Those animations look amazing!! Great job!
Very cool review of the making of Spellbreak. Would be even more cool to see some videos inside UE4 showing how they do a few very specific things unique to them.
This was so helpful for me. I'm hoping to adapt your tutorial to pull off something similar comparing modern satellite imagery with historical maps. No topo, so my steps should be simpler, but I'm a novice with Blender and you've really helped. Thanks!
3d artist David Baylis shared some on the insights on building beautiful environments with 3ds Max and Unreal Engine 4.
Hey, I’m David Baylis, 26 years old and currently living in Lille, France. My passion for 3D started at the age of 19, but I only entered a 3D school at the age of 23. Before then, I was unsure of what to do, so I started with business studies. I used to learn 3DS Max as soon as I got back home, instead of my real homework! My passion took over and I just had to do something about it, so I applied for a three year course in a 3D school near where I live.
I recently finished my course and obtained my graduation.
I’m currently seeking a job, as a junior architectural visualizer. I haven’t worked for any studios yet unfortunately, so I have been keeping myself busy with some personal projects and building up my portfolio.
To be honest, I quickly started learning about Arch Viz and its secrets as soon as I saw some real time walkthroughs done with UE4. I would say about one year and a half ago. Before that, I was mainly focusing on VFX/animation.
I was so amazed by what you could achieve with a game engine that I decided to focus on that, and get to know more about Architecture. I remember watching Koola’s eye candy videos, drooling on those graphics! I’m absolutely loving it right now, I always dedicate a lot of work in my renders and give them that “mood” that is so important. The growing popularity of Unreal Engine and its community contributed to the interest in Architectural Visualization in my opinion.
For my projects, I usually start with reference images (and floor plans if provided).
For example, the Two Beams House project (designed by Yuri Vital) was based on several views from reference images:
I did not have any construction plans on this project, so it was more or less judging by eye, and testing different height/width values inside 3DS Max to get something coherent and scaled rather correct.
It turned out to look up to scale once everything was done.
I got an email by Yuri Vital to congratulate me on the work, which was very encouraging.
My primary modeling tool is 3DS Max, because I’m comfortable with it but you can use any third party modeling program if you want to.
When I start a project, I usually start by finding some inspiration on various Architecture & design sites. I try to keep in mind also how I can adapt it into UE4.
I usually build the walls with 3DS Max, import some models if needed (Plants, Chairs etc..). Like many archviz people, I have a library of archmodels. I then rename every asset so that I don’t get lost when I export everything to Unreal. I learned that it is very important to be organized in these projects. I personally name my assets SM_”name of object” to keep things organized inside UE4. SM standing for Static Mesh.
Then, there is this part where you need to unwrap all of your Static Meshes, and that is probably the part where I go and take some coffee…It can be very tedious.
All of the assets need to be flatten mapped, so that Unreal can read it to project the lightmap.
Fortunately there are some excellent tools that speed up the process of having to manually unwrap the models such as steamroller. It works on 90% of the assets I’d say. Some more complex assets tend not to get good results with steamroller, so you need to do it manually.
Finally, before exporting everything, a useful tool that I use is TS_Tools from Tom Shannon. It exports every asset keeping the position you had in 3DS Max.
It’s probably my favorite part, working on the shaders and see how they react to the lighting you setup. I have been using Quixel for about one year, but I found it difficult to get the hang out of (even now sometimes!)
It’s a very powerful tool. The reason I systematically use Quixel with Arch Viz is because I want the the textures to really pop out with the lighting. It’s PBR based and it’s very essential if you want something realistic. If you find your base texture to clean, no problem just add some quick dirt and play with the roughness values inside Quixel.
Using UE4 for Rendering
I find that game engines have come so far in terms of rendering that we need to use these technologies for other purposes rather than just games. It’s funny, because I used to play Unreal Tournament 99 and now, I’m finding myself using the game engine which I used to play on for the professional purpose!
Anyway, the reason I chose Unreal Engine is firstly the visual aspect of it. You can quickly visualize your product and that is very important. Epic Games have made so much improvements concerning arch viz (thanks to the community) that it quickly became very famous among artists.
Your project is so much more alive when it is not static. Being able to walk around, feeling immersed into your own design is simply fantastic. On my Two Beams House project, I set up some camera rigs using Sequencer (the latest huge feature of UE4 used for cinematics) . I had so much hype using these camera crane rigs, getting those smooth camera moves inside Unreal Engine all in real-time. I could instantly play through my camera shots as if I was in Premiere Pro. I mean how COOL is that?!
Mixing UE4 With The 3ds Max Content
UE4 works pretty good with 3DS Max, but any third party 3D program should to. I think the big advantage of 3DS Max is the Evermotion content, which is mostly in .max format if you need some assets.
Workflow between 3DS max and Unreal Engine is very good, it starts to get complicated when you have to export multiple objects, with textures. It’s very important to be organized.
Unreal Engine is a game engine, you have to bare that in mind. It was made to build games. Making an archviz project can be quite tough if you don’t know where to start. There are several tutorials out now that explain the process of building in 3DS max and then exporting in UE4.
Watch out for poly count, try to optimize your mesh as much as you can. Some models that you find are very high poly, it’s always good to reduce the polycount without loosing the general aspect of it.
Lightmapping can be quite tricky and frustrating. I was literally pulling my hair off the first times. But with persistence, I managed to get some decent results. When you get hold of it, you can really max out the details and get superb Global Illumination.
Lighting is probably the most important in my opinion, alongside with texturing. You may have a beautiful 3D model, but having bad lighting can truly ruin the image. I see many people asking about lighting, and I myself have wondered how to achieve realistic lighting. I’m still learning on that to be honest! I do not have the perfect lighting setup, but I try to keep it natural. It’s either and HDRI or a Dir.Light (sun) + skylight.
In UE4, I use a directional light and a Skylight 90% of the time with some Exponential Height fog.
A quick light baking inside UE4 with detailed lighting can give you an idea. Then play around with the intensity and the direction to whatever suits you best. Don’t forget that you implement the post process inside Unreal that improves your image quality.
You can use some reflection spheres to really enhance the reflection on your objects. Move them around and see how they react with your lighting, I do not have a specific setup for them.
Concerning shaders, work on the most important aspects of your project. Walls, and floor are the things you see most, so try to find some nice tileable textures.
If you’re working on an exterior, you need to consider an environment, which is another task that requires some time. With the release of Megascans, you can find plenty of great assets that you can add to your environment. Keep in mind the optimization though.
I use post-processing inside Unreal Engine to get the best out of the engine. Sometimes I use Photoshop to enhance the details a little further, especially still images but it can also be challenging not using it all, and getting the most out of UE4.
David Baylis, Product Design / Architectural Visualisation
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.