Creating Rainforest Environments in Unreal Engine

Taught by Liam Whitehouse

Course Number:
Software Version:
Original Run Date:
January 2024 
6 hours 50 minutes 
Creating Rainforest Environments in Unreal Engine is ideal for those doing virtual production or real time environments for film VFX or cinematics. It will teach members how to build an art directed rainforest environment from a blank scene to completion, including the ground terrain, trees created in Speedtree Games, Foliage system, Water system, daytime lighting and particle fireflies setup for amazing visuals. All the settings and techniques to build a cinematic and stylish shot will be covered in the ten classes.

The course will cover many systems in Unreal Engine including the Nanite geometry system and how to scan assets and import them into UE5, animated trees in Speedtree or Nanite trees, the foliage painting tools for procedural foliage, water systems and look dev, lighting and movie render queue.

Liam Whitehouse is an Australian based Senior VFX artist, who has been in the 3D industry since 2003. He has worked on various projects over the past 21 years including most recently environments in The Fall Guy, underwater environments in Aquaman 2, Lindon forests in The Rings Of Power, photorealistic canyon environments for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney Plus, and the hollow earth environments for Godzilla vs Kong, as well as photogrammetry rocks in Avatar 2.
Creating Rainforest Environments in Unreal Engine
Watch our overview of the course

Class Listing

Class 1: Course overview and scene design

In the first class members will take a look at the project overview and various stages of vfx to create a finished scene from a previs layout camera move. From asset creation to detailed layout of the elements into the environment to make a shot, as well as material editing and lighting setup and high quality rendering.

Class 2: Ground Surface

In class 2 we will learn how to create the ground surface replacing the previs geometry from the layout team. This detailed ground surface will have slopes, underwater areas, cliff areas and rock areas integrated naturally into it so that our plants, trees, rocks and water can all attach to the surface and give an interesting cinematic image at the final stages.

Class 3: Speedtree Games

As well as the amazing nanite trees available on the epic games marketplace you can also create your own trees in Speedtree Games. In speedtree you can make flowers, plants, grass, saplings, palm trees, conifer trees and large branching forest trees. We will take a look at how you can use atlases to create your own spline based procedural foliage in Speedtree and how to enable animation for wind and export it to Unreal Engine.

Class 4: Rock Assets

An important part of creating original 3d environments is having some assets which are scanned or hand made to give the scene some unique custom art direction. In this class we will look at how to scan forest rocks geo and colour with a DSLR and clean them up for export to Unreal Engine.

Class 5: Tree Layout

In this class we will do the layout on the ground geometry of the large hero trees and large rocks onto the scene to block in the forms and the coverage of foliage to build an interesting and cinematic composition of the shot. We can use reference imagery or ai generated images to art direct how our specific shot should look, in production you can be supplied with concept art to replicate as well.

Class 6: Detail Plants layout

To create layers of depth in the scene which the camera can move through we will hand place hero closeup smaller plants vines and rocks to create the closeup details in front of camera. You don't want to have an empty shot or cover the lens with messy props so we we layout the trees and plants to make beautiful cinematic compositions which tell the story of the shot using depth of field and using reference shots from films.

Class 7: Water Layout

The river and waterfalls are an important part of this rainforest shot. In this class we will look at how to design and control the water system inside Unreal to create detailed and art directed river. Adjusting the wave height, water silt, colour of reflections and scale of ripples. We will also create waterfalls in the cliff areas and position them to create an interesting and cinematic shot.

Class 8: Daylight Lighting Setups

In this class we will look at lighting the scene using the sky atmosphere system and the Cinematic Camera with manual exposure and controls. We'll copy a real world Alexa digital cinema camera with Prime Lenses and create some different lighting options for daytime which we can save as different levels and submit for review.

Class 9: Night Lighting Setup

Often VFX environments may be re-visited at a different time of day. In this class we will learn how to re-use our scene for a night-time lighting scenario and how to create a cool night time scene which will read clearly and tell the story of our scene. We will also look at review notes and how to address them using different versions.

Class 10: Render settings and output

For rendering the final high quality cinematic, we will dive into the render settings in the movie render queue plugin and how we can achieve the highest possible detail for depth of field, motion blur, anti-aliasing and material quality. We will also take a look at the path tracer and its settings for rendering offline shots at the highest quality levels for grading and output.