The much anticipated Unity 5 launch just a few months ago represents a major milestone in raising the bar for quality with an all new lighting system, a physically based shader system and more. These new capabilities are taking us incrementally closer to our goal of creating virtual environments that are indistinguishable from physical reality.
Even though Unity 5 is only a few months old, this all started over a year ago for us, as we started dialing in on a workflow and development methodology that would yield the best results.
A lot of attention is being paid recently to automatically importing of native architectural models into Unity and virtual reality. While we do leverage our own automation toolset, we find it’s rarely enough to satisfy client requirements to import native engineering or architectural BIM and SketchUp models alone. Most of our projects involve increasing levels of precision and specificity, where equipment and interior specifications for fixtures, finishes and furnishings must be built to exacting detail.
This necessitated a precise and advanced workflow, with careful attention paid to the nuances of proper realtime asset development.
Modeling / PBR Workflow
To get this right, we retained one of the foremost thought leaders in the industry, Anton Hand, to help ensure assets are created to the highest quality and level of detail. He worked directly with our entire team, mentoring and critiquing each piece of equipment and architectural element.
As our development pipeline has pushed toward increasing levels of quality and realism, we learned long ago (from Anton) that not all 3D models are created equal. There is a very specific process and quality standard required to achieve consistent realism and triple-A quality.
The original development package for this operating room environment was created in Unity 4, but we were able to get a head start on Physically Based Rendering (PBR) through the use of Alloy – a powerful set of physically-based shaders for Unity developed by Rust, Ltd. Anton was able to get the team up to speed on best practices for this new workflow.
Unity 5 Workflow
When Unity 5 launched just a few months ago, we took a deep dive into the learning curve to start taking advantage of it’s new features and capabilities. Toward this end, we retained the council of Alex Lovett, who created demo environments commissioned and showcased by Unity.
Since the assets were scratch-built with PBR in mind from the beginning, the assets themselves didn’t require any further modification to look amazing in Unity 5. Alex worked primarily with with the new lighting system, Enlighten, in combination with tweaks and fine-tuning to image effects to achieve the desired tone and color mapping.
In all, working with Unity 5 has been amazing, since it represents another major step toward working with physically based values based on reality – not an artistic approximation which had been the case until now.
“It’s all about the treatment of light in Unity 5. The new Enlighten lighting engine helps you realistically bounce light around from lamps and the sun just as you would expect, the new physically based shaders aim to conserve that light energy hitting surfaces in a realistic manner, and to complete the look; applying tone mapping and colour grading to simulate the pleasing effect of camera film. You need all those parts to work together to produce a great image, and the bonus is it makes it easier for artists when things behave in an expected and consistent manner, moving us another step along the continuum to greater photo realism and beauty in the work we do,” said Alex.
We’re honored to have Anton and Alex continuing to work with our team to refine methods and best practices for achieving the highest quality in Unity 5.
The timing of these new improvements couldn’t be better. With exciting announcements of both virtual and augmented reality hardware, such as Oculus VR’s new consumer grade Crescent Bay, Samsung GearVR, Microsoft Hololens, HTC Vive, Google Cardboard, and more, the opportunities to create compelling and truly useful virtual reality experiences are more numerous than ever. This new and improved development pipeline is geared specifically toward creating triple-A virtual reality content for enterprise, architecture, health care, education, manufacturing, sales and marketing, trade show experiences, engineering and more.
All of this effort to improve our workflow has centered around our goal of creating the greatest possible realism and quality. We’re invested in the idea that virtual realism will be in high demand in the months and years ahead, and we wanted to build a strong foundation to build on. By bringing our team together around a new workflow and development pipeline designed to accommodate a wide range of development tasks, we believe we are well positioned to create top notch virtual applications for our clients into the foreseeable future.
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