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Unreal (& Sketchup) in the architectural design process

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    Hi RodrigoMW,

    It's a normal design process but enhanced with UE. It starts with sketching on paper, just testing ideas. Once I think I have something that could be great, I start modeling simple volumes and spaces in SketchUp - just the key elements. If it still looks promising in SketchUp, I test the design exporting it to UE. In UE I do a low/medium quality lighting calculation and evaluate (walk around) the design. At that point, it's either refining that design or starting from scratch and adding new designs as new levels to the UE project. That way, you can always go back - or show the client the alternatives if needed.

    Light and space are very important to me and UE to me is a tool to test those qualities in a design (SketchUp's shading capabilities are very limited so there's no feeling of depth). I don't think using UE changes the design itself - it's a tool that helps me evaluating the design myself. Also, it helps communicating the design(s) in the end. Clients really get a good 'picture' of what the design is about and how it could look like. Anything that helps my clients making a decision might save time and streamlines the process.



      Thanks for your answer Max,
      Your design workflow is really direct (I don't mean I don't like it). Its a trial error experience in a kind of 3 stage process. Starting with sketches to the main purge in sketchup, to UE4 to the final check. But somehow, I expect something more.
      Maybe using using VR to map data during an "analysis phase", phisics simulations, emergency plans... sunlight studies...etc... In this video: The VR researcher is talking about asking users who don't know the design, to explore the space in VR to analyse how people react. Archviz is only the first step, and your approach is (for me) the second. But I believe we are in the VR paleolythic, even more in architecture!

      Im about to buy a new PC able to handle UE4 (nope with my actual laptop ) but Im just looking forward to make 1000 experiments. Keep in touch!


        Hi RodrigoMW,

        The video and your ideas sound interesting. I expect you need more larger scale projects for 'something more'. I only do (small) housing and remodeling projects.
        Still, curious to see what kind of possibilities lie ahead...



          Hey Max,

          First off wanted to thank you for the step by step explanation of the pipeline.

          I'm having difficulty creating clean meshes inside SU. We are trying to work directly with Architectural firms so we will be dealing with a lot of blueprints, which is why I want to integrate SU into my workflow.
          My problem is that when my model gets too complex, I find that the geometry is broken bad. The way I found this out is when I import the model into UE4 I always get collission and overlapping errors. Funny thing is when I imported it into my main 3D too (C4D) it looked fine but since UE4 gave me errors I figured I'd redo the mesh using Zbrush's Zremesher too. When I imported it into Zbrush the geometry looked terrible, which I imagine is what UE4 noticed when I brought it in.

          I made sure to group this element, which is a single mesh roof, and exported it as a separate fbx. Are there any resources as to building optimized and clean models into SU, without needing a 2nd party program, or do I have to take it into some other program?

          I'm looking forward to seeing the end result for your project.

          Last edited by aretoon; 08-04-2015, 06:57 PM.


            Hi Artun,

            I'm not exactly sure what you are trying to say by 'broken bad' & 'collision & overlapping errors'. You mean z-fighting? Faces that are (almost) exactly at the same position and causing the z-fighting effect? Maybe you could share a picture illustrating your problem?

            When modelling in SU I try to follow a few guidelines. It's a workflow that suits me because I make 3d models in SU for creating construction documents in Layout afterwards. It turned out, models made like this suit UE as well.
            * use solids as much as possible -> Every building material (or almost any object around you) is a solid volume. If you model everything as a solid object, the objects tend to be very clean. Clean objects are more easy to deal with in SU and cause less artifacts in UE.
            * solids 'never' intersect -> if they do, one part will be hidden from lighting and shadow bleeding / artifacts can occur (or you need HQ settings in UE to fix that). Also, if they intersect in the same plane, z-fighting will occur. Sometimes, when exporting to UE, I do add a few cutlines to objects (intersections for beams in walls for instance) to prevent shadow bleeding.
            * use as less faces as possible -> by doing so, the objects won't slow down SU as much and will keep your calculation times in UE fast. For instance, if your scene looks good with a single textured volume (plane) for the rooftiles, it would be insane to create a high poly model for these rooftiles. That would slow down SU and UE a lot.
            * test from the beginning and test a lot -> the feedback will prevent errors, increase quality and prevent wasting time

            A lot of people don't like solids and have a totally different workflow. Just try out different techniques and choose whatever fits you best.

            Cheers, Max



              I would echo what maxbrown said. I have yet to start importing Sk to UE. However, in doing so in Eon Vue, and have tried other render engines I would recommend:

              1 Always build solids.
              2 use the plugin Solid Inspector.
              3 Then check if it is a solid using a solid tool.
              4 If not, but solid inspector says its solid, make the mesh see through, cut a hole on the face, and then Solid Inspector will show the problem (as well as the hole).
              5 Use the plugin Material Tools. On individual groups or components use 'Remove backface material'.
              6 'Fly' inside the model, and make sure there are no materials assigned to the backface -- other then the default.

              If you follow these steps you will cut down on z-fighting or moire flicker.


                Interesting topic.

                It would be interesting to get a comparison between this method, using a built in renderer for SKP such as Vray or Thea and just plain old SKP viewport. What I mean, is how we might understand the performative nature of light, and also the sense of scale and immersion from these programs particularly with a view to outlay of time/effort.

                I suspect UE4 would have the scale/immersion won hands down (inhabited camera vs detached from human experience), but lighting quality would almost certainly be taken out by a non "RT" traditional renderer (for obvious reasons) - unreal can create absolutely beautiful lighting conditions but they are rarely connected to physical, experienced reality, at least as much as a brute force GI engine can be.

                I always envisioned UE4 being best used either very early on in the massing/early concept stage (minimal hassle of unwrapping, easy to iterate) or at the very end (when major design decisions have been made, truer sense of occupation, how a space is experienced when filled with the things of every day life). It doesn't really suit a truly iterative design process due to the disconnect between the creation of virtual space (skp) and the experience of it (UE4) - it makes it harder to be really critical of the design work I would suspect.

                Just my opinion of course - I spent a couple months looking into this for my masters, ended up discarding the idea of it as a design tool and sticking to a research through design process (art gallery). It's a big topic, I reckon in coming years when there is a better flow between programs this will change.


                  I agree with OP about the usefulness of unreal in the design phase and I'd like to add that with VR it's even better. When photorealism isn't a necessity yet, you can have any model in VR in a matter of minutes. It's plug and play, really!

                  Too bad I'm not working as a designer/architect hehe!


                    I agree with Rusty solid modelling is a good strategy. It helps keeping your model clean AND Boolean modelling (pro version of SketchUp) can be very fast.

                    I'm still using a SketchUp to Unreal workflow. It really helps me in the design phase. At the moment the process is something like:

                    1. rough sketching / thinking of a concept and a good 2d layout - Using good old tracing paper and pen.
                    2. make a simple 3d contextual model in SketchUp (terrain + trees + maybe volumes of neighbor houses). In my part of the Netherlands the terrain is easy; its flat anyway.
                    3. add simple 2d planes for the 2d layout (rooms + layout of main furniture) and the key 3d volumes (main structure, ceiling / roof) with simple colors in SketchUp
                    4. import the first concept into UnrealEngine
                    5. replace references of a few materials to Unreal's PBR materials (grass / glass). This way, you can simple re-import the fbx files (after editing and exporting elements in SketchUp) and you still have the PBR materials. Set the right sun direction etc.
                    6. do a quick Lightmass preview calculation. I ensure to keep calculation times at this point very very low for quick iteration (10 to 20 seconds) -> low lightmass resolutions, trees as moveable objects etc.
                    7. evaluate the design by walking / taking a seat (crawl shortcut), more walking etc. Look for things that work well (space/lines of sight, light-shadow-play), elements that need some refinement AND elements that don't work and should be scrapped.
                    8. refine the design (back to 1 or 3). I maybe store the current design as a level and start a new level with the refinements (so you can always look back in Unreal).
                    9. add more elements to the design and once satisfied, replace simple elements for more detailed elements (window frames at the start are 2d planes - at the end 3d).
                    10. do a proper lighting calculation

                    It's fast and it's fun! I think that combination really works well for me. If it's fast you can quickly test all kind of ideas. If it's fun you're in a positive mood and you keep the design-flow going.
                    It doesn't have to be photo realistic. My clients are already amazed they can view the design just like in a 3d game and get a good view of the design. For me, its all about atmosphere, space and light.

                    Click image for larger version

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                      HI, how can I export seperate fbx file for each components/groups from sketchup automatically. Is there any plugin? You do it manually? I have big problem with same name of components/groups. Sketchup add auto generated prefix and suffix whan I export OBJ/FBX. Separate file is solution. But do it manually is crazy for big model. Is there any solution to using component like in sketchup in unreal too. I think that have only one mesh and autoposition and copy in level in UE4. My only solution is replace cloned component meshes after I import all to level.


                        u.mirage, sorry for the late reply.
                        There is no plugin for batch exporting a lot of single objects in SketchUp as far as I know. You would have to make some ruby code yourself.

                        For using the some sort of component logic in Unreal, you could export (again using Ruby code) a selection set to a csv file in SketchUp (component name + location + rotation + scale etc). In Unreal, import the csv file as a data set, make an actor, and create the instances.

                        It takes some time to learn Ruby but its a very good investment if you intend to use SketchUp a lot.


                          We’re about to add a beta version of our export plugin for sketchup. Make sure you register for the unreal studio beta!
                          Pierre-Felix Breton

                          Sr Technical Product Designer AEC, Unreal Engine
                          Epic Games - LinkedIn


                            Pierre-Felix Breton, I cannot wait!!! I’m beyond excited for a simple workflow from Sketchup to Unreal. I have Unreal Studio Beta installed and I feel like a pet sitting at an empty food bowl while pet-owner cooks supper! lol