Create interactive architecture visualizations in Unreal Engine 4.

Check Evermotion Archinteriors for Unreal Engine.

This tutorial was brought to you by UE4Arch: http://ue4arch.com.

Introducing Unreal Engine 4 for Archviz
In the architecture visualization world we always seek to achieve a result close to reality to provide our customers the feeling of seeing the finished project. But generally we are limited to still images and videos of these environments. What if we could enter the rooms, open the doors, walk on it, turn on and off lights, change the decor and still maintain photorealism?

Example of a interior walkthrough:

Example of exterior navigation:

That’s where Unreal Engine 4 enters. UE4 was recently launched in March 2014 by Epic Games as a powerful tool for creating games. However, it is an application that can be very effective for architectural visualization. It still has some graphic limitations compared to conventional renders as V-Ray and Corona, but that does not prevent you from getting incredibly realistic results in real time.

Click on image to enlarge kitchen_01.JPG

Kitchen visualization in Unreal Engine 4

 

The Blueprint system for interactive archviz
In addition to the powerful graphics render, UE4 has a visual scripting system (called Blueprints) where you can create multiple interactions without writing a line of code. With the Blueprints system, you can perform actions such as lighting on/off switch, open and close doors, change object’s color and material, replace models in real time, change the time of the day, create defined camera tours and much more: the limit is your imagination. It is also possible to work with particles to create extremely realistic effects like fire, smoke and water. Resuming: it’s a games creation software that can work perfectly for architecture and allows you to give life to your project with the possibility to navigate and interact with it in real time; and you can still do all this with a graphic quality comparabled with other 3D renders.

Indirect Lighting in UE4
Indirect lighting is another strong point of UE4. The engine has an improved lighting system where you can reach a similar workflow to V-Ray using a skylight to simulate the lighting coming from the sky and a directional light to simulate the sun. Sometimes it is also recommended to use spotlights (which work in a similar way of V-Ray light planes) at some points to get better lighting.

What do I need to start?

  • First of all you need a good computer to run UE4 software. The recommended hardware by Epic Games is a Quad-Core processor 2.5Ghz or faster, 8GB of RAM and at least a GeForce GTX470 or AMD Radeon 6870HD Series, but we do recommend a better setup if you are planning to really work with UE4.
  • The second thing you need is an Unreal Engine 4 subscription. You can sign up and find more details on their website. The workflow to create an architectural project inside UE4 is based on modeling and texturing assets in a 3D software (3dsMax, May or other), import in UE4 and then set the scene. So, you will need a prepared model or a 3D software to create your model.

With this setup you are ready to start. Other applications may be needed for your project and i will talk about them later.

In this article I will explain the process to create a basic interior scene, but also i do recommend you to read the documentation on the official UE4 website. In this documentation you can learn basic stuff and get used to the software interface.

Preparing the assets in 3dsMax.
I will use 3dsMax to start my project, first modeling the static objects of architecture: floor, wal’ls, ceiling, etc. It is important to rename each object as they will be exported separately.

Texturing in 3ds Max
After modeling you should start the texturing process. All assets that will be prepared for UE4 should have open meshes and no overlapping faces. Then an extra UV channel should be created. The reason for this extra UV channel is because UE4 will use channel 1 as diffuse object texturing and channel 2 to bake the lightning map. If the faces are overlapping the lightmap will cause artifacts and will fail. In 3dsMax we can use the flatten-mapping method to open the mesh in primitive objects. This method works very well and is fast for this case. For more complex objects such as furniture, you should use other methods such as pelt mapping.

Exporting 3dsMax models to Unreal Engine 4
After you set the static objects, i recommend to export each object with their proper names. To export the models to Unreal Engine 4 you should use the FBX format.

Importing 3dsMax models to Unreal Engine 4
You can follow the tutorial from Epic official documentation below:

  • Click the NEW button in the Content Browser and choose Import. Navigate to and select the FBX file you want to import in the file browser opens que. Note: You may want to select FBX static meshes (*.fbx) in the dropdown to filter unwanted files
  • The imported path of the imported asset depends on the current location of the Content Browser while importing. Make sure to navigate to the folder Appropriate prior to performing the import. You may also drag the imported assets into the new folder once import is complete.
  • Choose the Appropriate settings in the Import dialog. The defaults should be sufficient in most cases. See the FBX Import Dialog section for complete details of all of the settings.
  • Click the button IMPORT to import the mesh (es). The Resulting mesh, material (s), and texture (s) will be displayed in the Content Browser if the process was successful.
  • Although textures and materials can be imported with a static mesh, only Color and Normal will automatically be connected (assuming the supported equipment was used in Max / Maya), Specular maps will be imported but not connected, other maps, like Ambient Occlusion map in the Diffuse slot of the Mayan material, would not be even imported; it is best to check your materials and connect any unconnected maps and check which maps did not import.
  • Simply double-click the new equipment and connect the available textures into Their Appropriate inputs. By viewing the imported mesh in the Static Mesh Editor and enabling the display of collision, you can determine that the process worked as expected. Alternatively, you can just click and drag an FBX file from Windows into the Content Browser and it will bring up the import dialog for you.The import steps list is from the official Epic Unreal Engine documentation.
  • It is important to organize your content browser folders with the correct names. In this case we use the name Static Architecture for our static objects.
  • After importing the files to the content browser go up to the top viewport and drag all models at once (use CTRL to select more than one object). This way you can import all objects to the scene in the correct position created on 3ds Max.
  • After setting up the first part of the scene in UE4, you should import other assets like doors, furniture, adornment, etc. For these assets we should align their pivot point to 0. This is because Unreal Engine recognizes the pivotal point in 0 and if your object was imported away from the origin, you will have difficult to handle it in UE4.
  • The next thing after importing the assets is to relocate them into the scene: within the Content Browser (Ctrl + E), we will adjust some settings for each object. In Lightmap Size option will be set the lightmap size of each object. The higher this value is, the longer is the lighting calculation time as well as the shadows, so I recommend using a value of 1024×1024 for extended objects (walls, floors, ceilings etc) and values between 128×128 to 512×512 for smaller objects (adornment, furniture etc). In this window we can also see the number of textures channels and view the UV mesh.

Click on image to enlarge ContentBrowser.jpg

Content browser

 

Setting up materials in Unreal Engine 4
When the materials window is opened, you will use similar concepts to conventional renders to represent the desired materials. You should use the Nodes concept, which will link parameters as Textures, Texture coordinates, normal maps, etc.

Click on image to enlarge Material.JPG

Material nodes

When importing a texture to UE4, we can drag it into the materials window and connect to the Diffuse parameter. We will do this for parameters such as specular, reflection and normal. I will not go further into the creation of realistic materials within UE4, but you can see good examples in our complete projects. Also there will be a video course about these in the near future.
To create normal maps into your textures I recommend using a Photoshop plugin from nVidia “NormalMapFilter”.

Setting up the Lighting in Unreal Engine 4

Click on image to enlarge PlaceLights.jpg

Placing lights

To begin this part, I recommend start testing the lighting only with part of the static architecture (walls, floor and ceiling): this way the lighting test time is reduced and when we insert the furniture, the lighting will be very polished.

Click on image to enlarge skylight.jpg

First insert a Skylight and start testing the intensity value. I suggest not to exaggerate this value to more than 2.

 

Click on image to enlarge Spotlight.jpg

To test the basic lighting click in Build > Lighting quality > High. Spotlight settings on the right.

 

Click on image to enlarge WorldSettings.jpg

In this demo scene i configured my Lightmass (engine used to calculate GI in UE4) with the above parameters.

 

After many tests we came to these values to get free illumination spots (splotches or flickers). But remember that each scene should have a particularity.

Post-Process

Click on image to enlarge Post.JPG

After figuring out the lighting and reaching the desirable effect, you will add a post-process volume where you will have more control on the visual of the scene. In this step you will be able to add Bloom and Vignette effects, control the Exhibition, Depth-of-field, color correction and more.

You can check everything in our complete projects and keep reading the Unreal documentation to experiment different settings. Thanks for reading! This tutorial was brought to you by UE4Arch: http://ue4arch.com.

Check Evermotion Archinteriors for Unreal Engine.

Originally published here.

In recent years, we’ve reached a point where visualizations have become all-prevalent in the architectural profession. Whether we like it or not, stylized imagery is seen as a commodity, and ultimately, renderings win competitions and commissions. Architects have become enamored with beautiful renderings because clients understand pictures better than plans, and yet, the tools used to produce these glitzy images are changing faster than our industry can keep up. But with technology constantly evolving, we may face a new wave of visualization techniques, as the same render engines used to produce the tantalizingly realistic visuals in movies and video games are, for the first time, easily within our reach.

The lines across industries are blurring and companies behind the rendering engines for the most popular video games are now marketing their software directly to architects. This year, the original developers of the game Gears of War have made their proprietary rendering software Unreal Engine 4 free to architects, and many other video game render engines are available for less than the cost of those used by architects. Founder Tim Sweeney believes that the world of visualization is changing, telling The Verge “We’re realizing now that Unreal Engine 4 is a common language between all these common fields.” Creating a common language between the presently disparate fields of architecture, film, and video games, for example, suggests that the industries themselves may begin to hybridize and learn from one another. For instance, video game developers may look to architects to understand how to construct 3D buildings, while architects may learn from the navigable virtual environment of video games in order to discover new means of representation. Add to this the fact that these software packages are capable of producing lifelike animated walkthroughs and we are left wondering, why is this not an industry standard? Read on after the break for the pros and cons of being an early adopter.

Pros:

1. Video Game Engines Offer Entirely New Presentation Possibilities

Until recently, it was extremely time consuming to produce animated walkthroughs with standard architectural software packages that, in the end, still appeared crude and lifeless, and professionals rarely employ this means of representation unless it is requested simply due to these difficulties. Drawings and static renderings often fail to capture the experiential and spatial qualities of a building, but imagine being able to walk through a design to explain its circulation, for example. Or, if the client is choosing between options for interior finishes, they may instantly see multiple options in real time and in varying lighting conditions to make a decision. This is where video game render engines can exhibit their strengths.

2. Your Competitors Are Naturally Slow Adopters

When compared to our younger counterparts in the technology sector, architects have always been somewhat resistant to change. Many offices were slow to adopt computer drafting in its infancy, and the analogue process of producing models and drawings is still an important tool in most workplaces and universities. Architects are forced to work in the physical world of structure and materials, as well as the theoretical realm of drawings and ideas, with the intermediary between these zones being computer modeling. Building Information Modeling in particular has had wide-reaching effects, allowing us to digitally catalog, analyze, and price every single component of buildings long before construction begins.But despite the availability of these incredible tools, many firms have been slow to adopt them and still rely primarily on 2D drawings. Thus, firms that take advantage of video game engines may have an edge on their competitors when it comes to producing convincing renderings. As evidenced by works produced by 3D visual artists in Unreal Engine 4, video game render engines are capable of revealing incredibly nuanced details of light and movement that elevate the experience of an architectural walkthrough. Additionally, these three-dimensional spatial experiences provide opportunities to comprehensively explain projects and understand the experience of a building before it is built.

3. Architects Can Now Use Video Game Engines for Free

Perhaps the most compelling reason to give video game rendering engines a try is that Unreal Engine 4 is absolutely free for architects. Previously requiring a $19.99 a month subscription fee, prices for Unreal Engine 4 were already significantly more affordable than many of the software packages used by architects, and since architects do not produce a commercial product by definition, this also means that the 5 percent royalty fee assessed to video game makers does not apply. Unreal Engine 4 makes it even easier for architects to embrace their software by incorporating training guides and a showcase of architectural visualizations on their website. As more architects begin using video game engines in their practices, it is likely that we will uncover additional resources and tips that are uniquely suited for creating compelling virtual spaces. Clearly, Unreal Engine 4 has assured that cost is no longer a prohibitive factor in obtaining the tools to produce high-end visuals, but the way these software packages become an integral part of our workflow could indeed be an obstacle.

Cons:

1. A Steep Learning Curve

As some professionals have struggled to adopt even the most basic digital 3D tools, it is easy to see why few have jumped at the opportunity to innovate across industry lines. Though perhaps we cannot be too harsh on firms for their technological illiteracy, as it requires a great deal of additional time and money to adjust to an entirely new workflow. Some forms of 3D rendering software will have a very steep learning curve for those who are used to working in 2D environments and it is not always viable to sacrifice billable hours to computer training.

2. Video Game Engines Complicate Your Workflow

Architecture visualization is still a multi-step process that often requires the use of more than one software package, exporting and importing various elements. This is also the case with Unreal Engine 4 and other render engines, which require one to import a finished 3D model from another program such as 3DS Max. Because architects can already produce visually stunning renderings through 3DS Max plug-ins like V-Ray, some may be hesitant to add more time to the rendering process by complicating it with a video game render engine.

3. Video Game Engines Were Not Made for Architecture

Others question the very intent of using software originally intended for video games because without the proper skillset, they could potentially produce very clear stylistic differences from architectural visualizations. Not surprisingly, some examples of architectural walkthroughs produced with these engines remind us of playing a video game. Determining whether or not this is a problem comes down to the much broader question of stylistic preferences and one’s motivations for creating a rendering. These tools are potentially a danger to architects because they allow us to produce awe-inspiring visuals that lack any real substance in terms of their architectonic, spatial or programmatic functions. In this way, the goals of architects are inherently different than those of video game designers who care primarily about creating a compelling experience as it exists on-screen.

At best, rendering offers us an opportunity to communicate the underlying phenomenological ideas behind a building and present the ideal qualities we aspire to evoke. However, as technology enables us to produces exceedingly realistic scenes, there is also the danger of getting lost in the image of a project rather than its reality. As beautiful as some of these visualizations can be, we have to question what draws us to particular images and evaluate them for the architectural narratives and design decisions they ought to convey.

In Conclusion

Representation is only a very small fraction of the effort that must go into designing a finished building, and oftentimes renderings are only one tool in an iterative design process that allows architects to evaluate spatial qualities and their impact. Larger firms have the resources to outsource presentation renderings to professionals, resulting in a higher quality product and freeing up time to spend on design rather than mere representation. For this reason, some firms may not desire to spend additional time or money on creating high-end visuals in-house and the question of what software to use becomes irrelevant. However, when one remembers that architectural walkthroughs could be used as a design tool to help clients visualize and make decisions about interior spaces, the question of whether or not to take advantage of them becomes more complicated.

As these software packages continue to advance, users can expect the interface to become increasingly intuitive, potentially reducing set-up time and making architectural walkthroughs a viable means of representation. However, for architects to gain from advancements in visualization technology and the eventual blurring of industry lines in these areas, we must first learn to approach rendering as a tool rather than an end in itself. The decision of whether not to explore these tools will depend on one’s individual needs and circumstances. By initially sacrificing time to learn and navigate these new ways of producing renderings, the quality of the final images could be substantially elevated and one may discover new benefits to using 3D environments throughout the design process. Ultimately, it is likely that future architecture software packages will allow us to take advantage of video game quality engines in an environment specifically tailored for the clear representation of architectural spaces. The question is, which architects will take the first steps?

All videos courtesy of Youtube user koooolalala, except for “Architecture Real-time” demonstration, courtesy of UE4 Architecture.

Originally published here.

Mutungo - 01

No matter what professional field you are in, inevitably you will be asked to provide or even justify the cost of your services. It can be difficult to give pricing while trying to make sure that what you are providing pricing for is what any competition is providing pricing for. In addition giving some context for your price and demonstrating that it is reasonable is often times necessary. If you are an architect practicing in Washington State you may show clients the published price surveys that would indicate where you where within the reported percentile and is a good litmus test of your fee structure compared to the rest of the market. In the architectural visualization profession there isn’t any “defacto” standard and many studios are good at the old “Bait and Switch” to lure you in. One resource is the 2009 CG architect survey and the information could be interpreted as follows:

In a 2009 worldwide survey, performed by CGarchitect (most influential and reputable online magazine/community focusing on architectural visualization), the average price charged for a high-quality 3D architectural still image is between $1000.00 USD and $2000.00 USD. This is an average price you could expect that paying in this range as being fair for small to medium projects, large projects range from $3,000.00 USD onward depending on the project. While standard 3D animation costs anywhere between US$5000.00 USD and $10000.00 USD , you could expect to pay a fair bit more depending on duration and complexity of video. Obviously, every studio is different and prices vary, but usually the studios that are producing higher quality work, are charging more. If you have worked with rendering studios you probably know you can get cheaper renderings from countries like China and India, downside can be the quality control and all the time spent managing the process to get the results you want. The comprehensive survey on the profession of architectural visualization can be found here:

http://www.cgarchitect.com/2009/11/cgarchitect-2009-industry-survey-results—spotlight-on-the-future-of-the-architectural-visualization-industry

There are some firm hard figures on the monetary level of what are going rates by regions and it gives you a good idea how much you may pay in currency, but I would argue that the cost of renderings is also measured in your time and quality of the end result.

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