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Designing Animations & VFX For a 3D Space Capsule Cockpit Scene

Yuko Hwang has shared a detailed breakdown explaining how to create a detailed space capsule cockpit, discussing how holograms were made, and detailing the use of Tiling Materials.


Hi! My name is Yu Harn (Yuko) Hwang. I’m a 3D Artist from Gnomon School of Visual Effects, where I recently graduated with a BFA degree. My 3D journey began when I was in college in Taiwan, where I was first exposed to basic 3D animation and modeling.

When I finished my initial degree in design, I found that I wanted to further polish my 3D skills to an industry professional level at Gnomon. During my time at Gnomon, I realized my passion for modeling and texturing characters, environments, and props. I created this environment, Space Capsule Cockpit, as my final demo reel project to show my passion for sci-fi art.

Unreal Engine 5 

I used Unreal Engine 5 for the first time during my Game Creation 1 class at Gnomon, where I created this Laundromat Environment. Creating this project in Unreal was such a rewarding experience, and from that point on, I knew I would be using it for all of my future projects. 

One of the biggest advantages of using Unreal Engine for building these environments is how quickly and interactively I can get a project looking good. I’m able to drop in a single light into the scene and move it around, getting real-time results — allowing me to iterate quicker and finesse a scene’s lighting more efficiently. Lumen has also been an incredibly helpful tool because it gives access to real-time indirect lighting and reflections, which helps immensely with the photorealism of my scenes.  

Collecting References 

To begin this project, I started by collecting references related to sci-fi art. I searched for real-life spaceship environments on Google and NASA, as they provide good references for the interior of spaceships. In addition to the concept I was working from, I was also inspired by designs from movies, such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Alien, and Star Wars. 

For one of the main props, the control panel, I specifically searched for reference images of spaceship interiors with multiple control panels. I focused on finding detailed panels with words and data information displayed. Although the main camera shot wouldn’t capture many details, I felt that creating the major props with great attention to detail would make the environment more convincing. I followed the same approach for my other computer props. 

The Original Concept is by Red Hong:

When starting the 3D portion of this project, I began with a simple geometry blockout and initial camera placement in Unreal Engine. Once all the main forms were represented by basic primitives, I further established the composition by removing the default lighting and blocking out the basic lighting setup.

From my perspective, the concept art provided a good angle to showcase the detail of the control panel. Once the initial block-out was complete, I adjusted the perspective slightly to establish a foreground with the control chair.  

After completing the block out in Unreal Engine 5, I exported the entire model to Maya. Then, I placed all the block-out geometries in a layer and set it to transparent wireframe mode. This allowed me to mark down the location of each prop. From there, I was able to begin modeling individual assets.  

Final modeling in Maya:

Space capsule cockpit process:

Asset Creation Workflow

The majority of my assets consist of hard surfaces. I utilize Maya to model props and tiling geometries. However, I decided to make the chair in ZBrush as a means of practicing hard surface modeling in that software. While some of my assets, like walls and pillars, are modular kits, I also find designing different props to be an enjoyable aspect of creating environments.

The control panel was the trickiest prop to make. The goal for this is to make it look like a complex and realistic spaceship control panel. Starting from the base geometry shape on the control panel, I kept it as simple as possible, with the intention of adding additional detail in Substance 3D Painter. Due to time limitations, I didn’t have much time to model each button, so I used the SpaceshipKit A1 - Modeling Kit by Malte Ullrich.

This KitBash tool helped a lot in designing the control panel so that each button looks unique. However, because I wanted to create high-resolution textures for these assets, I ended up having several different UV Maps for each prop. 

To customize other assets, I began with the basic geometry and then incorporated additional details for the design. For creating the intricate button model for each asset, I utilized KitBash once again to save time and swiftly proceed to the texturing stage. Working efficiently and adhering to the planned schedule is vital in the game environment creation process. 

Texturing Props 

Before starting to texture props, I always adjust the settings in Substance 3D Painter. The default color space in Substance 3D Painter is not compatible with Unreal Engine. Therefore, I navigate to the display settings and enable Activate Color Profile. Additionally, I import the ACES LUT from Brian Leleux. To enhance the visuals, I also enable Activate Post Effect. For more details on this topic, you can refer to William Faucher’s tutorial.

Props in Substance 3D Painter 

Some prop textures are quite simple when going from Substance 3D Painter to Unreal Engine. My props have three main colors: military green, mechanic grey, and dark metal. I prefer to begin by assigning a base material preset (such as metal) and then incorporating details such as dirt, leaks, and rust.

Certain computer props are manually decorated and have an additional height layer to enhance details like surface scratches or damage. If any modifications are required, I utilize building materials in Unreal Engine and configure various parameters. 

Texturing Control Panel in Substance 3D Painter:

RGB Texture Props 

For extra control over textures on the props, I set up RGB texture for some of them, like the PC case. I highly recommend watching Dominique Buttiens tutorial in Gnomon Workshop on how to set up RGB material from Substance 3D Painter to Unreal Engine. 

This technique involves creating a multi-use texture in which the red, green, and blue channels are utilized for different utility maps or masks. In my case, it was usually as follows: 

R = Ambient Occlusion 
G = Dust 
B = Rust 

These RGB channels were then incorporated into my shaders, where I would use them to blend between different Megascans textures. This gave me additional control and allowed me to further customize my props and environment through their shaders.  

RGB Texture Master Material:

Tiling Materials 

Making tiling materials is one of the challenging parts of this project. Overall, I designed three tiling materials for the environment. 

For my first attempt, I aimed to create a spaceship wall similar to the one in Javier Perez’s material artwork. To achieve this, I not only tried to mimic his art style but also gathered real-life spaceship interior references to create my own version. The process began with sculpting a single square in ZBrush and then exporting it as a Height Map into Substance 3D Designer. 

I encountered difficulties with the cables, but fortunately, I discovered a helpful tutorial called Designer Quicktip 24 Cables And Pipes that demonstrated the cable node in Designer, making it surprisingly easy to implement. 

Spaceship Wall in Substance 3D Designer:

After finishing the creation of all the tiling materials, I imported them into Unreal Engine to verify if the textures matched the scene. Fortunately, there were no significant issues at this stage that required going back to the Designer.

Next, I proceeded to build the master material, which allowed me to add parameters for adjusting color, roughness, and height. To aid me in building the master material, I referred to Advanced Material Blending in UE5 | Cairo Goodbrand and combined it with the Normal Intensity created in the material function. 

Tiling Master Material Overview:

One piece of feedback I received regarding the texturing process was that the wall tiling appeared excessive, so, I reduced the tiling amount to better resemble a real-life spaceship wall.

Assemble the Scene and Approach Composition 

In the original concept art, the colors were presented effectively, and the drawings were very detailed. Therefore, I followed the same color layout for my composition. However, as I made progress on the environment, I realized that the main camera shot could be more visually appealing.

My first instinct was to adjust the camera height to align with the human line of sight. Furthermore, a well-crafted environment includes a foreground, midground, and background; therefore, to enhance the foreground, something should be added to the environment.

I began arranging Megascans in the foreground, utilizing simple assets that were not overly complex in order to not draw attention away from the computer set. 

By implementing these changes, the overall look conveyed a stronger storytelling element and ended up more compelling.


Lighting is an enjoyable aspect of creating this sci-fi scene. Rectangle lights are predominantly used as light sources. I positioned the first main light to originate from the window and directed it downwards towards the computer set.

Additionally, I placed secondary lights on the left and right sides of the computer set to enhance the shape of the control panel. Apart from the primary key point lights that illuminate the environment, I incorporated a few rim lights behind certain props to generate focused specular reflections on specific objects. 

Screen Animation

In the references board, I searched for a Cyberpunk environment to use as inspiration. My plan is to create an environment with a dominant green color scheme, which I can achieve by incorporating a computer screen. I discovered some HUD animations that are free from copyright restrictions, which I can use. I combined these HUD animations with HUD elements to create a HUD similar to the concept art. 

To enhance the effect, I applied a self-illumination material to the imported HUD animations. However, it is important to exercise caution and avoid overexposing the self-illumination light, as it may divert attention from the focal point of the environment. 

Easy Fog 

I am using the exponential height fog to create a denser lighting effect for the spaceship. My next goal is to increase the visibility of the fog. I would like to express my gratitude to my instructor, Miguel Ortega, for introducing me to a tool called Easy Fog from the Unreal Engine marketplace.

To achieve this, I will place fog cards in front of the control panel and on both the right and left sides. Once the fog cards are in place, the entire environment will have a machine steam effect.

Dirt on the Camera 

I also learned about the Dirt Lens during this project, which creates a lens with a touch effect. The setting can be found in the camera settings, specifically under the Dirt Mask. To activate the effect, turn on the Dirt Mask Texture and select any texture.

For the main shot, I chose the Screen Dirt 02 Texture. This adds the dirt effect to the camera. Finally, I increased the dirt intensity to enhance the dirt appearance on the lens.

Post-production in Unreal Engine 

This is the final step to give the entire scene a cinematic look. Unreal Engine is an incredible 3D software that empowers artists to accomplish anything for their art. However, in this particular case, I only need to make slight adjustments to the contrast and gamma. There is one final element that I couldn’t achieve in Unreal Engine. You will witness the final magic unfold when I transition to Nuke. But before that, let’s first render this beautiful scene. 

Rendering Settings

I followed William Fauncher’s render setting tutorials. His methods show how to prepare your render for Nuke:

To have control of the render pass, I used these post-process materials in deferred render: MoovieRenderQueue_WorldDepth, MoovieRenderQueue_MotionVectors, SceneDepth, WorldNormal, AmbientOcclusion, Anisotropy, PostTonemapHDRColor, SubsurfaceColor, BaseColor, SceneColor, and Metallic.

Post-Production in Nuke 

Before rendering out each shot, I received feedback regarding the glass. My demo reel instructor, Miguel Ortega, mentioned that the window in the scene was not clearly visible and needed more information. To address this, I used Nuke to add a reflection to the window. I utilized a node called Frame Hold to freeze a single frame from the EXR file or simply drag one frame into Nuke. Both methods achieved the same result. 

Once the frame was selected, I used roto to create a mask for the window area. I then transformed it to generate a mirror-like reflection on the glass. 

Although I performed post-processing in Unreal Engine, I wanted to further enhance the color balance and contrast. Using roto once again, I reduced any overly bright areas. As a final touch, I added a slightly hazy light by applying the glow node to blur the overall light three times.  

Nuke overview:


Button Animation 

Animation is a magical tool that brings environments to life. The goal is to animate the flickering light button on the control panel. Starting with building the flickering light material in Unreal Engine, it is important to work efficiently and plan effectively when creating environments.

Instead of animating each button individually using the movie sequencer, I sought assistance from my friend, Nixon Poon, a Game Environment/Tech artist. He demonstrated how to use Mesh Painting on the button, applying different shades of white, grey, and black to each one. It is crucial to fully paint each button, as incomplete painting will result in a gradient movement during the animation. 

To adjust the animation and speed for other animations on the control panel, such as the slider and scroller, make changes in the movie sequencer. This is because there are only several meshes involved. 

Flickering Lighting Material:


Even though I’m not a tech artist, I find the hologram process fascinating and it sparks my interest in Technical Art. 

To design the global hologram, I divide it into 3 layers: inner, middle, and outer layers. The inner layer follows Dean Ashford’s tutorial. However, I use a different approach for the middle and outer layers. 

After completing this hologram, I feel like a spaceship scientist in a spaceship. I am definitely intrigued to explore more about Unreal tech art. It’s like adding a cherry on top of the cake when creating the game environment. 

Material Color and Signal:

Material UV map ( used the UV map that exported from Maya ) and world position offset:

For the other hologram, I downloaded the spaceship model. However, this time I took a different approach. I created a new hologram material and added a signal line animation to it. As for the blueprint, it’s not my area of expertise.

To assist me with building the blueprint, I enlisted the help of my friend Phung Tran, who is a Game VFX artist. Together, we developed a blueprint capable of generating a sparkling effect around the hologram. 

Hologram material for spaceship modeling:

Other hologram blueprint:

Camera Shaking

Initially, my plan for the opening shot was to have the main camera zoom in closely to the computer set. However, during the demo reel class, feedback was given to add camera shaking in order to create a slow-walking entrance vibe for the character.

I recalled that William Faucher had a tutorial on camera shaking, which served as a helpful example for me to learn this new technique. To achieve the walking effect, I experimented with the camera-shaking blueprint, adjusting it to have a slow and subtle up-and-down motion. 

Main shot camera shaking setting:


For my final project during the last term at Gnomon, it took me about 4 months to complete. Throughout the entire process, I sought feedback from my instructor and friends to continually improve the environment. I had to make adjustments and fix errors, which extended the project timeline.

I would like to express my gratitude to my instructors Miguel Ortega, Anton Napierala, and Javier Perez, as well as my friends Grayson Cotrell, Dakota Smith, Nixon Poon, and Phung Tran for their valuable advice and support.

This was my first attempt at creating a sci-fi environment, so I encountered several challenges along the way. Two particularly difficult aspects were creating a wall tiling material and achieving a balanced color composition. Online tutorials proved to be a helpful resource for self-learning and problem-solving. Below, I have listed the tutorials that I found most useful for creating a sci-fi environment. 

To wrap things up, I would like to say that I am very happy to see the result of the environment and to conclude my journey at Gnomon. It was an honor to share my breakdown of the Space Capsule Cockpit environment for 80 Level. If you have any questions about this project, feel free to reach out to me on ArtStation, LinkedIn, website, or email me at yellofishcg22@gmail.com.

Yuko Hwang, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie


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