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.






28 thoughts on “UE4 – my first attempt at realtime archviz

  1. Hi !

    Nice animation. Here is my attempt to create something in UE4.
    It was done in UE4.4 so I must try new automatic lightmaps as you wrote.
    For me UE or other engines is the future for long animation and realtime visualisation with oculus. Rendertimes are amazing only time converting max scene to UE4 may be longer.
    I tried CryEngine and it was easier for me importing scene and set materials and one big plus in CryEngine you dont need build light. But if you want connect oculus you need programmer. In UE4 just connect and go. Thats the reason why I chose UE.

  2. very nice result, waiting for the ue4 ARCHVIZ premium tutorial. please tell us if you are planning to do that, thanks.

  3. hay Austris, this is beautiful. Just waiting for the exterior walk through. thanks

  4. Hello
    I’ve used Unity for photorealistic animation for some time. Its not that cool as UE4 but I assume way easier to learn. Unity uses custom Lightmaps which helps to simulate GI, but It works only on static objects. Your animation is very cool, Id like to learn a bit UE and CryEngine. Best regards

  5. Would love to see the original 2560×1440 video! :)

  6. Hi Austris,

    that a pretty darn great result!! I like it better than the ArchiViz scenes that were posted on the UE forum, because you did a real world job and didn’t just render pretty boxes. Nice mood, good materials. Even for an experienced UE4 user, this is top notch.

    I hope you will publish a UE4 ArchViz tutorial once you get a better hang of the engine. I’ll be the first to buy it!

    Concerning the future of real-time ArchViz: Well it’s not going to replace its offline counterpart, but the market will grow and the more photoreal and robust realtime rendering techiques will get (up to full blown interactive Raytracing), the higher the market share of interactive real-time ArchViz will be.
    Since interaction with a scene requires coding/scripting skills, current ArchViz artist will have to learn a new skill set or cooperate with coders.

    • Hi,
      Thanks for the kind words!

      The interactivity actually is done with ‘visual scripting’ where you put together a bunch of nodes with functions/parameters/etc.
      It’s definitely a new skill set, but it’s nowhere near as daunting as learning programming from scratch.

  7. Hi
    Im 3d arch viz artist. Im using vray for render, i want to share with you my worried about my creer as 3d arch vis. My worry is lumion and 3d soft like lumion, this software that develop for architects is want make revolution that architects will not gonna need the services of 3d artist at all. That things make my career in danger with vray? Its a big worry for me and i wonder what you think about all this? Btw lumion 5 have physical shader now :-(

    • I dont like Lumion and hate it. I dont know why but hate it. Lumion is easy and fast but not so realistic. Its sad because we are learning archviz long and someone with no idea make scene in lumion realy fast and its sufficient for client.

    • There is always going to be the low end. Either it’s lumion or something else – the clients that want the cheapest result possible are usually not great clients to have.

      Improving your skills and finding some clients that want quality is the only answer.

  8. I like the idea of being able to use a finished scene as a stand alone application that you can send the end user. They can then navigate around the scene using the arrow keys on a keyboard for example. I presume you can add collision detection and response to obstacles like walls, tables and chairs etc etc in a walk around scene in UE? UE and ArchViz is definitely something i am interested in learning in the near future.

  9. I don’t think either that game engines are going to overthrone vray, mental or corona, but they are definitly something evolving very quickly. I’ve been involved with ue4 and Oculus for the past two months, and it has been a chalenging experience, especially dealing with lightmapping (not anymore :D ).

    Once you get use to it, the fbx import workflow is very uselfull and especially the pivot issue, because you can import and always set things to the same place very easily when doing mass imports. For especific meshes you can simply change the pivot and location in max.

    We should try to activate more the unrealengine archviz forum, it’s almost dead!

  10. Lovely work Austris.

    I’m pretty much convinced that realtime visualisation is the future of Archviz – why wouldn’t it be? I spent a bit of time trying out the previous version of Unreal engine to use for archviz and I really struggled with the lightmapping – particularly getting a set of UVs that would work and not take ridiculous amounts of work to produce.

    I moved over to trying CryEngine out for the same task as it doesn’t require manual unwrapping for lighting – as Maros said. CryEngine is lovely to use. However, its terms of licence forbid its use for Archviz – its available for Entertainment only?!?!

    I may just try out the new Unreal now that I hear its lighting is easier to use.


    • Thanks!

      After the 4.5 update lightmap UVs are auto-generated for all objects as you import them in UE. No hassle at all and very quick!

  11. This is the future

  12. I see UE4 and realtime as the future. Vray is great but the speed at which renders/walkthroughs can be created WITHOUT rendering is astonishing. Plus UE has a command to render out HUGE stills just like a prerendered image. The thing I’m most excited about is being able to walk through a scene and instantly changes mats, finishes, lighting, etc. UE4 can do all of this without the need to exit the scene. If you have an Oculus it’s game over as UE4 is set to run it by default. VR photoreal renders are here. The example I link below shows updates in realtime.

    Check out this example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTt7AGIpV2I

    Not my walkthrough but a great proof of concept that UE4 previs is a reality.


    • That’s a great example and adding interactivity like that is something I plan to learn next :)

    • No doubt, that this is a really nice example. But you shouldn’t forget that almost all of these new amazing UE4 realtime Archiviz demos make extensive use of lightmapping. Lightmapping though is a very timeconsuming process, taking many minutes to hours to day to calculate. It is making use of the very same technology that VRay and other offline rendering systems are built upon: Raytracing.
      So in all fairness, any “realtime” scene that uses lightmapping has a substantial raytracing backbone and is thus not nearly as realtime as many people might think. And for the most part it is lightmapping which makes these scenes look so nice and real. Without it, current realtime scenes wouldn’t look as impressive as they do.
      Current realtime technology and hardware still have a very long way to go until they are finally capable of simulating indirect diffuse illumination (whats stored in lightmaps) truly in realtime.
      That being said, it is also important to note that offline rendering, which is based on raytracing, is a much more robust technology than the myriad of technologies and hacks used to achieve high fidelity realtime graphics. There is also a much longer setup time involved in realtime scenes that fall into the (near) photoreal category. For instance you’ll have to place numerous clusters of IBL cubemap probes in bigger realtime scenes with high frequency lighting and especially with lots of specular objects just to calculate one bounce of indirect illumination (and even that is a rough approximation). That’s not an easy task to do whereas with offline rendering you’ll simply throw millions of ray into the scene and everything is calculated for you.

      • Yes, that is true. The lightmapping calculation for my scene was about 2 hours.
        I guess we could call it semi-realtime. THe big advantage now is that you don’t have to do the baking yourself anymore. Just hit a button and all the lightmaps are calculated and baked automatically. After you set up the lights and calculate the lightmaps, everything you do next is actually realtime (shaders/cameras/walthrough).

        If you are interested in realtime GI, check out Enlighten – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHbHOQ1NRuw
        It still does some sort of geometry pre-compute, but after that the gi is calcualted realtime. Sure, it’s not that high quality, but it’s at least a step in that direction.

        Either way, real realtime with raytracing and gi calculations on par with vray is of course still a long way off, but is it really that essential at this point? I can get a working scene for previewing in real time, even if it’s using various hacks to achieve it. The setup time is longer, but it’s not dramatically longer.

        • Lightmaps are not realtime. They are simply textures with precalculated lighting. That very same technique has been available in offline renderers for years (Baking). Most importantly though, Lightmaps are a static solution. They can’t change in realtime when the lighting in the scene changes during runtime or materials are exchanged.

          So if you were to replace a green wall with a red wall at runtime, your lightmaps would still show the green color bleeding. Also if you were to move lights at runtime, the illumination in the lightmaps won’t change. That’s a serious disadvantage.

          I haven’t looked into Enlighten yet, but I know it’s going to be implemented in Unity 5. So I will play with it. I think the lightmaps are able to change when lights move at runtime, but does it also work when materials change? It still requires a long precalculation.

  13. Roberto Pasquini

    Everything looks beautiful, Austris, as usual.
    I like particularly the “edition”, and the camera motion.


  14. I try to find document about export movie from matinee with sound but I could not find anywhere.
    It would be good if you can provide quick tutorial how to export matinee movie. Thanks

  15. tutorial please!!

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