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Getting Started with Unreal Engine: A Filmmaker’s Guide

Screenshot of the Quixel Bridge interface

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Unreal Engine, a robust game engine and 3D content creation platform developed by Epic Games, has been making waves in the world of film production. If you’re a filmmaker looking to dip your toes into the world of Unreal Engine, you’ve come to the right place.

In this guide, we’ll walk through the basics of Unreal Engine by creating a new project and exploring the interface.

Unreal Engine for Filmmakers

Unreal Engine has become a popular tool in the film industry. Thanks to its photorealistic real-time rendering capabilities it is useful for VFX, previsualization, virtual production, and animation alike.

Is Unreal Engine Good for Beginners?

Yes, Unreal Engine is a great tool for beginners. It offers a user-friendly interface and a wealth of online resources and tutorials to help you get started. Not to mention it is free to download and free to use for most filmmaking-related tasks.

Why Use Unreal Engine?

Unreal Engine offers real-time rendering, which means you can see your changes as you make them. This is a huge advantage for filmmakers, as it allows for faster iteration and more creative freedom.

The Basics of Unreal Engine

Getting started with Unreal Engine involves a few key steps.

Installation and Setup

First, you’ll need to download and install Unreal Engine. You can do this through the Epic Games Launcher, which is available on the Epic Games website.

Creating a Project

Once you’ve installed Unreal Engine, you can create a new project. This will give you a blank slate to start building your film or animation.

Epic Games Launcher interface
  1. Open the Epic Games Launcher and navigate to the Unreal Engine tab.
Unreal Engine new project interface
  1. In the Unreal Project Browser, click on the Games tab or the Film/Video tab and choose a project type. Most choose First Person or the Blank Film/Video template.
Unreal Engine project interface
  1. Before clicking on the “Create” button, be sure to name your project and verify the project location where you want it to be saved.
  2. Under the “Project Defaults” section, you can select Raytracing if you want to use the Raytracing render options. Leave all other defaults as is.
  3. Click on the “Create” button to create your new project.

Why not start with a Sample Scene?

Epic Games has made a number of incredible sample scenes available. These scenes are impressive examples of what is possible with Unreal Engine. However, because they are showcase samples they tend to be very large files that are slow to load and can even crash some machines.

We recommend starting with an empty scene first and trying the sample scenes after you have a general understanding of how to use the application.

Unreal Engine’s interface is divided into several key areas, including the viewport, content browser, and details panel. Familiarizing yourself with these areas will help you navigate the engine more efficiently.

Screenshot of the default level editor interface
The default layout for the Level Editor in Unreal Engine 5. Content Browser at the bottom, viewport above, and Outliner to the side.

Level Editor

The level editor is where you’ll build your scenes. In filmmaking terms, you can think of the levels as scenes or compositions. You can add and arrange assets, create terrain, and more.

Content Browser

The content browser is where you’ll find all the assets for your project, including models, textures, and sounds.

Take a moment and play around with the level editor. For example, you could try the following:

  • Use the Geometry tool to create basic shapes and structures.
  • Experiment with the lighting system by adding and removing lights.
  • Open Quixel Bridge and add some Megascans objects and scenery throughout your level to add detail.
  • Use the Landscape tool to create realistic terrain features like hills and valleys.
Screenshot of the Quixel Bridge interface
Quixel Bridge gives you access to the Megascans library

If you’ve used other 3D software in the past, what you’ll probably notice immediately about Unreal Engine is that you don’t have to render to see a photorealistic result – it can be almost scary. Any updates you make to the objects or lights in your scene update in real-time and in photoreal quality.

Taking Your Projects Further

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the basics, there are several more advanced features you can explore.

Materials and Textures

Materials and textures are crucial for creating realistic visuals. Unreal Engine offers a powerful material editor that allows you to create complex materials with ease.

Animation and Rigging

Unreal Engine offers robust animation and rigging tools. You can create complex animations and character rigs right within the engine.

Lighting and Atmosphere

Good lighting is crucial for setting the mood of your scenes. Unreal Engine offers a range of lighting tools and options to help you create the perfect atmosphere.

Blueprint Visual Scripting

Blueprint is Unreal Engine’s visual scripting system. It allows you to create complex behaviors and interactions without writing a single line of code.

Rendering

Finally, once you’re happy with your project, you can render it out. Unreal Engine offers several rendering options, including real-time rendering and traditional offline rendering.

Unreal Engine Marketplace

The Unreal Engine Marketplace is a great resource for finding pre-made assets for your projects. You can find everything from models and textures to sound effects and game dynamics.

Take the Next Step

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the application, it’s time to dig in with some hands-on tutorials. There are many great tutorials available online; we’ve compiled a list of our favorite tutorials, so take some time to explore and learn.

Getting started with Unreal Engine might seem daunting, but with a bit of patience and practice, you’ll be creating stunning visuals in no time. Whether you’re a seasoned filmmaker looking to explore new tools or a beginner just starting out, Unreal Engine offers a powerful platform for your creative projects.

FAQs

Is Unreal Engine Free?

Yes, Unreal Engine is free to download and use. However, if you release a game or application and it grosses more than $1 million, you’ll need to pay a 5% royalty to Epic Games.

Is Unreal Engine Easy to Learn?

Yes, Unreal Engine is relatively easy to learn. There are plenty of online tutorials and resources available to help you get started. The user interface is also designed to be intuitive and user-friendly.

What Types of Projects Can I Create with Unreal Engine?

You can use Unreal Engine for various types of projects, such as films, animations, virtual production, and interactive experiences. The engine is also capable of real-time rendering for photorealistic visuals.

Can I Use Unreal Engine for Non-Gaming Projects?

Yes, Unreal Engine can be used for non-gaming projects such as filmmaking, architecture visualization, and animation. There are plenty of resources available to help you get started with your project.

What Platforms Can I Create Games With Unreal Engine?

Unreal Engine is available for a wide range of platforms, including Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. You can also create web-based games with HTML5 or WebAssembly.

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