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Ruins in the Forest: Assembling a Scene in UE4

Anastasia Novikova talked about the production of her UE4 level Ruins in the Forest made with the help of game-ready assets from the marketplace.


Hi everyone! My name’s Anastasia Novikova and I’m an environment and prop artist. This year I'm graduating from Scream School.

I knew I wanted to create video games since high school because designing my own worlds was so inspiring! But it was hard to choose a particular field in gamedev so I decided to get a strong base first and studied programming and 3D for engineers at Moscow Aviation Institute. Trying this and that, I realized that 3D environment art could be the perfect combination of using tech skills and being some sort of demiurge. 

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Ruins in the Forest: Idea

My Ruins in the Forest project was the first level art coursework during my studies at Scream School. We had to find references, create a level layout, and make a playable scene in UE4 using game-ready assets. 

The key object of my project is the ruins beside a cliff, so Dwarven cities and Mayan temples were the main reference. I also wanted to add another time layer to show that on the ruins of one civilization a new one is thriving. That’s how I came up with the torches, an altar with a portal, a pier, and other things.

I used PureRef to organize the reference list conveniently.

Starting the Scene 

First of all, after setting up the references, I drew a rough level map. The map displayed the main points of interest, the starting point, and the path which I wanted the player to take. I decided to set the starting point on a hill from which the ruins would be visible to direct the player to the right path.

Next, the blockout stage. This is an important step because it allows you to define a layout, build a composition, see if there are any issues, and edit the scene quickly at the very beginning. I like to set the base light while working with the blockout. It should be just the base bright light, not sunset or night because you won’t notice a lot of mistakes with little light. Once the scene is ready, I go back to the light settings to bring it to its final look.


The landscape was created using basic UE4 tools. Firstly, I set the base shape and then added some finer details so that the ground didn't look too smooth. I painted the terrain with three tessellated materials (stones, pebbles, and soil) to add some variety.

And water. Creating realistic looking water is always a headache. I took a shader from the marketplace as a base and edited it by changing the colors and adding Depth Fade to get a softer and more realistic edge between the terrain and the water.

Combining Pre-Made Assets

The choice of assets was limited, we only had a few different packages. I used the ruin assets from one of them, vegetation and stones from another, and small props from the third one. You can always use different assets in one scene, combine them, and create complex constructions, but you need to make sure all assets look good together. It is necessary to match the colors, achieve the right texel density for every object, so that nothing looks low-res, odd, or super-contrasting.

Scene Assembly

After the blockout was ready, I started placing the assets, trying to adhere to the main composition and adding more detail. I created some complex props using the simple ones I found. For example, torches were assembled from sticks, ropes, and fire particles.

The ruins were also assembled literally brick by brick. I built them intact and began to destroy them after that. It helped to remember that the destroyed parts could not just disappear, they must fall somewhere.

Working with the vegetation, I always use references from nature to achieve a realistic result. It’s important because you might think that you remember something very well, but try to draw a bicycle from memory and it won't be so easy! I tried to make local compositions of trees, bushes, and stones of different sizes, alternating various types of plants to show the diversified forest flora. I also placed some vegetation on the ruins in order to make it look ancient and abandoned.

I added decals (puddles, mud, and moss) to achieve a dense look and add some glossy details.

I also made some blueprints to make the scene more lively, so you can see a boat swaying on the water and a crow flying away when the player approaches.

Lighting and Post-Process

After the scene was ready, I started setting up different lighting scenarios in the engine. I set the light, selected the HDRI Cubemap for the sky, added some fog. After the light was almost ready, I tweaked the Lookup Table in Photoshop and added it to the post process.

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Particles and Portal

As for the particles, I took some of them from the pack from the marketplace and edited them a little to better suit my needs. The portal was made from scratch. I made texture maps for the main portal frame in Photoshop and added UV moving, glow, and refraction in the shader. Then I added some dot and haze particles and the portal was ready.


I also added ambient sounds of forest, water, and “magic sounds” of the portal. Such sounds should not be intrusive or they might annoy the player but the environment doesn't seem so lively without them.

Anastasia Novikova, Environment/Prop Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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Comments 1

  • Goda Satish

    Thank you sharing your workflow and the necessary details. Looks immersive and breathtaking.


    Goda Satish

    ·3 years ago·

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