Two students create stunning real-time ray tracing automotive project

Valentin Bécart & Odilon Loïez
By Valentin Bécart |
March 24, 2020
Hi! I’m Valentin Bécart, a digital design student studying at ISD Rubika in France. I started learning Unreal Engine last year and my goal has become to work in the automotive industry. I’m here to showcase how my two-person team developed the Genesis Essentia real-time experiment using Unreal, which was a passion project of ours. The Hyundai concept car you see in the video was designed by professional automotive designer Sasha Selipanov, and my friend and development partner Odilon Loïez modeled it for our project.

With this project, we really wanted to establish an efficient pipeline we could leverage moving forward. Odilon was in charge of the Blender phase, the model of the car, all the Data Prep to use the model in real time, and the rig of the vehicle to create the animation. My job was to work with Unreal and all the visualization aspects. 

We chose Unreal Engine over pre-calculated software because of its ability to render images and videos in real time, coupled with the fact that the engine started offering ray tracing support. It’s an aspect we were excited to experiment with. 

For modeling toolset, we decided to use Blender because it’s a powerful free software. Odilon had also been using it for years, thanks in large part to his last internship at KISKA, a design agency in Austria.

We went with Unreal Engine, in part, because a lot of automotive companies are including the tech in their pipeline. We also like how Unreal has the ability to create high-quality real-time ray-traced images and videos. In addition, thanks to my last internship at Light & Shadows, I’ve learned a lot about how to incorporate data within a real-time engine. 

Throughout the process, we also leveraged Unreal Engine’s VR capabilities, which we found very helpful to visualize our materials and the volume of the car. 

Below, you can see the final model Odilon made using Blender:

The layout of our scene

The best way to see the effects of real-time ray tracing is to use lots of reflections, so we created a layout that would showcase many reflections throughout the car and the environment. 

As you can see in the image below, we decided to use two screens to project lights and reflections within our scene. The background videos you see on the panels are the work and property of Studio A N F, which really fit the mood of our artistic vision. 
Here is the final represetnation of our environment.

Setup and lighting 

To display and play the video on our screens, we used Media Texture and Blueprints, respectively. With this setup, the lights from the screen are able to reflect onto our car. To create our illumination, we used a rect light coupled with Gaussian blur. This technique is used for both screens surrounding the vehicle. 
To create the animation, we used Unreal’s Sequence Editor, which we found to be very powerful and intuitive. We found it very helpful because the tool not only allows you to adjust the location of shots, but allows you to adjust object settings like materials, intensity, and color. We also liked how it allowed us to play around with the camera’s aperture and depth of field.  

View Modes

We found that View Modes can really help with visualization as it provides access to reflections, diffuse, and lighting. We’ve sectioned off the different view modes from our project below. From left to right, they include: Final, Diffuse, Lighting + Reflection, and Reflection only.

Ray tracing

When real-time ray tracing became available, we became impressed by the power and beauty of what we could get within the viewport.  

For our project, we used low-settings quality for the reflections due to the limitations of our graphics card. Specifically, we chose to use two bounds of reflections with a sample per pixel around 8 and 16. The contrast between Screen Space Reflections and the Ray Traced Reflection is astonishing. You can see the difference between both in the following images: 

Ray tracing details

To experiment with the power of real-time ray-traced reflections, we played around with various settings. It was impressive seeing the number of reflection bounds we could have in the viewport. For example, let’s take a look at how it applies to our car’s wheels:

In conclusion

Tackling this endeavor allowed us to learn and experiment a lot. It enabled us to find an effective workflow between Blender and Unreal Engine within the context of an automotive project. We’re happy to say that we were able to establish an efficient process that we’ll be able to leverage in future projects. 

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