Landscape mesh vs Heightmap generated?

Hi folks!

Sorry for the noob question, but I’m very new at UE. I usually create my landscapes in Gaea and use them in Max, then I export them as Meshes, smooth the mesh and dynamesh it in Zbrush for better geometry.
But now that I’m using UE, how should I do it for best result? I use UE5 almost exclusively for concept art (work as an AD in games), so how it plays doesn’t matter.

Should I create a new landscape actor and use the heightmap or import the meshes as I use to do?
What are the benefits of each approach?


the landscape system is for performance optimization so if you dont care about that there is no reason to spend time learning a new system.

No reason you shouldnt use your typical workflow and export to unreal. It’s just another render engine if you dont care about realtime performance.

assuming you want to populate your landscapes with foliage i’d recommend grabbing simple scatter from the market place. (unreals built in procedural foliage spawner is a headache to use. i dont usually recommend third party tools but in this case its 100% worth it)

Keep doing what you are doing.

Meshes perform way better than landscapes.

Using a landscape only brings performance down and introduces a bunch of problems.

The landscape benefits are few. If any.

You get a max of 1vert every meter at default settings.
This means that most terrain detail is inexistent compared to your mesh.
(Sure, you can compress the landscape, to get verts up to each CM, but then the landscape size is something like 8m instead of 8km.)

You can paint landscape layers, and grass via material.
Sure, that is convenient, but it also comes at a huge performance cost for what it is.
(You can paint foliage on a static mesh. Grass is foliage. So you can do that instead.)

You can have more layers on the landscape than you can on a mesh via vertex paint - BUT.
You can also produce alpha masks in another program on the mesh and export them packed for usage in a material. Which will by far outperform the landscape render time.

Landscapes cannot be sculpted at runtime in game - just in case anyone may erroneusly think they can because it is possible within the level viewport.
The functionality is editor only. Therefore, it makes no difference between using the landscape or using a mesh for this purpose. (Procedural mesh generation is possible with the procedural mesh component).

Unlike what you can do with meshes in other programs, the landscape is by default flat.
To render an earth like surface, you need a geo-targeted heightmap. Normally DTMs are not geotargeted, so it’s an extra required step to take (Which is also counterintuitive when detailing with portions of a zone that’s between tile borders? Meaning you need to pick one of the tiles and be ok with the distortion the format brings into the mix of the tiles to have something with somewhat “correct” distances between landscape features marching earth - whereas, if you build the same size mesh or combo of several meshes in a 3d program you can parse it for spherical approximation so distances match better without extra distortion.)

And maybe the only benefit to the landscape system.
Is that it works with the water thing epic produced (Which I have no idea why anyone savvy enough would ever even consider using, but that’s a different topic).

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I so appreciate your feedback! Great stuff!

Another real noob question, that I can’t seem to find an answer to, is wether to do a proper unwrap of meshes that will use a Landscape Auto material, like the one from MAWI or Unreal Sensei. In most tutorials this step isn’t mentioned.
When using Gaea it is pretty tricky do an unwrap afterwards in Max or Maya due to the topology and polycount.

What is your suggentions here?

landscapes usually have a top down planar projection UV map. That will work for much of the landscape but on very steep parts you’ll see stretching. That is why many of those auto-materials will include an option to use triplanar mapping on a case by case basis.

And in a lot of cases for steep slopes you’d be adding in stuff like cliff meshes anyway. Don’t expect that you’ll have a beliveable terrain just from the textures alone.

Ben Cloward has some tutorials on youtube where he makes a landscape auto material from scratch. It’s worth spending a few days going through those so that you’ll be able to undertand common methods (otherwise much of what you buy from asset store will seem too complicated to use).

Usually the mesh itself when used for landacape has the UV unwrapped to whatever size you need. (Commonly 2m^2 per texture) on LOD0.
And a uv mapped to the whole landscape which is used to control both layers and distance lod materials.

Because of memory issues, it’s best to keep the overall UV at a maximum of 4k sized files.
Even when doing alpha bakes. This can produce some pixellatiom/issues when applying paint like layers to the mesh.
Usually, just break those up with blending in an additional height map between them.

And don’t forget that even if there’s only 4 channels vertex paint works.
It’s good for changing cliff face sections even at a distance.