Meet Mariia Kovalenko

I’m Mariia Kovalenko and I took the Environment Artist Bootcamp at GAI.  Currently, I’m working as a 3D Artist on a contract in Kyiv, Ukraine.  I spent nearly all of my life in Ukraine but, after graduation from my Bachelors, I moved to Poland to get a Masters in Graphics Design.  Later, I decided to move forward; it was too easy just making marketing materials for clients’ needs.  I went to Canada to extend my 2D skills to 3D.  It was such a pleasure to understand that it’s all I’ve wanted since childhood.

Experience At GAI

At GAI, I get the thing that is most valuable for me personally.  It’s critiques, which are not always fun and which I’m not always fond of.  I also learned the importance of process.  Almost all my life, I thought that every person has his own view and that those views were subjective, so my works may not be completely accepted by some people.  However, the critiques I received through the Bootcamp from my mentors and the GAI community helped me to level up my skill and also understand that appreciation comes from recognizability.  During the class, I understood that, if I follow guidance and put in the proper effort, the result of the final work will be stunning.


Project: Forbidden Temple

Firstly, I was a big fan of the Prince of Persia, Lara Croft, Indiana Jones universe since I was a child.  The first time I saw Assassin’s Creed, I was super impressed.  My friends gave me a PS4 Uncharted Edition on my birthday and I spent almost 150 hours just looking at things.

Secondly, a huge impact on my decision to make something like an underground, watery temple was my passion for old Aztec, Khmer and Nordic architecture.  I just googled some concept art for Lara Croft and Uncharted, which directed me to my temple.  (To my regret, I’m not able to find the author of this amazing art).



Mastery is not magic. It’s process.

Evolution #1: High Res

After a long process deciding whether I should learn Houdini to make stones, or whether I just need to follow the traditional way of doing things, I decided to whitebox stuff in 3ds Max and then sculpt it in ZBrush.


Evolution #2: Low Res

After sculpting all the stuff I needed in ZBrush, I decided not to retopo it manually, but to use ZRemesher, Decimation Master where needed and Dynamesh.  Also, I didn’t want to lose those fancy little details, so I decided that I can spent more polygons here and make back ornament as an alpha in Substance later.


Evolution #3: UV + Baking

As I had so much stuff, I UV’ed everything piece by piece in 3ds Max.  And in some of my parts, I used two or more UV maps to achieve the highest quality I could.  One important thing I learned from Ryan is, “You work for the portfolio, not for the game.  You need to grab attention and later, you can talk about topology and making it run in the engine.”


Evolution #4: Texturing

I decided to bake in Marmoset and then to work with just Substance Painter.  I baked and textured in Painter by using the option in normal bake “By mesh name” and, as I used different UV maps for each piece in my prop, I was able to texture them separately from the whole mesh.  I started making a stone concrete look material in Substance Designer, which I exported to Painter and used on many pieces of my environment with some tweaks and by adding some details to them.  Also, if we talk about texturing, it’s a good idea to use a Quixel Mixer, where you can import your textures from Substance Designer and improve their look, which helped me in some stages.


Evolution #5: Engine Setup

As an Engine, I worked in Unreal 4.22 where I placed all my assets.  It was complicated because it was the first time I made water and blueprints with particle effects.  Lighting setup took me about 4 to 7 days because, when you make an environment with this look, you need to understand which parts of the scene should be darker, and which should not.  Also, I spent almost 2 days to learn more about composition and light maps, which helped me to achieve that finished look.  I used a foliage tool in Unreal to place my stones around some ferns and flowers.  Ivies were done in Photoshop as atlases and then I placed them as cards into the scene.  I’ve also made a couple of LUT’s, which helped me to make color correction directly in engine without using Photoshop after render.



The biggest challenge for me was to be on time, so I could receive as much feedback as I could to achieve a perfect result.  Don’t hesitate to ask for advice everywhere.  Other people will look at the object in a different way than you, so they will be able to see what you did not notice.

Also, try to study everything everywhere.  I never thought that lighting for photography would help me, but it did.  Also, what specifically helped me was watching how others did something which could be applied to my scene.

Learning is a growth.


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