This is How You Can Leverage Unreal Engine 5 to Light a Sci-Fi Scene

Aleksei Bachinskii told us about the Sci-Fi Apartment project, showed how the modular assets were arranged, and discussed how the lighting was set up to create a cinematic look.

Introduction

Hello, My name is Aleksei Bachinskii, I work as a lead artist at the Phoria studio. I grew up playing video games and watching films since I was 5 years old. I wanted to create something unbelievable for video games and films since childhood. However, my career in the CG sphere did not start immediately. I started my career path in the oil industry, my first education was in Geology. I worked in the oil industry for 4 years before I started my path in the CG sphere. And here I am now, working as a lead artist, involved in this world for 5 years already.

The Sci-Fi Apartment Project

I have long wanted to make a realistic interior in the sci-fi style and I finally had the time and accumulated experience over the years of working in the CG field.

Unreal Engine 5 now allows you to recreate very realistic projects and cinematic so I started collecting different references on the internet. I wanted the interior to be futuristic but at the same time simple and clean, with no ultra drips, rust, or dirt, as many are used to seeing, only realistic renovation and environment in which each of us would probably prefer to live in the future. Basically, I used references as an idea, the rest came to my head by itself. For the overall design, I was inspired by some movie classics such as Cosmic Odyssey and Alien as well as Cyberpunk 2077.

I wanted to use a lot of plants in the interior and show that it is possible in the future people will be able to live in harmony with nature in combination with high technology.

For the lighting setup, I wanted to create something cinematic, with warm lights coming from a big window, but at the same time to make something with a foggy, rainy vibe. I wanted to achieve dramatic lighting with a combination of warm lighting.

Blockout

As usual, the work began with a blockout and shapes. 

I started blocking out including details already because I clearly imagined what it would look like.

The main idea was to create a pretty high apartment, I wanted to make a high ceiling and a spacious room. Everyone got used to the fact that in the future we would live in a small dirty closet with rusty walls, but I wanted to create a more viable and alternative option with splashes of design of our time.

Modeling

The main goal in modeling was to create modular assets. I wanted to create a prefabricated environment and at the same time practice creating modular assets. I used Blender for modeling all assets. I always use it now because it has become a really powerful and useful tool. I used 3ds Max and Maya for 4 years, but since Blender became very cool, I jumped into it. 

For the main part, I tried to model everything with mid poly to keep 3 iterations on chamfers. 

Walls, corners

Floor

Ceiling blocks

All assets

Colors

In terms of colors, I wanted white to be dominant, dark green secondary, and bright orange complementary colors, this looked cool on chairs and beds. I also used some additional green colors for kitchen furniture.

I also added green and orange colors to the mannequins to give more expressiveness to the scene.

Texturing

For the detalization of modular meshes, I used a trim that I got for free from the Zero Gravity pack. This trim sheet suited my project and style perfectly, and I didn't waste time creating a new one.

Trim sheet

Clear geometry

Mesh with trim

Unreal look

The smart material was quite specific for my purposes. I wanted to change the colors of the meshes in real time and add dirt, leakages, and different normal variations. So, I created a material for all those needs. 

I used the vertex paint approach. I turned each mesh into RGB colors. This approach allowed me to be very flexible and change colors in Unreal Engine.

I also used the RGB mask approach to add procedural control to dirt, dust, etc., inside Unreal.

I created masks for all the elements that I wanted to change.

Normal variation by vertex colors channels

Kitchen assets I made using same approach. Shading + trim sheet

Here is the UX for the kitchen, done in Photoshop. Essentially, I drew patterns and exported them as PNG masks. All the magic happened because of the emission.

Lighting

For the lighting, I used default Unreal presets: directional lighting, HDRI lights, and emission.

Just emmision lights

Emmision lights + point lights

Emmision lights + point lights+ HDRI

Emmision lights + point lights+ HDRI+ directional lights

Full lighting with post-processing

To create a cinematic look, I always rely on post-processing and lighting. These are the main components. I would say lighting contributes around 80% to the success of the scene. No matter how well your models are done, if you have bad lighting, your scene is a failure.

These are the main key features I always use for Unreal to create a cinematic look. 

I really like using LUT presets for my projects. For this one, I used a cinematic LUT pack.

With LUT

Without LUT

Final Touches

For the background, I used a simple sci-fi city image that I found on the internet and just applied it as an emission material to achieve a foggy effect.

To achieve the sense of rain outside, I utilized an impressive pack called Animated Rain. It's the best raindrop material I've ever seen and it's super helpful for cinematic creation.

This decor collection I grabbed for free from Unreal Marketplace.

To add more detail to the scene, I used decals of dirt from Megascans and some logos and stickers which I created in Photoshop.

Here are the final corrections and compositing in After Effects:

Conclusion

Long story short, my free time is super limited. I bet every 3D artist understands that such works will make you sacrifice a lot. I decided to work at least 2 hours per day and sometimes more on the weekends. So overall, I spent around 3 weeks on this.

The main challenges were finding time for the project and staying focused during these small sprints of work.

To sum up, I really enjoyed working on this project and am really satisfied with the final result.

In the future, I have a plan to make a whole cinematic shot with characters in that universe. Let's see how it's going!

Aleksei Bachinskii, Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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