Art Spotlight: Abandoned Building Diorama

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Hi, I’m AnyaTheArtist and I’m an environment artist at Creative Assembly in  Horsham, UK. In my personal time I love to paint, and create 3D dioramas. I experiment with techniques, from fully handpainted to stylised ZBrush sculpting to PBR texturing. I especially enjoy working with colour and whimsical atmospheres in my pieces.

When starting a piece I always create a blockout straight away and put it in my 3D viewer to make sure the composition looks correct. I start in 3D, and using inspiring images I will then work over the blockout in Photoshop to create a concept I like.Then I start creating more finalised models in 3dsMax, sticking to the blockout I have created but also altering smaller aspects such as ivy that I may feel add to the scene. I will leave smaller props to last as they are unlikely to alter the overall scene composition.

I textured my props in 3D Coat using the Photoshop projection tools by having a UV’d model open in 3D Coat, and pressing Ctrl+Alt+P to open the view in Photoshop and paint the texture. Saving and going back into 3D Coat will update your edits for you. I then will finalise the textures by working fully in Photoshop. This method allows me to work very organically and flexibly, without having to worry so much about texture seams or UVing my model perfectly.

When texturing it’s important to keep within a mid value range, and keep transitions quite smooth. Never go to black and only reserve white for your lightest lights (facing upwards). Try to keep all your textures colourful- even shadows should not just be a darker, desaturated version of a colour. Keep it all colourful!On the topic of colour, I try to keep colours as consistent as possible. I will try to transition smoothly from colour to colour as I move across the diorama. I’ll use vertex colours or lighting or try to create colour variants of props so that as you move through the diorama, the colours may transition from pink to red to orange, and so on. It just leads the eye smoothly and avoids jarring the viewer. Adding little aspects of contrasting colour can be still be done though, and small variations in colour within a texture add nice variation (for example the algae texture above).Lighting a scene nicely is very important. The lighting should enhance your scene, not overwhelm it. I like to keep my lighting as bright as possible and avoid harsh shadows. My shadows are always quite light and tinted with a colour. Blue and purple are good choices for shadow colours, or perhaps green or yellow if near grass. Think about what colours are being bounced by the surrounding scenery. I like to use point lights to add tints of colour and to draw the eye to different areas. They also will create a nice dreamlike quality when use subtly.

Use lighter areas to draw the eye, framed by darker areas. High contrast of light and dark will especially draw the eye, so bear in mind how you are lighting areas, and additionally what value the textures of your props are.There is so much to consider when trying to create nice environment art, but a few other things I try to bear in mind as I work are:

  • Keep leading the eye into the scene, keep the scene flowing using clever positioning and shapes of props/lighting.
  • Avoid harsh normal maps, save normal mapped detail only for larger shapes and not for noisy details.
  • Try to keep textures as clean as possible. Avoid harsh, scribbly attempts at adding detail and instead try to simplify and smooth textures.
  • Keep details across the scene consistent. Don’t add tonnes of detailing to a tree bark texture only to leave practically no detail on the grass at the foot of the tree.
  • Pick a texel density and stick with it.
  • Consistency is key- consistent shape language, consistent colours, consistent detailing, consistent texel density, consistent lighting choices.

For me Sketchfab acts as a great supporting piece for my final work.. Though I do most of my work in UE4, I can use Sketchfab as the perfect supplement to my portfolio where people can view the textures, models and materials I have created up close. I think it’s important for people to learn from looking at other artists’ works, and Sketchfab is perfect for that.

I hope this brief overview of my work was interesting for you and will help with future projects!

I’m on Twitter and Artstation.  I also made a Youtube video recently about this piece:

Feel free to follow me or get in contact!

About the author

Anya Jo Elvidge

Environment Artist @ Creative Assembly

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