Lighting for Cinematics in UE4

Kemal Günel talked about awesome lighting and colors choices in his short sci-fi movie The Abyss. The project is created with Unreal Engine 4.


Hello. I am Kemal Günel and I am a lighting artist. I have been using Unreal Engine 4 for almost 4 years and working for the film and game industries. I also try to create lighting tutorials for Unreal Engine 4 according to the requests and share them on my youtube channel. My last personal project was a short sci-fi film Intro the Abyss which is done in Unreal Engine 4. Things went unreal and I got the “community spotlight”! Let’s see how it’s done. Before we start, I once again want to thank Brandon Fague for his amazing voice acting.

The Project Start

I started to work on this project with a really simple idea. I thought: I’m going to save an abandoned spacecraft. What happened to them? Then I started slowly listing my requirements. Like what kind of ship, how many crew members I will see, quick notes about set dressing in Unreal Engine etc. With quick Unreal Marketplace ride, I found Sergey Typankin’s incredible asset pack which was a perfect fit in my mind.

By the way, Sergey previously broke down the Sci-Fi modular environment pack that inspired Kemal. Check it out here:

  • Creating a Sci-Fi Modular Environment in UE4

After implementing some decals, adjusting materials and custom meshes the scene slowly came to life. Extra-set dressing took almost 1 week. I worked in my free time.

Some of the meshes in the scene are floating in Zero-G, thanks to Unreal Engine 4 physics. But some of them have fake Zero-G. They are blueprints due to the fact that I wanted to avoid any accidental interaction in specific places while rendering the scene.


There were two points that were very important to me. Lighting and camera movement. I wanted to create smooth, uncut, lost and found footage-like visuals as if it is actually taken from a rescue team member’s bodycam. That’s why sometimes our camera is a little bit out of focus and not directly looking at the point of interest – there is nobody to control camera movement.

When it comes to lighting, I can say there are two types of lighting. Static and Movable. The first part of the ship is using static lighting, which is where our character looks around and observes some damage. The other part of the ship is using dynamic light and shadow with only one spotlight. The adjustment of that spotlight really helped me to create the look that I wanted. Dark, endless looking corridors you can see above add the isolation feeling to the scene.


I really like dark and moody scenes. But it does not mean that you can’t see anything there. For me, it is a composition which makes the audience uncomfortable, choking, claustrophobic. I tried to achieve these feelings as much as I can.

Before moving to the lighting stage, I generally use a technique that I apply to almost every scene in any project. It’s called Analyzing the scene. What does it mean and how it works? I look at the scene and start to take notes about  the possible light sources. They can be anything, not only bulbs: computer screens, a heater, a billboard, etc. In short, anything which emits light can be a light source in your scene. In my case, there were not so many options, so I was quickly done with analyzing them. I opted for fluorescent lights for ceiling and ground lighting. Then I started to place point lights and made a little tweak on them to get nice and soft shadows.

Above, we can see the point light’s source radius and source length changed to match with the dimensions of the fluorescent light mesh. This little trick makes a huge difference and I advise you to test it if you didn’t do it before. I generally did the same thing for other lights, too. Also, I used IES lights as much as I could, to give the lights more depth feeling realism. Finally, I used Use Emissive for Static Lighting function with some meshes. You can see an example in the next picture: the fluorescent light mesh is using that function to illuminate the area as the main light source, and the static point light above is helping to create more illumination without burning the surface.


Let’s continue with the color selection. I really like to create compositions with warm and cold contrast. For me, it feels more balanced and strong this way. To catch the warm part, I set the temperature values between 3000-3400 Kelvin or manually selected colors close to that values. It is really close to tungsten light color. It does not mean though that every light source will be the same in the scene. For example, I used green for the doors as if they were pointing at possible exits or they are functional.

Placing blue colored fluorescent lights are helping me to break a repetitive look, giving the colors more depth feeling and contrast.

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Creating light function materials for flickering lights helps to create more interesting places and the effect of electrical damage. It also adds some dynamics to the scene. I also create another simple blueprint for emergency lights. The blueprint contains two spotlights which look in the opposite directions (imagine police car lights but with different color and without flashing). You can see light function material and emergency light blueprint in the next two picture.

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Mobile Spotlight

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I created a blueprint with flashlight mesh and placed a spotlight on it. The blueprint was made because it is much easier to adjust any spotlight settings, such as rotation (fake Zero-G), attenuation radius, color, etc. Also at some point, our character had to take that light and continue the exploration with the help of it. I only animated the flashlight blueprint in the sequencer. It shortened the animation work load a lot. Above you can see the blueprint and two in-engine shots with the flashlight.


The following steps were adjusting the post-process settings, sound placement and animation. You can also watch the video that I recorded for a much more detailed view:

Thanks to family for giving me a chance to share the project and my workflow.

 Kemal Günel, Lighting Artist

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