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UE4: 8-Step Checklist for Level Scene Setup to Begin Working

Category: Unreal Engine 4
May 16, 2018

When I'm starting a new scene whether it's a playable level or stand-alone game environment, last thing I am concerned about is lighting.

Lighting comes at a later stage in level design and game environment art process when the scene is already created.

In the beginning I am focused on creating geometry - using BSP brushes, inserting Static Meshes, working with landscape, implementing gameplay and creating/testing Blueprints.

UE4: 8-Step Checklist for Level Scene Setup to Begin Working

For this I need a basic daytime scene with even lighting.

"Default Level" under "File > New Level" is a good start. Many use it as-is without changes. The scene comes with some light actors, sky sphere, fog, player start and a ground plane.

But there are some issues - distracting auto-exposure, shadows are too dark and it is hard to judge scale of the environment.

You just need to tweak this "Default Level" a bit to make it construction friendly.

Here is my 8-Step Checklist for default level that I use to begin creating environments and playable levels in.

Step 1: Default Level

Go to "File > New Level":

File > New Level

And choose "Default Level":

Default Level

This level gives you Sky Sphere, Directional Light, Atmospheric Fog, Reflection Capture, Sky Light, Player Start and Ground Plane.

With "Default Level" started, let's tweak few actors.

Step 2: Directional Light

Select "Directional Light" and make sure "Intensity" is set to "3.14":

Directional Light Intensity 3.14

3.14 is a good base value to set your Directional Light for daytime lighting. Higher values may cause your PBR textures be too bright due to light's high intensity.

Step 3: Update SkyLight

By default "SkyLight" is set to "Static" and with this you would need to build lighting to see changes. Instead change "SkyLight" mobility to "Stationary":

SkyLight Mobility to Stationary

Increase "SkyLight" intensity if you need to add more light into indirectly lit areas (into shadows):

SkyLight Intensity

SkyLight Intensity Result

Use "SLS Captured Scene" which uses the "Sky Sphere" material to reflect lighting back into your scene:

SLS Capture Scene

If you have interior environments use temporary "Point Lights" or "Spot Lights":

Interior environment Point Light or Spot Light

Alternatively you can change the "Sky Light" to "Source Type: SLS Specified Cubemap" and use an HDR image under "Cubemap":

SLS Specified Cubemap

Step 4: Expand Ground Plane

Duplicate the ground plane Static Mesh for more room to work in:

Expanded ground plane

  • Alt + Left Mouse Click and Drag = Duplicate Selected Object

Of course you can use a landscape, your own custom ground plane or BSP brushes.

Step 5: Insert Mannequin for Scale Reference

I use "UE4 Mannequin Mobile" from UE4 Marketplace as human reference scale guide to judge architecture and proportion of the environment.

You can download the "UE4 Mannequin Mobile" and use it in any project by getting it from UE4 Marketplace. Here is a quick tutorial on how to do that:

Once you added "UE4 Mannequin Mobile" to your project, insert it into the level:

UE4 Mannequin scale reference

Step 6: Post Process Volume

Exposure or Eye Adaptation is how your eyes naturally adjust when you walk from bright into dark environments or from dark into bright environments. In UE4 this happens automatically in all levels unless you control its effect.

Exposure (Eye Adaptation) adjustments are distracting in the beginning stages of environment creation. Disable Exposure through Post-Process Volume.

Insert Post Process Volume:

Inserting Post Process Volume

Enable "Infinite Extent (Unbound)":

Enable Infinite Extent (Unbound)

"Infinite Extent (Unbound)" makes Post Process Volume universal, meaning it will affect the entire level without you having to be inside this volume.

Under "Lens: Exposure" set "Min/Max Brightness to 1":

  • Min Brightness: 1
  • Max Brightness: 1

Lens: Exposure set Min/Max Brightness to 1

Step 7: Lightmass Importance Volume

Lightmass Importance Volume tells Unreal Engine where areas to focus its lighting calculations. If you have a large level but only a small part of it where the player will be, define this area with Lightmass Importance Volume.

Under Volumes, insert Lightmass Importance Volume into your level:

Inserting Lightmass Importance Volume

Scale the volume or use Geometry Editing mode by pressing Shift+5:

Lightmass Importance Volume scale

Surround important (playable) areas of your level inside this volume. In the beginning it will probably be just a small section.

Step 8: Sky Sphere Blueprint

Default "BP_Sky_Sphere" comes with ability to change the sky material based on "Directional Light" angle. Although you won't see these updates in real time.

Change the angle of the Directional Light":

Changing the angle of Directional Light

Select "BP_Sky_Sphere" and click on "Refresh Material":

Refresh Material of the Sky Sphere

The Sky will now be updated:

Sky Sphere updated

There are additional controls for "BP_Sky_Sphere" in the "Details Panel, such as Sky Colors and Clouds:

Sky Sphere properties

Save The map and You are Now Ready

Save the map. Go to "File > Save Scene As":

File > Save Current As

I saved mine as "MyStarterMap":

MyStarterMap

You are now ready to begin working on your level, blocking in with BSP brushes, and constructing your environment and importing and testing your Static meshes.

Next Recommended Tutorials:

UE4: Night Time Lighting - Starry Sky (Static/Baked Lighting) with BP_Sky_Sphere Part 1/2

UE4: Night Time Lighting - Starry Sky (Static/Baked Lighting) Part 1/2

UE4: Night Time Lighting - Moon Sky (Static/Baked Lighting) with BP_Sky_Sphere Part 2/2

UE4: Night Time Lighting - Moon Sky (Static/Baked Lighting) Part 2/2

UE4: Custom Static Mesh Formula: Step-by-Step Pipeline to Static Meshes for UE4

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