VIRTUAL PRODUCTION Environment Design Creating virtual set designs with Unreal Engine, September 2020


This document has been complied to support students studying BA Media Production at the University of Lincoln and those participating on the Erasmus+ co-funded programme EMEX (Emerging Media Exploration). Grant number: 2018-DE01-KA203-004282.


As a follow up to the Virtual Production Learning materials, this short course was designed with the dual purpose of training participants at the EMEX Autumn 2020 workshop to create virtual set designs AND to educate level 2 students studying BA Media Production in using Unreal Engine.

The materials are branded with the department's logo to slightly prioritise Lincoln University students but the content produced kept the dual audience in mind.

Furthermore, the content and delivery strategy was derived from the cancelled Virtual Production Workshop back in March 2020.


The original intention was to run this as a "virtual set design" brief. However, this had to be down-graded to a relatively simple game environment instead because the workshop had to be delivered remotely due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Achieving photorealistic results requires substantial computing power and it was very unlikely students would have access to this when not on campus.

Despite the reduction in the expectation of the end result, the premise and the skills delivered remained in-line with the processes of virtual set design.


You are to create a small section of an environment for a game using Unreal Engine and an "Asset Pack" freely available from the Unreal Engine Marketplace. In order to present your work, you must record a fly/walk-around lasting 20 seconds and take 2 “hero” images exposing the environment’s best/most pertinent views.

The base asset pack to obtain is the Infinity Blade: Grass Lands, a medieval fantasy-themed collection of architecture, objects and materials.

The example project below suggests how to approach producing the output for this task:

Please do not copy this environment. To do so would be missing the point of this task and actually impacting negative against the criteria concerned with originality. It has been created to give you an initial indication of the type of output expected. It was created entirely using the tools, techniques and assets available to you for this task.


Use the following guide, combined with the supplied video tutorials to learn the skills required respond to the task for this subject. By all means do (certain) things in your own order but try to follow the advice and direction provided in the first 6 stages in the order they're presented.

Stage 1 - Understanding the Challenge of the Task

Your main challenge will be to create an interesting and "believable" composition. As the asset pack you'll be using was designed for mobile gaming, its aesthetic is relatively stylised pretty much ruling out photo-realism. That's ok however, because the predominate art style for this genre is stylised anyway. So this is a task about composition, lighting, mood and presentation:

If you've never attempted to create a composition like this before, you should start by gathering inspiration (see tips below). However, the main thing to keep in-mind at all times, with every decision you make, is: narrative.

Narrative might seem like an unusual word to attach to this type of task. After all, you haven't been asked to tell a story explicitly with the brief. Implicitly however, you have...

It's helpful to get into the habit of questioning why you're "placing that bit of architecture there" or why you're "arranging those rocks like that". You might answer: "because it looks right". But it only looks "right" because you'll be comparing it to something else you've seen or believe to be true.

It is very difficult to respond to this task with your imagination alone. You will need to refer to some ground-truths from the man-made and natural world to help make your response look "believable".

So when making these decisions about where things should go, or how something should look, it's helpful to give each asset you place a bit of a back-story. Some history, rooted in geology, at the hand of man, or over long periods time through exposure to nature. It will all help explain why that object has been placed there, and why it looks like that.

Stage 2 - Generating Inspiration Research

Although not required for assessment, generating a collection of reference images for environment design projects is something to be encouraged. This particular task provides all the content for you, so really you'll be looking for reference images to inspire composition or mood with the presentation.

It is recommended to establish a moodboard on an appropriate external service such as Pinterest. If you don't have a Pinterest account, consider creating one. It's a great way to establish curated collections of inspiration and reference. If you do create a new account, DO NOT use your University provided email address. You won't be able to modify your Pinterest account once you graduate as you'll lose access to the email account.

Refer to your moodboard often during the initial project planning as well as when you're transitioning between stages of development (a concept that'll be introduced soon).

Whilst not essential for assessment for this task, if you choose to explore creating CG environments in any form later in your studies, this aspect will be essential to the process and as evidence for assessment.

Stage 3 - Sketch a rough Plan

When you're trying to get an idea out of your head, especially one that's compositional in nature, you might not be able to recreate it quick enough when using a new tool. Furthermore, inspiration might come to you when you're away from your computer.

Therefore, you should sketch out the rough plan of your environment defining any key restrictions such as world size. This is actually defined for you in this project (see Stage 6) so you already have the shape the shape and scale of your environment to get started.

Sketches can range from simple overhead area plans to something sophisticated which acts as both a plan and an indication of aesthetic detail.

You might want to take some time to explore the contents of the Asset Pack you have been designated to use before going too far with any specific details.

The key thing to remember is that the plan is to help you shape your environment really quickly (because it's on paper). You are NOT REQUIRED to submit your plan for assessment, but as a matter of course, I strongly advise you create one once you have engaged with the first workshop.

Stage 4 - Acquire the Unreal Engine & Understand Project Structure

Before downloading any software, you'll need to create an Epic Games account. If you haven't already got one, head here to create one and download the Epic Games Launcher.

The following set of videos are dedicated to this stage. You should watch and perhaps follow the instructions (if you're able to) ahead of your first workshop contained in this video:

The videos (from below) are extended versions of the content that will be covered in the three online workshops. Please engage in the workshops and use this content as a back-up/recap:

Stage 5 - Adding the Asset Pack & Getting Acquainted with the Unreal Engine Editor

The following collection of videos will demonstrate how to obtain, download and add the asset pack that is required for your response to this task to your project. It will also provide basic orientation for getting to grips with the Unreal Engine Editor interface as well as how to navigate around the 3D viewport:

Stage 6 - Setting up your Project & Understanding Content Transformation

The following videos in this sixth stage are essential for setting up the base for your project. Be sure to follow the steps exactly in these videos...

This first video explains the notion of "maps" or "levels" within a project. it is essential you understand the steps required to start a new level and save it immediately to preserve it between sessions.

This video is quite long, but it contains within it the core steps everyone must follow when setting up the base for their projects. A summary of steps is listed below this video:

A recap of the essential steps for starting your project level as outlined in the video above:

  1. Create a new level using the 'Default' template
  2. Change the 'Mobility' of the 'Light Source' directional light to 'Movable'
  3. Delete the 'Floor' mesh
  4. Click on the 'Landscape' mode tab - a large wireframe landscape preview will appear
  5. Set the Z 'Location' to 0
  6. Set the 'Number of Components' to 2 x 2
  7. Click the 'Create' button
  8. Click back on the 'Place' mode tab.... we'll come back to the landscape editing later
  9. Set the Exposure in the Viewport to 'Fixed at Log 0'
  10. Add a 'Skylight' to your level
  11. Set it's 'Mobility' to 'Moveable'
  12. Carry on...

Again, another long video, but the act of adding content to your level and using the basic transformations of this content (position, rotation and scaling) is going to constitute the majority of you interactions with the Editor.

Pay close attention to the tools, keyboard shortcuts and processes and make sure you practice this essential process.

The final video (below) in this Stage, is again, quite lengthy, but does describe everything you'll need to find and filter content (within the Content Browser) and get started 'blocking out' your environment. You'll refer to any plans or sketches you've made to help start the process.

It's essential you spend time on this process. Getting the bigger pieces in place before adding detail is key to being efficient. It's very difficult to add/edit large pieces of design once you've started adding smaller details. Do not progress to medium/smaller details until you're happy with the overall block out of your environment.

Stage 7 - Producing your response to the Task

From this point out, you are free to work and experiment at your own pace. It is still recommended you watch them and implement the skills demonstrated in the same order as they appear, but from here on, feel free to inject creativity and initiative in applying the skills demonstrated:

This final video contains all the information required to produce your expected project outputs of both a cinematic sequence and high resolution stills. It's quite long but it contains a detailed introduction to Sequencer and a breakdown of how the example video was created and edited.