Join Craig Barr for an in-depth discussion in this video Introduction to materials, part of Unreal Essential Training (2016).
- When designing a project, for a game or otherwise, the most important aspect of defining the overall look for your game is materials. Now, Unreal Engine 4 has a very robust, very powerful material system built in. And it is an excellent, very powerful area that you really want to dive into and spend some time to learn. It is the difference between taking nicely built assets and having them show OK, or nicely built assests and having them show fantastic. And as you know, if you've worked with materials before in, whether it's another game engine or perhaps other 3D content creation packages, materials really do go hand in hand with lighting.
Now, in this area here, we're going to focus specifically on materials within Unreal Engine 4, and how we can work with them. So, the first important thing to understand with materials with Unreal Engine 4, is that they are using visual scripting, and that is that we have a complex editor. I say complex in a very good way, that it has many different areas that you can add in, and it's very powerful in the way that you can wire in different settings to help give a completely different look and feel to your game asset.
So, what we want to take a look at here is how we can work with materials, and some of the basics as to how you start with materials in Unreal Engine 4. You'll see that we've taken our scene a little bit further. We've new populated the scene with the assets that we have here, some of the buildings and props. And of course, spent a little more time building up these rocks around the scene. Now, what we want to do is look at how the materials are really bringing everything to life within this scene. So, the way we start with our materials, I want you to go into the Content folder, and just click on the Materials node.
This is what we previously colored as red, you can have it colored whatever you want to have it colored as. Within that Materials directory, if we pull that down, dive into the Buildings tab. And that's just left-clicking on that. And you'll see that we have some really nice materials that have been set up here for this package. And this is, again, content built by Everett Gunther. And what he did is he built some excellent materials here, all wired together in Unreal Engine 4. And we want to take a look at how these materials are constructed. So, if you take one of these, for example, the bricks.
Let's look at the bricks that are utilized for this lighthouse. We can click that, and then at any time, if we want to see what's happening in there, we can double-click that. And it's going to bring a new tab open at the very top of your Unreal Engine 4 Editor. And this is where you can see the network of things going on in here. Now, if you're not familiar with visual scripting, this can seem a little overly complex or confusing at the beginning. But just take a moment here and not get too worried about it. It's actually, once you learn some of the basics of this, you realize the overall power of this node hook-up system.
If you're familiar with packages like Autodesk Maya or 3ds Max, for example, this will seem very familiar to you, because this is utilizing the same concept. And a lot of the nodes are doing the exact same thing. Whether it's math functions, or the way that you just work in general, with things like textures. So, the most important thing to, first of all, understand with materials is this end node. This is the big node at the end. You can see that it's been custom named to bricks to represent that material.
This is the main material node. And that is what is referred to in Unreal Engine 4, is a main material node. And this is where everything comes together. So this is where we're defining our Base Color, or if you will, the RGB or Diffuse Color. And then you can define everything else in here to describe how you want your material to respond. If you want it shiny, like a metallic surface for example, or what kind of Bump you might want, if you want to use things like Normal Maps in there. And of course, we can define things like Ambient Occlusion to really bring the overall material feel to life.
Now, this is the most important node, This is where everything that's done outside of this is wired in together to give us this look of the material. I'm not going to dive into all the specifics on this here, right now, but it is important to understand some of the basics. You have a material node. And you have your overall color nodes being driven into that material node that are responding to their respective channel connections here within that material node. So, for example, in the base color, this is a combination of a couple of different texture maps.
We have the red bricks, which you can see here. And we have these white bricks, which you can see here. So, the basics of this is that these two are being blended together through a function that is allowing us to get this kind of nice striped pattern, overall, on the lighthouse setup. Now, there are a couple of other effects in here that are happening all on materials. And this is the power of Unreal Engine 4 materials. You can create some really interesting effects. You're not limited to just simple texture based materials. You can build quite a procedural network of materials in here that have live effects that will produce all sorts of different effects within your game that can fake different things like even lighting effects.
And we'll take a look at those in a bit. Now let's jump back over to our main tab here, into our scene. You can see that we're in the Content Browser, and I know that I've mentioned this before, but the Content Browser within Unreal Engine 4 really is the power, or the core, of this game engine. It really is the power of where you're going to produce, build, organize, and overall, create your assets. And that's no different here with materials. So, some of the basics here with how we're working with this, we can go in and create materials at any time in here.
So, you can see that we have Create Basic Asset. We can click Material. And that's just by right-clicking in the Content Browser here, by the way. Or we can even go to Materials and Textures. And we have a couple of different options to create in here. All of these materials that we're looking at, for the most part, are just using a simple material node. Which is the main material node. And clicking and creating them in the Content Browser. Now, it's also important to understand that a Material folder has been created here. And different folders are also created in here to organize how you want to store these materials.
So, that's just a brief overview of what materials are within Unreal Engine 4, and how powerful they can be for really bringing your scene to life. Let's end this one here and take a look at what we can do by deep-diving into materials. And how we can really edit and create some really nice materials to bring this scene to life.
- Customizing the Unreal UI
- Creating a new project
- Creating landscapes
- Blocking out levels
- Assembling a scene
- Working with materials and lights
- Adding post-processing effects
- Defining bodies of water
- Adding atmospherics, foliage, and wind
- Working with the Blueprint editor
- Creating cinematics
- Monitoring performance
- Packaging a game for distribution