Captains Cabin

For my third project I wanted to do something different, as all my other projects this year had so far been vehicles. I decided on making the pirates cabin, as it was an interior environment. This looked like a good project, full of small prop work and narrative story telling opportunities and also the subject matter was quite different from my other projects. This would also be useful as I was beginning to think of Final Major Project ideas, one of which was the interior of a spaceship. I had advice from a tutor about using these projects to build useful skills for the FMP.

I jumped into the project with a mind to make something slightly different, not a pirate cabin as such. To ensure that my project is distinct and different from the other students on my course that have decided to do this project, I have decided to make something slightly different, but still within the constraints on the original brief. The majority of my peers have embraced the pirate theme, however I feel that this carries with it a set of tropes and generic ideas, to avoid the “Pirates of the Caribbean ” vibe I have decided to make a captain’s cabin from those that fought with the pirates, the imperial navies, I feel that this is close enough to the original brief to be justified. Owing to the rich amount of naval heritage and abundance of reference material in the British Isles, I have decided to make a cabin from a British naval ship. Part of my reference gathering process will include at least one trip to a surviving example of a ship from the era to get a grounding and idea of how to proceed with this project.

Below is a supplied sample image from the project brief as a starting point. The constraints of the project stipitate that the environment must be created in a realistic style. As no concepting time has been provided for this project I will be mostly working from a collection of key reference images. Another important requirement is that the scene needs to have narrative elements within to communicate who occupies the space and where it is.

The project also must be completed in under 50,000 triangles and textured with 3 2048 textures, plus supporting maps and one additional 1024×1024 map with an alpha channel for additional unique elements. I will approach this project from a structured plan to ensure that I meet all the projects requirements, this will start with a plan that I will use to organise my time.

Project Planning

  • Planning Phase
  • Reference Gathering
  • Block out
  • Modelling assets
  • Texturing
  • Dressing
  • Polish


I approached the referencing phase of the project by watching a few pirate and ‘Hornbloweresk’ films and tv shows to get a grounding in the subject matter. Out of all the material I watched I liked the worn, lived in style of Master & Commander the most. The spartan life of the royal navy in the 1800’s appealed to me.

After I had settled on what I was making my next step was to research the time period “1805-1820” as much as possible, with a little leeway either side of those dates. A good source of reference for me was to find the name of the real ship used in the production of Master and Commander, to which I found many pictures of the cabin area.

The best-preserved example of a royal navy ship still existing from this period is HMS Victory in Portsmouth. Luckily, I had visited this ship many times whilst visiting family in Portsmouth and so had many usable reference images that could be utilised.  Again, this drove home the importance of a large and well organised bank of reference images.

After I had compiled a sizeable collection of reference of the room itself, I then expanded my search to all the props I thought I might need in my scene. I compiled all these images together into a large Pureref moodboard, as I had done on my previous two projects. This had worked well and was something I would include in the workflow of future projects.


I started modelling from eyeballing the reference images of the captain’s cabin. To get the curved bank of windows, the main focal point of the cabin, I decided to make all the windows as a straight strip, once I was happy with them, I then applied the FFD modifier and bent the windows into the correct shape, a kind of bowed arch, moving both backwards and up.

My experimentation with making the windows proved very successful, this window bank gave me the foundation that I could use to build out the rest of the cabin following the curved lines of the windows to make the floor, walls and ceiling. After I had established the size and shape of the room, I tested it with a third person character controller in unreal to make sure that the ceiling was the correct height and everything felt in proportion. This was something that had not been as important with the other projects. I had still used proportion in these projects using a cube the height of a human but I felt that was not enough for this project. I tested that the character could move about the cabin and everything was proportioned correctly.

My next step was to flesh out the walls with some further details, such as supporting wooden struts and timberwork. This gave the cabin a much more authentic feel and look. My final step with the construction of the room was to cut the holes for the cannons and to do the wooden panelling work.

After I had done all the work to make the room, I moved onto making the smaller props. I wanted to tell a story with the environment and so carefully thought about everything that I would need to convey a narrative. I had written an essay on how both aesthetics and storytelling were important to games and I wanted to ensure my cabin felt real and lived in rather than just a static image or a stand-alone area.  I thought about what kind of objects a captain would need when at sea, what the tools of his trade where, so on and so forth. Personal effects like a hat and uniform made the environment feel lived in, as opposed to some kind of static exhibit like my other vehicles.

aside from the cannon pictured above, i created a whole host of other smaller props, but I began to get the feeling that the ammount of items I wanted to include in my scene was getting overwhelming and would be diffuclt to get completed in the time alloted.

Lighting & Unreal Engine

I noticed that a major element of my environment was missing, the lighting, I experimented with this and managed to get quite a well-lit scene, however it was still lacking. I wanted to make the light sources realistic to the time period and so could not just add lights anywhere; they had to make sense.

To this end I decided to make the scene lit primarly from the inside, using candles to generate most of the light, but at the same time I also wanted light to be coming from the windows, since they where such a prominainte feature of the room. To this end I decided on making a moonlit exteriror enviroment shrounded in fog. I wanted to create the effect of the ship just being visable through the fog out of the windows. Below is how the effect ended up looking.

one feature I was keen to experiment with was volometric fog and lighting to produce “god ray” type effects coming through the window frames, i wanted to keep this effect sutle as not to overpowere the delicate lighting inside the cabin.

I was keen to curate the narrative of the enviroment by placing the objects in such a way that made the space felt “lived in”. In the below example of the captains writing desk, i decided to place the chair and objects in a way to make them feel as if someone had just used them. I was particuarly pleased with the placment of the chair for example.

Final thoughts

Overall, this project ended up being left to carry other projects forward. I felt that, when it came to submitting my best piece, I wanted to invest further time in my trench train project.

I feel on the whole the project was useful and that I learnt a lot from it. Mostly regarding engine work and lighting inside unreal. If I continue with my current FMP idea, this project will have been useful as I have learnt valuable skills for fully presenting models inside unreal to show my work off at its best. I have been using sketchfab to present my work so far and I feel that I also need to be confident with setting my models within larger scenes.

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