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Winter Cabin: ArchViz in UE4 80lvl

David Baylis did a breakdown of his archviz scene Winter Cabin in UE4 and talked about scale, props, materials, lighting, and more.

Career

Hey all! Great to be back for another interview on 80.lv! Great stuff has happened since the previous article was published, and I hope this will inspire some of you who are still undecided about their career as a 3D artist.

Since last time, I traveled 8000 km away from my home country (France) and settled in Vancouver, Canada. This has been the hardest, but the most rewarding choice of life. Thanks to the previous interviews, I could bump up my portfolio and find a job as a full-time 3D visualizer.

At work, I’d be mostly working on architectural visualization, but mostly using traditional renders such as Corona/V-Ray combined with good old 3ds Max. Although I love architectural visualization, I found that there was a difference in what I could do at work and at home.

I never could put as much detail in my artworks at work compared to home because of the deadlines. I always kept some very intriguing ideas aside that I would write down, so I could realize them at home and take time to polish them, and that’s what has been working so far lately. It requires some commitment to work after a whole day at work, but as we say in French “When we love, we don’t count”.

Winter Cabin

 

Editor’s Note: You can check out this scene in your browser in real-time, thanks to Furioos. Give it a try, it’s kind of insane.

 

Start of the Scene

Everything started browsing the internet. I use a website called www.homedsgn.com for architectural visualization ideas. I recommend browsing through it, as some of the homes have floorplans, which comes in handy when you start the modeling process.

I came across this beautiful design by Woonpioniers who created this gorgeous-looking wooden cabin. I knew I’d go for that one, because of the wood. And wood is one of those materials that always look great in 3D, also it provides great light bounce across the home, which was very important for this home. I could always count on my texture library to find the specific wood.

I started modeling inside 3ds Max, getting the basic shape of the house.

Image by Woonpioniers

Scale

One of the challenges I face every time is guessing the dimensions from a photo. When I first started I use to get a lot of my scaling wrong, but now I’m more used to it. It’s just a matter of training your eye.

Grab a tape measure and take what’s available at home to get an idea of scaling in 3D.

I used reference images as much as I could for the modeling process. Getting a sense of scale was very important. I really analyzed every photo and tried to match as best as I could. Matching reality is something that I love doing, and every new project brings a new challenge. This project was initially meant to be done with Corona, but before going to the rendering phase for the project I did a quick poll on my Instagram account (@david_ukfr) and results were favorable for Unreal Engine!

Archviz Props

Once I finish with modeling the walls, cutouts for the windows and doors, I fill it with a few props (purchased from 3Dsky or Evermotion) to fill in the house and play around with the positioning of the furniture, referencing to the actual photo to help out if needed.

I had to make sure to avoid any repetition in the materials, especially for the wood.

For the stairs, I made sure to set an offset to the UV to avoid repetition.

For the wooden planks in the bedroom, I used a similar method by using a flatten mapping, giving each plank its individual set of UV coordinates.

Now the challenge is to always think ahead with the props, and how they turn out inside a game engine. Most archviz props are very high poly and have complex shapes making it hard for baked lighting. I use RizomUV for unwrapping which helps a lot to save time and getting decent UV packing, excellent for light baking!

For example:

This is using the default Datasmith unwrapper. As you can see it does a great job flattening the UVs, but notice the smaller chunks in the bottom, making it hard for lightmass to properly define shadow and GI.

Pros: Does a great job 75% of the time. Very fast. You don’t even have to do anything, Datasmith unwraps everything for you!

Cons: Can cause glitches, black splotches on complex objects for light baking. Might need to bump the lightmap resolution to compensate resulting in longer bake times and higher memory usage.

This is made using a custom unwrap, as you can see everything is much tighter, and UVs are better proportioned giving lightmass much better lighting data.

Pros: Much better shadows and GI. Smaller lightmap resolution required for baking. Less likely to produce light leaking.

Cons: Time-consuming.

Outside Settings

The outside was definitely a challenge and is something I always keep away from because of its complexity to achieve realistic results. I decided to take the chance anyway and to buff up my portfolio with an exterior environment for a change to interior only.

I watched a lot of Guilherme Rabello’s videos, and discuss with him often about environments. He inspired me a lot for the project in the way to set up outdoor environments.

The way I planned it was modeling the entire house and inside 3ds Max, and deal with landscape inside UE4. So basically I have my imported house sitting on an empty landscape inside UE4, in which I would sculpt the terrain, add the Landscape Material shader and finally the foliage.

I watched a lot of videos on Youtube on ways to get the snow to look realistic. One caught my attention, and it’s from Wiktor Ohman’s wizardry with Megascans:

Materials

Wood was the number one material here, so I had to get that correct. And avoid seams with the tiling. Fortunately, I managed to find a good texture on Arroway Wood vol.1. I then used Substance B2M to output Normal and Roughness maps for PBR results.

The floor was another part of the realism here and had to be combined correctly to be visually compelling with the wood. I used Quixel Mixer and did a simple blend with 3 concrete materials and darkened them, which gave me a semi-polished concrete floor with scratches & imperfections.

I then made the shader as an instance inside UE4 to be able to tweak the parameters in real-time.

All of the prominent materials would be at 4k resolution (Wood/Floor). And the smaller the object the more I’d decrease its texture resolution, 2K then 1K then 512 for very small objects.

Lighting

When starting the project, I knew lighting would be the biggest challenge to get both right.

I knew for sure that my interior would use fully baked lighting, as I have done in the past and learned to deal with lightmaps, it was the centerpiece of my artwork, therefore I needed the best quality possible.

For the exterior, it was a bit of trial and error. I used Procedural Landscape Ecosystem for the trees, that all were lightmapped which helped sticking into an entirely baked lighting. Usually, in this case, you would use a hybrid lighting, with a stationary light that will bake everything that is static, and dynamic lighting to vegetation. But I was satisfied in this case, of course, this wouldn’t really suit in a game.

Conclusion

Archviz inside UE4 is really growing. Datasmith has simplified a lot the task in terms of bringing your work into Unreal.

It allows you to visualize faster, and you can add interactivity to it with the blueprints system.

In the end, it all comes to the artist’s choice to use one tool or the other. UE4 offers great advantages in quality and real-time feedback, but it’s a learning curve and some knowledge in the gaming field is always useful to learn the Engine. It is a very trending tool among the industry now and definitely, helps to know how to use it for a job.

It is good though to still keep using traditional renders like V-Ray/Corona because they still are great and offer higher visual quality that gaming engine still don’t have (yet!).

David Baylis, Archviz Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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