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How To Create Photorealistic Archviz Interior With 3ds Max & UE5

Lead Unreal Engine Artist Vikram Joshi has shared an in-depth breakdown of The Gloria project, focusing on how a stunning real-time interior design scene meticulously modeled with 3ds Max was created inside Unreal Engine 5 and rendered using Path Tracer.

Hey there! I'm Vikram Joshi, currently rocking it as a Lead Unreal Engine Artist at Openhaus.

I have worked on several large-scale digital twin applications targeted at real estate developers and several virtual reality projects as well. My journey into the world of 3D art began with a passion for gaming – I'd spend hours playing games and wondering how they were made.

The curiosity got the best of me, leading to endless internet searches on game development. I eventually took the plunge and enrolled in a game art course, where I learned to craft game-ready assets and picked up various software skills. Along the way, I discovered my love for lighting and its enchanting effects, which sparked a deep dive into rendering software. This exploration eventually led me to the captivating realms of Unity and Unreal Engine. Today, I am here the talk about my project The Gloria.

When it comes to crafting interior structures, refining 3D models, and unwrapping them, my go-to software of choice is 3ds Max. It's like my Swiss army knife for all things 3D! With 3ds Max, I can bring my designs to life, fine-tune every detail of the models, and ensure they're perfectly optimized for the next steps in the creative process.

I chose Unreal Engine to bring these renders to life because it's a powerhouse of creativity. Unreal offers an array of options, allowing me to create complete real-time scenes that can be packaged and played on any Windows laptop or computer equipped with an RTX-supported card. It's incredible how Unreal enables me to add interactive elements, making the overall experience immersive and engaging.

Moreover, Unreal Engine opens doors to the future – it allows me to convert my projects into virtual reality applications that can run seamlessly on devices like the Meta Quest 2 and 3 via a link cable. It's like taking your designs to the next level of reality!

Getting Started

I once saw an image on Pinterest that I wanted to remake. I never found the image but the idea was in my mind. The process kicks off with visualizing a space in your mind – imagining how it should look and feel. Then, it's all about translating that vision into a rough layout within a blank Photoshop page.

Once the layout is all set, it's time to embark on the quest for the perfect models that fit your design vision. There's a treasure trove of options out there, from 3D model marketplaces like 3dsky, Maxbrute, and Turbosquid, to platforms like Sketchfab. It can take some serious digging to find just the right model, sometimes I even end up buying them.

Once I get the models, it's all about the refinement process. Here are a few things as a checklist. Step one: check if the geometry is spot on – no flipped normals or overlapping vertices allowed. Step two: look at the topology – triangulated models are fine as long as they won't give you a headache when it comes to unwrapping them.

Unwrapping & Exporting

Now comes the toughest part of the process: unwrapping the models and generating lightmaps. When you download a model, there's no guarantee that the UVs are done correctly. If you're lucky, they're good to go, but if not, get ready for some intricate cutting and welding to flatten those UVs.

I dedicate a significant amount of time to perfecting the UVs and lightmaps to ensure smooth baking without any issues like overlapping seams or UV islands. This meticulous process is essential for each model in the project and typically takes up about 40% of the total project time.

I rely on a variety of plugins to boost my workflow and save valuable time. Two of my favorites are Unwrap Pro and UV Tools 3.2. These tools are game-changers – not only do they streamline the unwrapping process but also enhance overall efficiency.

One of the fantastic tools in 3ds Max is Pro-Optimizer – it's great for reducing polygon count while preserving the overall model silhouette. Although it triangulates the model, I rely on another modifier called Quadrify to convert it back to quads when needed.

I don't use this combination all the time, but when working with VR, these modifiers become lifesavers, ensuring optimized models without sacrificing visual quality.

Unreal Engine

Once all the necessary models for the project are completed, I export them as FBX files and bring them into Unreal Engine. I'm using Unreal Engine 5.3 for this project. This step is where the magic truly happens – seeing the creations come to life in a dynamic and interactive environment is incredibly rewarding.

I start by creating a new project and importing the interior structure into the level. I prioritize maintaining a clear and organized folder structure, ensuring each model is imported into its designated folder for easy navigation and management.

To ensure seamless conversion to a baked project for VR and interactive purposes, I focus on setting up the lightmap density to range from orange to red, optimizing the scene for performance and quality.

Material Creation

Next, I begin creating materials for the project using a versatile shader that incorporates various functionalities. I mix textures based on linear color textures sourced from online repositories. Over the years, I've curated a collection of high-quality textures from my experience, which I'll leverage in this project for the best visual results.

I make use of Material Functions to keep my shader graph clean and promote reusability – it's a real game-changer. By adding plenty of tweaking options, I can create multiple material instances that look distinct using exposed parameters. This flexibility allows me to adjust colors and textures on the fly, creating the perfect mood and atmosphere for the project.

I develop master materials for fabric, general use, metal, glass, and foliage, and then create material instances for each. This allows me to customize and fine-tune the properties of these materials according to specific material requirements. By using material instances, I can efficiently manage variations while maintaining consistency across different surfaces and elements within the project.

Below, you can see how I've crafted this fabric shader to respond dynamically to the direction of light hits. I meticulously tweak each parameter to achieve a realistic and natural material finish. Although it's a slow and time-consuming process, the results are incredibly rewarding, with the shader reacting authentically to lighting conditions, enhancing the overall visual quality of the project.


Now comes the part I love the most – the lighting. Once everything is in place, it's all about setting the mood for the project. For this scene, I aimed to create a daytime view with the sun positioned on the opposite side. I wanted to avoid direct sunlight entering the scene but still achieve a beautiful glow that properly illuminates every part of the environment. This involved careful placement of light sources and adjustments to ensure the desired atmospheric effect.

I used a skylight with an HDRI to achieve this effect. I tried various HDRI maps that I downloaded for free from HDRI Haven, but the one that I settled with was SkatePark, a neutral HDRI with evenly spread light. Before setting up the skylight, there are several essential steps. First, I added a Lightmass Importance Volume, which directs the engine to prioritize rendering for objects within its boundaries.

Next, I placed portals at all window openings to refine incoming light. This helps optimize the quality of light entering the scene. Additionally, I added a Post Process Volume and set it to Infinite Unbound, ensuring it affects the entire scene.

I typically postpone applying specific post-process effects until I'm satisfied with the lighting. However, I start with generic exposure values to establish a baseline. These steps lay the foundation for creating compelling lighting that enhances the overall atmosphere of the scene.

To achieve the perfect lighting effect, I used Path Tracing to explore and understand the behavior of the Skylight. This involved significant adjustments, rotating the Skylight, and fine-tuning until I reached a satisfactory level of illumination.

Once I was happy with the initial lighting setup, I conducted a quick bake test using Unreal's GPU Lightmass. The results were promising, confirming the lighting quality.

With the lighting foundation established, I concentrated on strategically placing assets and refining the interior design elements to enhance the overall aesthetic and visual appeal of the scene.

This iterative process of adjusting and testing lighting, followed by refining the interior design, enabled me to achieve the desired atmosphere and visual impact for the project.

Setting up the camera to capture renders using the Path Tracer and Movie Render Queue is a crucial step in showcasing the scene effectively.

When framing my shots, I often adhere to composition principles like the rule of thirds, leading lines, and the golden spiral to create visually appealing compositions. However, there are times when I need to capture the entire scene, such as in shots of the bedroom or the entire living and dining area.


For rendering with the Path Tracer, I use specific settings to achieve high-quality results, ensuring realistic lighting and reflections. Similarly, when setting up the Movie Render Queue, I configure parameters such as frame rate, resolution, and output format to produce professional-grade cinematic sequences.

By combining composition techniques with optimized rendering settings, I can capture and present the scene in a way that highlights its best features and communicates the desired atmosphere effectively. This meticulous approach to camera setup and rendering ensures that each shot is visually compelling and aligned with the project's artistic vision.

Once I have the renders, I prefer to do the post-processing in Photoshop for better control over everything. I also made sure to render the Object ID pass from the Movie render queue to help me fine-tune each object separately in Photoshop.

Throughout this project, I've learned the importance of keeping a cool head and trusting the process. I've come to believe that initial results are not final results – by continuously refining the scene and making adjustments, the results will inevitably improve over time.

Looking ahead, I plan to package the project with a brand-new user interface and share it with the community. It's exciting to think about how this project can benefit and inspire others. Thank you so much for taking the time to read about The Gloria. I'm thrilled to share the details of this project and hope that it can be helpful or inspiring to readers in some way. Keep creating and exploring – it's a rewarding journey!

Vikram Joshi, Lead Unreal Engine Artist

Interview conducted by Gloria Levine

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