Scene design in Unreal

Now that I’m starting to get a handle on the asset pipeline from Zbrush to Maya to Unreal, I’ve begun bringing in a some of the assets I’ve built and arranging them.

Fountain, column and lilies from far away
Closeup on column and lilies

When I play-tested it, the scale seemed off. I found some documentation that says a basic Player is apprx 180 Units high. Unfortunately in Unreal, objects are simply measured in terms of relative scale. There isn’t an easy way to measure how many units tall something is – it is simply a 1x1x1 scale. (This seems like something begging to be fixed?!) You can go into the editor and see the actual size of the units there, but no easy way to scale them to an exact size.

Knowing that a standard cube is 100 units high, it stands to reason that two cubes stacked would be 200 units, or slightly higher than the average player character.


By using two stacked cubes as a frame of reference, it seems obvious to me that I need to scale everything down in size or else my player will feel dwarfed.


Next steps are to import the rest of my objects and get them scaled appropriately, get some water in the fountain, landscape the terrain a bit more, and figure out the steps to package the level for export so others can play.

I hope to also be able to build the controllers to take it into VR.

Unity or Unreal Engine?

One thing I realized while working on my prototype is that Unity does not provide any kind of visual code editing helper to people like me who are unfamiliar with programming. This is a hurdle for people like me who focus on 3D and animation, want to make games but haven’t had lots of time to learn coding. There is a plug-in for Unity called Playmaker that costs $65 and has decent reviews.

It was brought to my attention that Unreal Engine has Blueprints, which is a visual code editor that works sort of like a flow-chart. I had already started in Unity, because I heard it was the most popular platform. When discussing with professor Zeb I asked if I should work in Unity or Unreal and he said “Let’s do both!”

So here goes… I installed Unreal Engine after getting particularly excited about some of the recent tech demos they released showing how innovative they have become. So now I’m starting all over in Unreal Engine, so I can make a comparison.

Here are my thoughts on Unity so far.


  • Same user-controls for moving around the viewport, scaling, rotating etc. as Maya, so very familiar
  • Intuitive interface, easy to find things
  • Easy to drag/drop assets
  • Good selection of beginner tutorials
  • Exports to WebGL for HTML5, so easy to post games online


  • Have to code interactions in C# or UnityScript, which is based on Javascript
  • If you don’t want to learn code, you have to buy a plug-in
  • Graphics rendering isn’t awesome

Next steps

  • Watching lots of Unreal Engine tutorials
  • Building the game prototype in Unreal
  • Improving all game assets by importing them/recreating them in Zbrush
  • Trying to understand the workflow of taking hi-poly assets from Zbrush, dumbing them down for game engine and then making them look nice again. This is the part where I am completely confused!


We have now made the transition to the underwater scene. I animated the Koi fish on a path, and also animated his joints so that his spine and fins move as the shape moves along the motion path.

I also found a tutorial on how to create a helix curve. This will be helpful when attaching the mandalas to the helix shape so they “dance” upwards.

The next part might be the trickiest thing I’ve attempted yet in Maya. What was I thinking? LOL

Getting all the mandalas to float in and spiral up the helix in their “dance.”

This isn’t too bad, except now that I have the mandala attached to the helix, I want to edit the timing. It should start around frame 90, not 150. I cannot figure out how to change the start/stop time of the motion path.

I decided rather than one big spiral, I would do one for each of the seven lily pads. Here is the final animatic for this scene.


Finalizing the figure

To create a head for the body, I created a sphere that had 18 subdivisions along the axis, so it would match up with the axis of the body/neck. I rotate the sphere so the edges lined up and used Weld Edge to weld them together.

Attaching the head
Attaching the head

Then it was a matter of shaping the head, especially the face. My goal was to create a smooth, less detailed figure.

Figure with head
Figure with head

The next step will be rigging the body so that it can be bent and posed. This figure will eventually be used in Scene 1 of the storyboard in my earlier post.


Michele Walker is a Continuing Lecturer at Purdue Polytechnic Richmond. She has over 20 years of experience in graphic design, website design and marketing.

Michele Walker