New course: Creating Virtual Production Environments in Unreal Engine

In this course, taught by Liam Whitehouse, members will learn techniques to capture and recreate real world on-set locations into highly detailed photo real Unreal Engine real-time environments. These can then be used for cinematics or background environments for virtual production.

The course covers how to capture photogrammetry of large assets, retoplogy, UV mapping in ZBrush, and creating a detailed procedural background terrain in World Creator. Topics covered also include how to paint procedural grass foliage onto the ground in art-directed detail as well as how to create a Niagara particle system of leaves falling from the detailed trees. All of this will be included in easy-to-follow classes ideal for VFX artists wanting to utilize Unreal Engine for cinematics and highly detailed virtual production background scenes on LED volumes.

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.

Class Listing

Class 1: Converting real locations into digital environments

Learn effective and time efficient methods to capture reference imagery, textures and photogrammetry data of complex natural environments using a smartphone, digital SLR, or drone. How to breakdown an environment into which elements are best to reproduce entirely as new 3D assets, which can be 3D assets with textured added, and which are best to use matching assets already available in an existing asset library. A breakdown of the scene and capture techniques and best practices will be discussed to get the best possible data without losing time on-set.

Class 2: Capturing and processing photogrammetry

In the example scene we have a large hero tree asset in an establishing shot of our main character. You will learn how to capture an asset like a large tree with a complex deep bark structure and then how to get the best solve, highest resolution geometry, and detailed textures out of Reality Capture. This can then be used in Unreal Engine for virtual production or as a Nanite here asset for 4K cinematic closeup shot .

Class 3: Scan retopology and UVs in ZBrush

A look at the important step of mesh cleanup and editing as well as retopology and UV unwrapping using additional DCC apps. You will learn the basics of ZBrush to do scan geometry touch ups as well as retopology to create a clean quad mesh which can be used in other 3D apps for easy UV unrapping, texturing updates, or other enhancements.

Class 4: Scene layout and foreground terrain

For cinematics or virtual production shots, creating art-directed foreground geometry and placing scanned meshes into the shot in a visually exciting and well-staged position is an important layout stage to create appealing looking final shots. In this class you will learn how to bring the scanned assets into a scene and position them as well as well as how to sculpt and build a ground surface which will provide parallax during camera movement. The base mesh will be used in Unreal Engine to have foliage painted onto it for closeup hero plants as well as rocks to match our concept art frames.

Class 5: Framing the trees

Positioning and fine-tuning of our foliage, tree, and ground elements to complete an art directed image which will work both for cinematics or virtual production usage. We setup test cameras to check the angles for virtual production or keyframe animate the Unreal Engine camera to create a gorgeous cinematic shot.

Class 6: Creating background mountains using World Creator

We add mountain terrain and fog to give additional depth to the end of the shot. The distant 3D background provides a sense of scale for our shot as well as another element which can reflect different lighting and weather condition scenarios a client might provide for reference.

Class 7: Foreground foliage

For the detailed grass and rocks in the foreground, we procedurally generate grass in varying lengths and types to create a natural randomness to the spread of foliage as well as creating an appealing composition for our shot from several camera angles. A look at different techniques to break up repetition, avoid jagged noise, and give clear readability of parts of the shot to the viewer.

Class 8: Adding falling leaves

We create drifting and falling tree leaves using Unreal Engine’s Niagara particle system. Starting with a preset, you’ll learn how to adjust the settings to create wind, gravity, and rotation to affect the leaf geometry.

Class 9: Using a Metahuman character for scale reference

To add scale reference to the scene, we add a pre-made human character and pose the rigged arms and body to lean against the tree. For virtual production, it can be helpful to have background characters to give life to environments and for cinematics characters can help ground the story in a certain location.

Class 10: Daytime lighting and cinematic camera settings

Learn how to create and edit a daytime lighting setup for the shot as well as some photographic techniques for creating an appealing shot which isn’t flat or under or over exposed. Additionally, we cover setting up an Alexa-style digital cinema camera inside Unreal Engine as well as a discussion of prime lenses. How to render our shot for review, including covering the movie render queue output as well as settings for high quality depth of field and motion blur.