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Making a Cozy Outdoor Cafe Environment in Maya, Substance 3D & UE5

Ronaldo Loiseau shared the modeling and texturing workflows behind the Le P'tit Coin Café project, explained how the environment was lit and rendered, and told us how Vertex School's mentors helped him complete the project.


Hello there! My name is Ronaldo Loiseau, I live in Montreal, Canada, and I am a current student at Vertex School. I love all that is fantasy and post-apocalyptic. Since I was a kid, I've always known that I wanted to be an artist because I was always drawing, and I loved everything colorful and desaturated with a lot of contrast.

What would really give me a love for 3D was the TV show Beware the Batman. I went to college to get my first attempt at 3D art. At first, I fell in love with modeling and texturing, and I wanted to be a Prop Artist. In pursuit of my dream career, I got a bachelor's degree at UQAC-NAD.

I participated in a lot of cool projects at school while studying to learn the workflows and the pipelines of game creation. I worked on a stylized minigame inspired by deforestation – The Fading Forest – as a Prop, Vegetation, and Environment Artist. I also worked on Thalassophobia, a cinematic inspired by Lovecraft, as a Prop and Environment Artist.

Joining Vertex School

I was originally interested in prop modeling but after creating environment assets I grew a strong passion and interest for creating environments. After graduating from UQAC-NAD I watched a lot of tutorials to further develop my skills. I even did some matte painting to get a good understanding of composition. It was then that I discovered Vertex School, which was a perfect fit for me since it gives the option to focus on environment art with mentorship from AAA artists. This aspect of the program has helped me progress a lot and has taught me tons of tips on achieving AAA quality. 

The mentors at Vertex School are good mentors who care about you and make sure that you are not alone when creating your capstone project. A special shout out to my mentors Paul Layton and Kem Yaralioglu who helped me understand the Master Material. Ben Merrick and Salvador Sanchez with their amazing labs that have taught me so much, and my principal mentor whom I have followed since Term 1, Mohamed Elbouhy.

The P'tit Coin Café Project

Since I have done a lot of fantasy projects in the past, I wanted to go out of my comfort zone and do something that is more realistic, so I thought about a street corner cafe inspired by The Little Owl restaurant in New York. The decision to create such a location helped me a lot because I could go on Google Maps and have a better view of the street for references.

Blockout, Modeling, and Modularity

First, I break down the scene with color to know how I am going to separate all the pieces and the textures that I'm going to use, which is a big part of this project. I started the blockout in Maya with the modular workflow with 2x2M for the walls, with a texture resolution of 2048 for a texture density of 1024 px/cm. My mentor Mohamed Elbouhy explained to me very well how it works in modularity workflow.

After the breakdown, I started building the scene in Unreal Engine with stage one modeling. Most of the unique assets were simple, I do not go with the regular workflow (high and low poly), I use the mid poly technique instead, which buys me time by having more complex shapes without going through the high poly baking process.

The Texturing Process and the Master Material

As for the textures, I already know that I need three kinds of textures: a trim sheet, tileable and unique. My first move is to use Substance 3D Designer for the tileable textures since I have already known that I was going to use it with vertex paint and that I would break them with a base, destruction, and dirt, and do a tarmac material for the street, the concretes, the wood for the doors.

For the bricks, I use Substance 3D Sampler which allows me to save some time, but I had to go back to Designer to play with the Height Map because I wanted to use it in my Parallax Occlusion Mapping later in my master shader to pump out the bricks.

For the tarmac, I have the base asphalt, the cracked for the destruction of the street, and the lined. Still keeping my base tarmac as my main texture, I use the lines (the street cross) as decals modified in Photoshop for the alphas.

The trim sheet is quite simple since I do it in ZBrush, when I sculpt all the trim and the atlas, I separate all the parts with a slot material ID, and I texture it in Substance 3D Painter.

I use Unreal Engine 5 for this project and I know that I can’t use the tesselation as texture, so I opted for the Parallax Occlusion Mapping for the street, the sidewalk, and the bricks. In my master shader, I use vertex blending for the cracks and dirt to give the environment history and personality, I also use some decals from Megascans.

I was also introduced to The Material Function, which I found to be a game-changer in the creation of Master Material. I was lacking in the Master Shader creation before doing this project, but my mentor at Vertex School Kem Yaralioglu has a great tutorial series on ArtStation where he breaks it down for beginners. I also make a Master Shader for my decals with the POM.


All the flowers and grass are assets from Quixel Megascans, I only do the trees. I use SpeedTree to make my trees, and since it is a procedural workflow, I can have several iterations and save time.

As for the branches, I make a cluster that I would use later in my tree with the leaf cards. I use Megascans for the textures. I also use Niagara to make particles of falling leaves.

Lighting and Composition

Lighting is quite challenging, I go for a night scene and use Lumen and Movable Light, so I don’t need to bake it. At first, for the blocking light, I use a SkySphere, at phase 2, and HDRIBackDrop for the environment with a camera projection. The windows and the interior of the restaurant are also a big part of the scene.

For the windows, I use a bump offset on my Base Color for the interior, and generate an emissive with the Power Node that I can control with a parameter. I also make a Blueprint actor with the mesh of my window that I can replace easily because I use a simple box mesh to receive the texture of the interior. I use the same technique for all of my different windows and the interior of the restaurant.


My principal mentor for Term 2 at Vertex School, Mohamed Elbouhy, helped me a lot in this project. He was patient with me at the beginning and made sure that I understood the modularity workflow before I jumped into the project. He also helped me to get a strong understanding of composition by introducing me to other artists' work.

There is also the Lab with Ben Merrick and Salvador Sanchez, who are always there to help and teach me new tricks, especially with the lighting part. It was my first time using Lumen and they explained it to me very well. I’ve seen so much progress in my work since joining the Game Art Program at Vertex School and I am more confident now as I grow as an artist. My overall experience here at Vertex School has been awesome, thanks to the great people I’ve met here.

If I were to give advice to any aspiring 3D artists like myself I would say, don’t hesitate to ask for help or follow mentorship. Build connections with seniors, they’re the best people to help you improve your skills (from my experience so far, the mentors at Vertex School are very passionate about mentoring future generations). Always keep in touch with classmates and be an artist that they can count on (you may end up being colleagues later on, and they may refer you to available positions at their jobs). All in all, put yourself in an environment that will help you grow as a person and as an artist. 

I hope you enjoyed reading this article and I wish you to be the best artist you can be!

Loiseau Ronaldo, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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