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Learn How to Create an Airplane Scene with Unreal Engine's Niagara

Renan Silva walked us through the airplane scene, explained how Unreal Engine's Niagara was used in the production, and also provided detailed descriptions of the animation and VFX stages, as well as modeling, texturing, and lighting pipelines.

Introduction

Hello, my name is Renan, and I'm a CG Environmental Artist. I graduated with a degree in Architecture, and I have a deep passion for games and cinema. I am particularly fascinated by movies that explore mountain landscapes, forests, and apocalyptic environments. Sceneries that incorporate elements such as fog, smoke, fire, and the vast ocean catch my attention in a very special way, challenging me to recreate those atmospheres in my own projects.

I dedicate most of my free time to developing my personal projects, through which I have been exploring the thrilling challenge of creating stylized landscapes. My main focus involves a deep study of shaders, lighting, Unreal Engine, and special effects. I'm very excited about this journey of improving my abilities and taking my projects to new levels of creativity.

My most recent projects are Cabinwood and Butterfly Cabin. I have been focusing on studying Unreal Engine, so my latest projects were created there. I also have experience with Maya, 3ds Max, ZBrush, Substance 3D Painter, and Photoshop.

Starting the Project

I recently started studying Niagara, and this has motivated me to create a small personal project to apply everything I've been learning. My main inspiration was the film "Planes," and using it as a starting point, I started collecting aircraft references. Another important reference guiding the production of this scene was the game Fortnite, which has a more stylized art direction and really bright colors. Furthermore, the game's charming visuals were a great inspiration for the development of the mountainous and flowery landscape with field depth.

Something I try to pay close attention to is the details of the textures I create. I believe that these details elevate the quality of the scene and help to convey the story of the environment.

Despite being just a plane, the texture details can show that the paintwork is uneven, that it has been redone on top of another layer, and that it is not a new plane. Additionally, we have the painting of a skull, which could indicate that whoever controls the plane might be some kind of villain. Details like these can tell stories to those viewing the project and bring more immersion.

Planning

When I started building the project, my first step was to create the protagonist: the plane. I began modeling in Maya. Since I had plans to create an animation, I made sure that I modeled the propeller and turbine separately to facilitate the animation and the VFX created in Niagara. After completing the modeling process, I started the texturing part using Substance 3D Painter.

With the plane ready, I began planning the environment. Based on the references I gathered, I sought to create stylized mountain models. The mountains in the background were created using Gaea, a software equipped with various tools that allow for the easy creation of mountains while maintaining the quality and realism demanded by works like this.

For the landscape, I used tree, grass, and plant models available on the Unreal Marketplace (Stylized Eastern Village) that matched the art direction I was aiming for this project.

Texturing and Animation Process

First, I started the process using neutral light in Substance 3D Painter. Then, I focused on the base material, applying a black layer, and later adding a metallic material. I tried a red base with yellow wings for coloring but didn't like it that much. I kept the red and used the same red tone to brush the wings, adding details and small breaking points. Next, I felt the need to include screws and more mesh detail. I decided to work these elements into the texture using an effect to create depth.

After that process, I directed my focus to the propeller, trying to create an effect of stylized metal and wood. Later on, I focused on the turbine and wing details, such as black degraded metal. For the cabin, I chose to add frosted glass windows since I didn't need to show the interior. The stripes were interesting to work on. First, I tried using yellow, but it didn't work, so I chose white and applied it with a brush for a more natural effect.

One of the steps I enjoy the most is simulating dirt and degradation. To achieve this, I use brushstrokes in a brown color. At first, I considered using lightning as a symbol, but then decided to create a darker aesthetic, incorporating a skull and working with projection to soften the harsh lines as I progressed through the painting.

For the animation, the first step was to animate the propeller rotating in the Unreal Engine's Sequencer. Then, I gave the plane forward movement and a trajectory. I also connected it to the camera to follow its movement.

Lighting

Unreal Engine's default lighting alone is quite interesting. I slightly increased the fog density to bring more depth to the scene and make the plane stand out. I added a blue light on the turbine and two green lights on the sides of the aircraft for some extra charm. I tested out different times of the day for the sunlighting. The afternoon looked the best for bringing a more dramatic look.

For the volume post-processing effects, I activated "infinity" to cover the entire scene and increased the saturation and overall contrast. On the camera, I adjusted the "Lens Bloom" option to bring volume to the highlights and activated "Lens Flare" to complement it. I also added chromatic aberration to enhance the look of the scene. I used Lumen for rendering.

I used Niagara to create the smoke effect coming out of the turbines. A good tip for Niagara is to always work in a clean environment. I turned on the beta plugins and created a clean system using the 'niagara_grind3d_gsd_master_emitter'. I adjusted the smoke direction, activated gravity, and modified the standard color to blue. I followed the same process for the sides and changed the color to green.

Conclusion

This project was carried out in five days, and as I put into practice the techniques I learned, I increasingly acquired new knowledge about the tool.

Niagara is truly powerful and stunning for VFX creation. The results I achieved in this project made me very happy and excited, as I was able to perform simulations and collisions in real time. Something like that would normally take much longer to do in other programs. The Redefinefx course, with Professor Jesse Pitela, surely accelerated this learning process. In Unreal, you have to organize yourself in different parts of the process, and being able to see everything in real time is incredible. Furthermore, Lumen and Nanite perform surprisingly fast.

I love working with this program. It is challenging and rewarding at the same time.

And new challenges are exactly what I'm looking forward to in the projects to come.

Renan Silva, Lighting Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

Join discussion

Comments 7

  • Anonymous user

    Excelente profissional, isso tudo é inspiração para quem deseja entrar nessa área!!
    Foi muito bom poder ver o trabalho de perto. Obrigado por trazer esse conteúdo, sempre procurando aprender mais.

    2

    Anonymous user

    ·7 months ago·
  • Anonymous user

    Really nice. I loved how Renan was able to pull such a great result out of Niagra. Really looking forward to seeing more of this.

    0

    Anonymous user

    ·7 months ago·
  • Anonymous user

    Profissional com técnicas avançadas, e com uma dedicação fora do normal!!! Parabéns pelo seu talento, e por compartilhar conosco seus trabalhos.  
    Parabéns pelo grande trabalho que nos proporciona em assistir. Você e um artista completo.

    1

    Anonymous user

    ·7 months ago·
  • Anonymous user

    Not only is he an incredible artist, but he also excels as an exceptional art director. His unwavering commitment to the team's growth is truly commendable. Working with him was a great experience!

    0

    Anonymous user

    ·7 months ago·
  • Anonymous user

    If there's anyone I'd put my hand on fire with, it's this guy! A great professional, communicative, fun, and inspiring reference in 3D art. It was very interesting to see all the processes step by step. Success man!!!

    1

    Anonymous user

    ·7 months ago·
  • Anonymous user

    Mesmerizing and gorgeous details on this job. I know Renan and his passion to 3D modeling... His talent is so natural, like someone who born to do this, even knowing how dedicated he is on studies.

    1

    Anonymous user

    ·7 months ago·
  • Anonymous user

    Muito bom

    esse eu conheço é garanto
    muito bom proficional que adimiro muito
    continua assim mano

    2

    Anonymous user

    ·7 months ago·

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