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Unreal Engine 4 Themed Design

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Posted in Categories:Theme Park Design

By Nikolai Mina, Technical Designer, P+A Projects

Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 is ever becoming popular in design world, thanks to its robust and varied functionality. As a real-time rendering solution, Unreal Engine however, is proving to be what might be the best thing that happened for designers of interactive experiences. What started as a free game engine (with exceptions of course), Unreal Engine 4 is now being used outside the game industry; for architectural visualization, product design, interactive environment design, engineering, even on film, animation and cinematography.

We also saw the opportunity to use Unreal Engine in our work specifically for themed design and architecture where visualizing themes and concepts plays crucial role in communication and construction. Unreal Engine’s dynamic software environment enabled us to customize ways of which we could visualize themed design and environments. Thanks to its flexibility and fine rendering quality, it became a major tool for us to connect the different aspects of both design and engineering to visualize complex environments of themed spaces.

So, what makes Unreal Engine an indispensable tool for us in the Themed entertainment industry? Here’s our list:

Scene Assets and geometry handling – Themed design can sometimes be a step up from the standard architectural design. With complicated concepts and structures, different disciplines, systems and structures that needs to be coordinated, a powerful tool like Unreal makes it possible for us to coordinate complex themed environments. While that sounds typical of any construction process, we have to work closely with art directors, artists and sculptors that doesn’t speak our favorite cad software. Unreal enabled us to effectively pre visualize themed designs and environments with character models and props in correspondence with our construction drawings for them to be easily understood by all the professionals involved. And whether it’s a BIM model, a structural model from our engineers, or a high poly scanned sculpture from artists, Unreal Engine is able to handle huge geometries really well for us to work with.

Textures and World Outliner – Communicating designs and concepts has never been easier, thanks to Unreal Engines’ ability to render textures accurately. Working with designs and concepts for clients such as Disney, Warner Bros., Fox, DreamWorks & Lionsgate means that we have to deal with lots of IP’s and pay close attention to branding standards. Unreal Engine’s ability to render complex textures and materials allows us to produce quality renders and animations, which adds more value to our work when meeting our client’s expectations. It is highly beneficial for art directors and set designers to see their concepts and designs visualized realistically, and having the ability to create materials and textures that reflects real world qualities is invaluable in this aspect. Unreal also offers different ways on how we could build our projects inside the engine which is very helpful in maintaining organization in our projects. For a time, it has been a quite challenge whenever we have to track elements and props on a big project. Intuitive features like the world outliner makes it possible for us to trace every element we put into our projects, making it easier to catch these elements for changes or updates.

What started as a free game engine (with exceptions of course), Unreal Engine 4 is now being used outside the game industry; for architectural visualization, product design, interactive environment design, engineering, even on film, animation and cinematography

Light and Particle Effects – Unreal Engine has the ability to simulate different kinds of lighting conditions, be it artificial or natural, and different special effects, from fire to smoke. For complex design configurations that feature different ride themes, huge props, animatronics and scene effects, it is a huge plus in our work to be able to simulate interactivity when capturing a theme park’s experience. And it’s not just for show, as Unreal Engine is capable of simulating different lighting types using real world settings, making it the perfect tool for capturing close-to-reality lighting situations that’s really important in the making of realistic environments. By utilizing these features and capabilities, we are able to come up with different ways, of which we could simulate the different experiences on our projects.

Blueprint Functions – If epic (see what I did there) lighting, effects and materials isn’t enough, Unreal Engine’s Blueprint functions could take your scene designs to a whole new level. Blueprint functions allow users to add complexity and expand asset functionalities in real-time environments and it integrates well with any Unreal elements, from lights, meshes, materials, cameras and even animations. We are able to think of different ways to simulate interactivity by customizing props and scene transitions using blueprint functions in our projects. And what better way to show how something should work or how a spatial experience could be orchestrated, but to make real-time walk-throughs. From queue hallway designs, scene props fully rendered up close, even trying on the ride can all be possible, thanks to blueprint functions.

We’re definitely optimistic about the expanding role of Unreal Engine in the design and construction industry. For us in themed design, embracing new technology is our mantra and matching our enthusiasm to Unreal Engine’s potential in our craft transformed our workflow and how we communicate what we do to our clients and collaborators in the industry. It presents to us opportunities for growth and staying innovative in the themed entertainment industry.