UE4 – my first attempt at realtime archviz

A while ago there were some pretty cool arch viz videos floating around that were made in Unreal Engine 4. I looked at them and thought, “OK – looks nice, but it’s just an empty room with a bunch of chairs or some concrete walls that move slowly along with some piano music in the background”. At the time, I dismissed the idea as being something not worth the effort yet.

But then I got an itch.
What if the engine could handle somthing more like a real project? I just had to try it out myself :)
I spent some of my hard earned cash for a shiny new gtx980 video card, bought an UE4 subscription and started working my way through tutorials, forums, blogs, etc.
Obviously, I wanted to jump in the deep end and start with a somewhat complex project, something that could pass for a real arch viz job.

Here are my initial results. I think it’s pretty nice for a complete beginner!
Since a basic fps walk-around is boring if you’re not the one controlling the movements, I made a short animation (it even has some piano music) and a bunch screenshots.

Obviously there are some issues here and there, maybe the scene could use more accessories, etc. I also have to figure out the best AA method to keep away the jittering/jaggies in reflections and some edges. Overall I didn’t hold back and threw polygons and high quality shaders at the scene, just to see what the engine could handle with my gtx 980.

So here is my experience so far:

+ very nice physically-based shader system, I love the way it works. The node based system with some math/programming style functions is a-m-a-z-i-n-g
I can make a custom master material and adding things like fuzz, global distortions, scaling for all textures at the same time is a piece of cake!
+ making shaders is quick
+ the new 4.5 engine makes automatic lightmaps, so there’s no hassle with UV unwrapping anymore
+ the tutorials are pretty nice and help a lot with getting started
+ built-in cutscene editor (matinee) is fantastic. Very easy to set up multiple cameras, fading, slo-mo, etc. Everything can be animated as well.
+ great interactivity features (although I’m just starting to work with them, nothing to show yet)
+ it’s fun to walk around the scene you’ve created with all lights and shaders working in realtime

– sometimes crashes at the most unfortunate time (thankfully there is an autosave function)
– some weird animation glitches from time to time
– fbx import is ‘unfriendly’ (seriously, every object has it’s pivot reset to 0;0;0 ???)
– shaders lack some important features, the weak point at this moment is translucent/transparent objects with reflections
– you have to learn a whole new workflow if you are not used to game dev
– days go by too fast, I sit down at the computer in the morning, work a little bit on a scene, look up, and it’s already night outside :)

Overall, I definitely like the results and will be spending more time on developing my UE skills.

So is this the future? Will realtime game engines like UE, cryengine, unity, etc push the conventional methods off their throne?
Probably not. At least for high quality stills and high-end animation.
They will, however, most likely make up a new niche of realtime arch viz and quick, low budget animations.
The 1 minute animation I posted was rendered out in about 4 minutes at 2560×1440 resolution with quality bumped up all the way. Lower resolution and quality settings can be rendered realtime.
I’m guessing the workflow will become faster as I gain more experience (although it’s not that bad even now).

Now the only thing left is to convince the clients that they want or rather need this new fancy real-time interactivity. :)

Do you have any experience with realtime in UE4 or other engines? Please share in the comments – the good, bad and ugly!

My next test project will be an animated exterior scene. Not sure when I’ll find the time though, other ‘paid’ work takes priority at the moment.