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UE4: BSP Blockout Process - From Concept Art to a Vacant Interior Motel Room

Category: UE4
November 04, 2019

Motels are one of my favorite locations to create.

The more derelict and abandoned they are the better.

Motels usually have one or two floors with the room entrance leading directly onto outside parking lot.

Every time I drive by a motel I always take mental notes on the layout, the atmosphere and detail of its location. If the place is not too sketchy, I pull over and take reference photos. Here is one I recently took on my way to breakfast one morning:

Photo reference I took on the way to breakfast one morning

When I found this concept art created by Sylvain Sarrailh it reminded me of the movie "Vacancy" motel room and it inspired me to block this out with BSP right away.

Concept art created by Sylvain Sarrailh

In the abounded building blockout I shared a time-lapse of the process. It was very quick. In this tutorial I will take it a bit slow and cover all the steps from concept art to final BSP blockout.

Let's begin!

Video Tutorial

Establishing Initial Size and Scale

I started from a completely empty level:

I inserted a BSP cube and zeroed out the location under Transform for X, Y and Z to 0. Doing this helps me to know that I'm starting at the world origin. You don't have to do this as it doesn't affect your blockouts.

I always start with a floor (ground plane). I resize this cube to be 20 units thick:

To judge the size of the floor better I need a human reference. For this I use the trusted UE4 Mannequin. Right away you can tell how big this floor is:

I use Geometry Editing Mode (Shift + 5) to resize the floor and match what I see in concept art:

Getting the scale right is always more of an art form rather than science. It must look and feel right, rather than having specific values to enter and trying to match the real world dimensions, which never look correct in-game.

I then create a wall with height of 300 units:

Dealing with Pivot Points on BSP Brushes

Pivot points on BSP brushes are very frustrating to deal with in UE4. Especially when using Geometry Editing mode. I recommend setting up a hotkey so you can modify BSP pivot points quickly. See this UE4 Quick Tip #5 video below on how to do that.

Blockout Hotkeys

Most commonly used hotkeys during BSP blockout are:

  • Shift + 5 = Geometry Editing Mode
  • Shift + 1=Place Mode
  • Left Click Hold and Drag = Marque Selection (good for selecting multiple vertices; works in orthographic viewports only)
  • Ctrl + 1= Camera Bookmarks (Ctrl+2, Ctrl+3 and so on to set more, then press 1, 2, 3 etc to return to those bookmarks)
  • Ctrl + P = Save BSP Pivot Points (custom hotkey)
  • Middle Mouse Click and Drag = Measuring Tool (works in orthographic viewports only)
  • [ ] = Decrease and Increase Grid Size (bracket keys)
  • Ctrl + W = Duplicate (to duplicate BSP brushes)
  • Alt + 3 = Unlit Mode
  • Alt + 4 = Lit Mode

General Dimensions to Start With

It will help you to establish basic dimensions for your environment to start with. For this motel interior I used:

  • Wall Thickness = 20 units
  • Wall Height = 300 units
  • Door Height = 220
  • Door Width = 120
  • Door Depth = 20 units
  • Window = relative to the wall and human reference scale

All units are in Unreal Units, more on dimensions and scale here.

Door and Windows

I use a subtractive brush to carve the doorframe in the wall:

The door dimensions are:

  • Door Height = 220
  • Door Width = 120
  • Door Depth = 20 units

I duplicate the subtractive door brush for the window and resize it. I don't have specific dimensions for the window. I judge its proportions and size relative to the wall and human reference scale:

I am also looking at the concept art to determine how large and how far away the window needs to be from the doorway.

Insert a Point Light

It is difficult to work in Unlit Mode (Alt + 3) and I always blockout using Lit Mode (Alt + 4). I start by inserting one Point Light into the scene and adjust its intensity (eventually, I insert a few more):

You don't need to be accurate with lighting at this point, just enough to see what you are doing. You also need lights to see when you playtest in-game.

Eye Adaption/Auto-Exposure

Auto Exposure or Eye Adaptation are how your eyes naturally adjust when you walk from bright into dark environment or from dark into bright environment. In UE4 this happens automatically in all levels unless you control it.

I insert Post Process Volume and change the following settings:

  • Enable Infinite Extent Unbound
  • Min/Max Brightness = 1

You can learn more about how to disable eye adaptation or auto-exposure and what it does in the video below:

Test In-Game

I always spawn in the level and playtest from player's point of view to judge correct scale and proportion, especially early in the blockout process.

The floor and the wall size look good:

I can move on to the rest of the blockout.

Ceiling

I duplicate the floor and move it up to the ceiling:

Once you add the ceiling, jump into the map again and see how it feels from the player's point of view so you know the height doesn't feel too cramped and too small. Run around, jump up and down. Feel the space.

Beds and Nightstand

I blockout the beds with a new BSP cube. I resize it using Geometry Editing Mode and place UE4 Mannequin next to the bed to judge proportions. I also duplicate the mannequin, rotate him and place in on the bed.

Again, I constantly spawn into the level and test from in-game:

I duplicate the bed with space in-between for the night stand and create a placeholder for the nightstand:

Walls

I duplicate the wall and close off the interior of the room. Now, the space begins to feel more like and interior:

Cabinet and TV

I blockout the cabinet and a TV on top of it on the other side of the room:

At this point I'm blocking out the props and judging their size relative to the surrounding geometry. And as always, I am continuously judging scale next to the UE4 Mannequin:

Nothing is Final in the BSP Blockout Process

Remember that during this entire blockout process you must keep adding, iterating and testing.  Nothing is final in the BSP blockout. Continue to refine the size of your geometry and the playable space.

Adding Secondary Detail Shapes

I like to add secondary brush detail on top of primary shapes to help me visualize the space and the props better.

These secondary shapes include bed posts and pillows:

Couch and Coffee Table

I continue to add more props and furniture. These now include a couch and a coffee table on the same side of the room as the cabinet and TV:

Another quick play-test in game:

Lamp

There is a lamp in the corner by the door. I use a cylinder to block that in. In the details panel I update the Z value (height) and Outer Radius. I also place the mannequin next to the lamp to see if the size is "right":

Here is the completed blockout of the lamp:

Table and Chairs

Next to the windows there is a desk and 2 different types of chairs:

To block these out I duplicate the coffee table to create the desk:

Then I blockout the two chairs:

Same workflow applies throughout this entire process. I look at the reference for the type of props to blockout. Then I use BSP brushes and Geometry Editing Mode (Shift + 5) to resize them.

BSP is Placeholder Geometry, Not Final Geometry

If you notice, I keep these props very simple. I don't add a lot of detail other than an occasional secondary detail on top of the primary brush shape. Key to blockouts is no detail; just get the right size and scale. Remember, you are creating placeholder geometry, not final geometry.

Trash Cans

I create another BSP brush for the trashcan in the corner. I use the surrounding geometry to determine how big it needs to be and call it done:

Is It Necessary to Blockout These Small Detail Props?

Having these small props such as the trashcan, chairs, coffee table and lamp may seem unnecessary to blockout but they help a lot in visualizing and selling the space. They also come in useful when I would export these brushes from UE4 and import them into Maya LT/Maya to help model them. I wouldn't need to figure out their size and I would use the exported BSP brushes as my template to model from.

Bathroom

These types of motel rooms usually have a bathroom in the back. There is a small area for the sink or a closet and a small room for the bathroom.

I expand the layout to include the bathroom. I create the floor and determine the size:

I place the UE4 Mannequin on the floor and begin to create the bathtub, sink and toilet. I want this bathroom space to feel cramped and claustrophobic. The size of the space you create can be used to evoke an emotional response in the player. So I continue to resize the floor and bathroom props until I'm happy with it:

Then I close the bathroom with walls and ceiling:

I subtract the door and subtract a small window in the shower:

I then finish up with the small area outside the bathroom that leads into the room:

Brush Order

If the brush doesn't subtract from additive brushes - change its order to first or to last.

Doorway didn't subtract because it was created earlier in the process than the wall. By selecting the door subtractive brush, going into Details Panel, change Brush Order to Last:

Final BSP Blockout Screenshots

What I Would Do Next

I have the BSP blockout complete. Now what?

I would move onto the next step in the pipeline, Static Meshing. Here are the steps I would take:

  • Export all these BSP brushes as one single scene
  • Import this scene into Maya LT/Maya
  • Use them as the template to model from
  • I would create the room (walls, ceiling, floor) as one single continuous mesh
  • Then I would do the same for the bathroom (I would keep the room and bathroom as separate meshes)
  • I would have two meshes; one for the room and one for the bathroom that I would put together in UE4
  • This would give me smooth continuous walls and floor with great lightmapping results (if using Static Lighting of course)
  • Then I would create the props to populate the room and the bathroom with
  • If I wanted to create an entire motel, duplicating these rooms and bathrooms would be very easy
  • I would then vary the props in each room to make them slightly different and even use Vertex Painting to add additional detail to each room

Next Tutorial

Blocktober: Your Quick Start Guide to Blockouts

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