and by the end, I felt like some of the early assets didn't hold up that well anymore. But all in all, I'm really happy with the end result.

Next time, I think I'll put a bit more time into thinking about how to tackle a project before starting and consider making a smaller environment. I still had a lot of fun working on it, getting lots of feedback from friends and coworkers motivated me a ton. And now, I'm just super glad I finished what could have otherwise been a discarded WIP.

Viktor Colpaert, 3D Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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