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UE4 Environment Breakdown

This is an environment created entirely using NDO, DDO and Megascans, rendered in Unreal Engine 4 and based on a concept from Deus Ex: HR.

You can download this scene as a free full download on the Unreal Engine Marketplace.

In this breakdown Wiktor Ohman talks about his workflow and what he learned from his first experience with UE4 and the Quixel SUITE.


This breakdown is also available as a PDF. Click here to download.

Initial thoughts & plans

I've been an avid UDK and Quixel tool user for a pretty long time and during these years I've established a pretty decent workflow which allows me to quickly try out ideas and iterate on them without much trouble.

When I got access to Unreal Engine 4 and was about to start on this new project I had a clear plan in my head – I wanted to try and see how well my legacy DDO → UDK workflow would translate to the new Quixel SUITE → UE4. Turns out it translated incredibly well.

I chose to base my environment on the Deus Ex concept for two reasons. First, it's Deus Ex, which I love and secondly it has a lot of variation in surfaces and materials. Clean and metallic surfaces, plastic, glass and so on, which could prove to be a difficult thing both to texture and to make visually interesting.

In this breakdown I'll explain my different workflows, both in UE4 and in Quixel SUITE.

First couple of days

During the first couple of days with UE4 I mainly watched the video tutorial series and read through the documentation, which really got me up to speed quickly. Everything felt very streamlined and easy to understand. I modeled one of the tiles and baked out a tangent space normal, AO, object space normal, gradient map and a color map. Then I proceeded to adding details to the normal and AO that would've taken unnecessary time to model by instead using the new NDO.

The tangent space normal and AO are used by DDO to generate a cavity map in case you don't input one manually. The gradient map allows you to create a mask using a gradient going across the asset in three different axis, X, Y and Z, and the color map is used by DDO to create Material Groups in which you can define materials for certain parts of the asset.

Next came the really interesting part – the texturing. One of the things that had me both worried and excited about UE4 was the new shading system. I still hadn't made an entire scene with PBR, and I wasn't entirely sure how UE4 would work with my textures.

Detailing with NDO

Before I started working on the albedo, specular, roughness and so on I wanted to spend a little more time on the Tangent Space Normal mtap and add some more details and visual interest to it.

I simply loaded the baked normal map, loaded up NDO and converted it to an NDO normal (Options → Mix → Convert to NDO Normal).

One of the most interesting new features in NDO is the Multi-Sculpt. What this allows you to do is to simply go nuts with layers, text, shapes, filters and anything you can think of really. It creates a group hierarchy in which you can add as many layers as you want and whatever is put in those layers instantly get turned into tangent space normal details. These Multi-Sculpt groups are also very low-cost when it comes to performance, especially when zipped.

The details I added were mainly smaller details such as bolts, panels and stamped details, such as the half circle at the top of one of the protruding parts.

When creating details with NDO, make sure to try out the different bevel types and the curves. Several shapes you'd think required several layers to achieve can often be created by using this technique. For example the Groove Bevel type combined with a non-linear curve can create some interesting results, so make sure to get used to how this works.

Also, one thing worth noting is the different Blending Modes. If you want to add a detail on top of another you need to blend them in one way or another. The most commonly used one to imply overlay them is the Overlay blending mode. The other blending modes are also very handy, but I, personally, mainly use them when creating more complex, sculpts or Photonormals when you want a bit more “Oomph” from your details.

After I was done with the normal map I generated an ambient occlusion map and then multiplied it on top of the baked AO. This allows me to add the recently-added details to the AO as well, letting DDO use that information to create even better masks when adding materials.

Texturing with DDO

My approach to texturing most, if not all, the assets in this environment was very straight forward. I simply plugged in my input maps (Tangent Space Normal, Object Space Normal, AO, Gradient map and Color ID Map) and specified the material type in the ID linking window. I didn't load any presets, but instead I generated a clean slate and added materials manually.

I had a couple of Smart Materials saved out for the surfaces that were the most reoccuring ones in the scene – for example the cream white plastics and the variations of it.

To quickly get started I opened up 3DO and applied materials to my model directly. Simply hold C + Shift and click on the material ID you want to apply a material to. By doing this I could quickly get some base reflectance values and/or textures applied which I could then tweak later.

When loading a Material you can choose if you want to load both its associated textures and/or its reflectance values. This is good to keep in mind seeing as you can load, for example, one metal type and you like its reflectance, but maybe the textures are too worn. Then you can simply select another material, uncheck Reflectance and just load the textures. This leaves you with the reflectance values you've specified and loads a new texture set.

Once you're happy with a material you can choose to save it from the Options Drop-down which is located in the top-right of the DDO window. Simply select the material group and choose “Save Smart Material from Selected…”. This will save the material and will allow you to quickly load it at any time, just like I did with the other materials I loaded through 3DO.

The texturing of this tile only took about 15 – 20 minutes by using this workflow.

Before moving on I added two more maps, which you can do at any time. The first was an Ambient Occlusion map. The reason why I didn't want to simply use the baked AO is that if you create an AO map through DDO you'll get all the small, fine details which you get from the Megascans materials applied. The same goes for the normal map. The second map was an Emissive map, which I used for the lights and glowy parts in the scene. The emissive map I made entire black except for a couple of areas which I wanted to glow.

I started creating a master material which was pretty basic, but it did its job and it looked really good straight out of the box, which was a huge relief, seeing as my workflow was pretty much intact. I did, however, want to make a couple of changes to the workflow and the master material to allow me to quickly adjust the reflectance values in-engine.

The Master Material

What I wanted was the ability to quickly make fine adjustments to the reflectance values and the colors based on a mask. I created a mask with two values in each channel (RGB) and the AO in the Alpha. The two values were 50% grey and 100% white. These values I then separated in the material editor and used them to mask out areas of my base color, specular, metallic and roughness maps.

Now that I had 6 different “material groups” I could quickly adjust the values and it allowed me to have several different real-time editable material types in a single material, such as plastics, glass, metal and so on.

At this point I was pretty happy with my master material, but when looking closer at my asset I realized I needed some micro detail when doing close-up shots. The first thing that came to mind was to add a detail normal, but quickly decided against that, because I've never really been a fan of the results you get with that. Instead I went through the Megascans material library that comes bundled with DDO and took one of the roughness maps associated with one of said materials, I then coupled the roughness map with the unique roughness map created for the asset.

I really didn't know what to expect, seeing as I'd never tried this before, but when I saved the material and previewed it, it looked really good, so I decided to go with this approach.

I ended up using two different Megascans roughness masks (or scuff maps, if you prefer) for the scene. One brushed steel and one scratched aluminum, which I switched between depending on the target surface. These scans were also used for the unique texturing with DDO and really helped me create believable clean surfaces easily.

The way my maps are set up is as follows:

Albedo (RGB) Specular (RGBA) – Roughness in Alpha Mask (RGBA) - AO in Alpha Normal (RGB)

Looking back at the project I think I could've cut the memory cost a little bit by putting the Specular, Roughness and AO all in a single RGB texture, instead of having both the specular and mask as RGBA. The reason I did it this way was because the specular had a bit of color information in it, but if you're in a tight budget you should definitely consider putting the Spec, Roughness and AO in a single RGB texture. It would take the texture cost per asset down by 2.

Simple layered material with DDO

One thing I did for a couple of assets when I was in the process of wrapping the project up and wanted to quickly add some props was to actually not texture them. Instead I baked out an Object Space Normal, and an AO from the lowpoly. I then used these maps to create a mask in DDO which I then put into Unreal Engine 4. Using this mask I could then create a very simple layered material where white on the mask was for example rough paint and black was the underlying metal. The pipes, as an example, was created using this technique.


All in all this was an extremely educational project. I had the chance to learn a completely new engine to me, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how easy it was to get into. I also got the chance to create an entire environment using the Quixel SUITE together with UE4, which I had never done before. They played together really well and I encountered no hockups whatsoever.

The project took me about 4 weeks, most of which was me trying to figure stuff out in the engine, watching learning material and just trying new things out. The texturing, clumped together, took me less than a work day. Setting up a material that works well with DDO's output maps only takes a couple of minutes and requires no fiddling around at all.

The scene can be downloaded from the Unreal Marketplace for free for all subscribers and the scene contains all maps, materials and models which you can inspect all you want.

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Download PDF Version: Download

deusexbreakdown.txt · Last modified: 2014/06/09 09:10 by wiktor