Ray Rivera, alumnus of Environment Artist Bootcamp

Meet Ray Rivera

My name is Ray Rivera, I’m a digital designer from New Jersey, USA. I graduated from Bloomfield College in 2008 with a degree in Multimedia and Game Design.

I’ve worked in the media production industry for over 10 years focusing on design for print, web, broadcast and mobile apps. In 2015 I founded a Meetup.com group called Art and Tech Collective where I organized events at my local college focused on VR and Game Development. While organizing meetup events, I began working with digital art students from local high schools and colleges which led me to start a student mentoring program.

Later that year I began learning MODO 3D and experimenting with 360 motion graphic videos for VR with the goal of creating virtual reality worlds from start to completion.

Currently I continue to freelance full time as a digital designer while mentoring students and constantly expanding my knowledge in 3D art.

Experience At GAI

I initially began researching online programs and bootcamps to recommend to students and grew interested in joining them myself. With a full plate of freelance work and a growing family, time was an issue. Many programs recommended either too much time or were too expensive, but Game Art Institute offered bootcamps and classes that were much more affordable, manageable and fit my schedule. 

I joined GAI to learn the proper workflows and pipelines for game art production and ultimately grow as a 3D artist. Joining GAI was one of the best decisions I have made in a long time. From day one it was nothing but inspiring and motivational. Each session was a learning experience through critiques of my work and the works of my peers. In the game prop design part of the bootcamp, each student worked on their own prop from start to completion, each of us worked on a different prop which introduced many unique obstacles. We all learned how to overcome these obstacles together as a class which was a great experience. 

What I found most valuable was how focused I became after joining the Bootcamp. Constantly implementing changes from our critique sessions and pushing myself beyond my comfort zone became almost game-like as I continuously tried to hit my weekly project goals.


Project: Bioshock fan art

Deciding to work on a Bioshock environment was something that occurred while brainstorming 1950’s lounge environments to place my Gumball machine game prop into. The idea began as a 1950s candy shop, shifted to an art deco lounge which then became an art deco bar and lounge. The idea for a BioShock themed environment become final once I began coming across reference material from the game.

My focus for this project was to create a complete, almost air-tight environment suitable for a VR experience and to immerse the player in a unique part of the BioShock universe.

bubble gum machine

My motivation was to successfully tap into the nostalgia of BioShock fans by creating a highly polished environment pushing the limits of Unreal Engine. Being the first environment I’ve ever created, every element of this project was a challenge.

My goal from the start was to better understand the overall design process, step by step, from start to completion.


Mastery is not magic. It’s process.

Evolution #1: High Res

I began by blocking out the scene in MODO around the first Bioshock game’s aesthetic but pivoted toward the look of BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea which introduced the city of Rapture when it was at its prime. I really liked the look and feel of this version and decided to completely redesign my props to fit this new idea.

I established scale for my bar using diagrams I found online of standard bar settings. I blocked out the scene and began adding Bioshock themed elements such as neon signs and carried over a lot of the aesthetics such as the color of the walls, the marble floor designs, aluminum trimming, and hanging light fixtures.


Evolution #2: Low Res

I established scale for my bar using diagrams I found online of standard bar settings. I blocked out the scene and began adding Bioshock themed elements such as neon signs and carried over a lot of the aesthetics such as the color of the walls, the marble floor designs, aluminum trimming, and hanging light fixtures.

Scale Ref

Evolution #3: UV + Baking

I used the standard high to low poly workflow. All my modeling, UVing and Vertex Normals were created in MODO. I then setup Substance Painter projects utilizing their default Unreal Engine 4 template. I baked all my texture maps in Painter, built my materials and exported them using the Unreal Engine 4 (Packed) Config. Setting everything to Unreal Engine presets made working between the two seamless and predictable.

Hypo Breakdown

Evolution #4: Texturing

I approached building textures the way they would exist in the real-world utilizing substance source materials combined with default materials. As I textured assets, I created custom Smart Materials whenever possible which allowed me to build a library that helped keep a cohesive look across the entire environment.

I built the reflective textures in substance using its default Aluminum Pure material as a foundation with lite surface dirt layers. I paid a lot of attention to roughness and color values as recommended by my mentor Simon Fuchs. This approach allowed me to capture a good balance between pristine clean and rapture dirt and grungy.

Trim BreakDown



Ray demonstrates the proceses he goes through to take a single prop from modeling in MODO, texturing in Substance, and the Unreal Enging game engine.



Evolution #5: Engine Setup

One major step in my process was setting up the vertex blending material for my walls and pillars. I went through many iterations where I completely repainted all my vertex blends in UE4, each time dialing it back a bit until I got the look I was going for.

The lighting was one element that I always adjusted on the go, adjustments to cone angles, attenuation radius, shadow bias and contact shadow length. The scene is lit by a mix of Static, Stationary and Movable lighting. A lot of attention was given to volumetric fog and post-processing volume settings, specifically Ambient Occlusion and Screen Space Reflection.  Another major part of my lighting process was adjusting the Lightmap resolution of each prop individually. The results were much higher quality shadow bakes from static and stationary lights.



When it comes to lighting, don’t be afraid to experiment and iterate as much as possible. Accept happy mistakes and take some time to learn new techniques from other artists online.

Review YouTube videos and even unreal projects from the marketplace to pick up little tips and tricks as much as possible. Doing so will only help you push aspects of your project to a whole other level.

Whenever you become stuck and frustrated during your project, take some time to visit the many online communities and forums for help. Chances are that others have also had similar issues and have figured out some solutions. Unreal Engine Forums is a great first place to look because of its very active community.


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Ray Rivera