Ultra-Realistic Interiors in Unreal Engine 4

8 June 2018

Rated the most successful video game engine by Guinness World Records, Unreal Engine is our preferred way of developing immersive virtual tours and stunning interactive interiors.

We look at how UE4 can be used to its full potential in creating a varied range of exciting, realistic atmospheres.

Starting Simple

Creating a VR experience is more like creating a set than painting a picture: apart from accounting for depth and perception, there are objects that aren’t simply part of the scene and set in place, but subject to movement and adaptation. But before these can be developed, the walls of the set must provide a frame to encompass this environment. Inspiration can be taken from a wide range of sources, such as other interactive interiors, photographs, drawings, movies and TV series, or exploring real-life environments.

Ultra-Realistic Interiors in Unreal Engine 4

Modelling Assets

DataSmith is a workflow toolbox that facilitates and simplifies the import of data into Unreal Engine, and it can be used to easily transfer a range of items into the setting. With a huge store of assets to work with, there is always something available that starts its digital life as little more than a placeholder until it is warped and refined into the perfect interactive object.

Once the environment provides the perfect back-drop for the experience, the exciting part of developing the assets can come into play. Some, like common household items, can be downloaded and adapted or fully customised, while others – especially unusual or fantastical elements – might need to be created from scratch.

Although all aspects would need to be rendered unique, it is particularly important when modelling characters. Some may be based on real people, and every intricacy of their faces, every angle of their body, must be accurately represented.

Useful Tools

ZBrush is a digital sculpting tool that uses both 3D and 2.5D modelling, texturing, and painting techniques to create extremely high-resolution models (reaching more than 40 million polygons), particularly useful in the movie and gaming industries.

3ds Max, a similar 3D modelling and animation tool, can also be used to bring assets to life. We especially like 3ds Max for creating sweeping epic scenes, lush backdrops, and organic photoreal aspects, while ZBrush is our preferred tool for getting into those fine details and ultra-stylized features.

Creating Texture

Texture can be on of the most difficult aspects to render accurately without it looking under-developed or unrealistic – and the most important for really capturing a sense of what the experience is portraying.

Even with a giant collection of textures to pick from, it’s unlikely that the best pick is going to be perfect for what you need.

What looks great on a sample can be suddenly underwhelming when applied to a particular asset, and whether that’s due to not complementing the rest of the set, incorrect lighting or shadowing, or it’s just not working, then it needs to be tweaked until it does. The material editor on UE4 presents a myriad of options for reworking texture options until it’s exactly as it should be.

Lighting the Scene

Without the right lighting, any asset textured to the max and brimming with detail will fall flat in an interactive experience.

Artificial lighting from within the set (just an equal discus around a lamp, right?) and sunlight as if from outside (Unreal Engine has a handy tool for positioning the sun relevant to the window as well as to the time of day) seems like it should be easy enough to emulate, but truthfully it’s much more complex than that. Often photographs are useful for examining exactly how the light falls and its effects on the assets in the scene.

For those seeking guidance in perfecting their virtual lighting setups, photographs serve as invaluable references to understand the nuanced effects of light on various elements within a scene. To further refine your skills, don’t forget to check assortment here for a comprehensive array of indoor and outdoor lighting options that can elevate your virtual creations to new heights. With the right lighting tools at your disposal, you can seamlessly bridge the gap between the digital and the tangible, crafting immersive and visually stunning interactive experiences.

Drift, dust, and weather effects like fog add further realism but will fracture the light in interesting ways. These are also important for a sense of volume and movement even when there are no characters.

Working the Camera

Creating the right perspective is final to making any scenario absorbing: however detailed and accurate the environment is, it has to be user-friendly. It might seem natural to create a setting as you see it – after all, you’re looking at the screen from a user perspective, so it should be easy to make it look right.

But with such an interactive format, there are additional aspects to consider that Unreal Engine is adept at capturing. Depth of field, ideal point of view, aspect ratio (for both perspective and orthographic modes) are all handled for the most engaging user experience. Additional cameras can even be layered onto the original for maximum control.

Optimizing the Experience

You can see the scenario’s performance, whether live or from a captured section, in the EU4 CPY Profiler tool, which will lay out the experience’s framerate, or in the EU4 GPU Visualizer, which identifies the cost and place of rendering passes in order to pick out the aspects that take the most processing time. It may be the last thing on your to-do list, but it shouldn’t be forgotten if you want the best experience possible for every user.