Unreal Engine 5’s modeling mode takes shape

Russell Paul |
October 13, 2021

Unreal modeling mode takes shape

UE5 is a major evolution of Unreal Engine, with a completely new user experience and new technologies like Nanite and Lumen. Nanite can leverage realistic data from Quixel or RealityCapture to create stunning new visual experiences. Lumen delivers stunning lights, shadows, and subtle illumination that adds life to scenes. The modeling tools first introduced in Unreal Engine 4.24 continue to grow in depth and functionality. The completely redesigned modeling mode in UE5 is another step in creating the tools required to create the next generation of interactive experiences that technology like Nanite and Lumen offer.

The modeling mode is a growing set of tools focused on creating a more efficient workflow and empowering artists in all industries to create the most compelling and interactive experiences imaginable. That might be when you are developing a complex environment of rocks and hillsides, like the ones featured in our Valley of the Ancient project, or maybe creating a new automotive configurator. In almost every project, you are confronted with a lot of questions on how to best integrate elements into a scene. Common tasks like fixing broken normals, filling holes, or reassigning materials always seem to arise. How do you block out your level, and sculpt some rocky terrain? How do you mirror or clean up an imported CAD model? These workflows typically require you to jump out of Unreal Engine, go back to your DCC, make adjustments, and reimport. That process could repeat numerous times with multiple artists. UE5’s modeling tools can help make those changes directly in the editor, cutting out costly transfers.

Modeling a complex asset rarely follows a linear path, as the process can be a complex web of operations and procedures. There are technical standards that must be followed, art direction, and time constraints. Unreal Engine’s modeling tools are an evolving suite of tools for all artists in every industry.

The modeling mode encompasses tools and workflows that really empower artists to take advantage of dense meshes you might get from Quixel or a RealityCapture workflow. There are tools for working with complex meshes alongside new volumetric and traditional modeling tools.

Getting started

If you have experimented with the Valley of the Ancient project, you may have already noticed a new icon on the modes panel: 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG ModelingModeIcon
If you are starting up a new project, the modeling mode plugin may need to be turned on. From the Plugins window, enable the Modeling Tools Editor Mode Plugin and restart Unreal Engine.
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image22
Once you have verified the Modeling Mode plugin is enabled, you should see the classic primitive shapes Icon ready for use.
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image51
Once selected, you will get some additions to the standard layout.
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG ModelingModePanels
1. Modeling Tools Palette—The tools palette contains all of the new modeling functions. You can collapse or expand multiple sections to customize the exposed tools.

2. The Tools Details Panel—The tools detail panel contains all of the tool specific features. It will also contain different types of selection options when working with the components of a mesh. For example, the TriEdit tool will allow you to select triangles, vertices, and edges.

3. Quick Settings—Quick Settings provides access to the location where new assets are stored and also provides a direct path to editing an asset’s specific LOD.

4. Accept/Cancel—The Accept/Cancel tool is exposed after a modeling tool is activated. Accept commits any modeling operations to the selected mesh.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG AcceptCancel

There are also several options set in the plugin preferences that you can change to accommodate your workflow. The asset generation, location, and path settings tell the modeling mode how to manage the resulting assets that are generated. For example: a primitive cube, or the result of a boolean. The asset location can also be overridden in the details panel quick settings.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image36

The additional options also help manage data in a shared working environment. The per user subfolder and append random string are extremely useful in making sure that new assets don’t collide or accidentally overwrite important shared data.

There are numerous types of data in any Unreal Engine project, including static meshes, volumes, lights, cameras, Blueprints, widgets, and more. There can be artists and developers working together across the studio or across an ocean on the same project. Understanding where these different types of elements are stored and how they are referenced from within the project is vital to maintaining an efficient workflow. Keeping this organization in mind when editing or creating new elements will help avoid missing, lost, or overwritten assets.

https://docs.unrealengine.com/4.26/Basics/AssetsAndPackages/

Core concepts

Select and Accept
A primary aspect of modeling in Unreal Engine is that selection and completion of an operation will behave differently from other modeling tools. After you select the element you want to work with, either StaticMesh or Volume, you click on the tool you need to perform the desired operation. Unreal Engine will show which tools are available for any selected object. After you select your desired tool, the selection and options for the tool will be shown in the details panel. Once you complete your edit, you need to commit that edit. This process is important because it allows for the optimization of the staticMeshActor.

The same power of Unreal Engine that allows for efficient real-time performance also means that you need to interact with a mesh in a slightly different manner, since you are always looking at a reference to an asset. The components of a mesh, i.e. vertices, triangles, and edges, are not immediately accessible in the viewport—you need to activate the desired tool first. A staticMeshActor is a representation of the staticMeshAsset that is stored in your content folder—the actor has a limited set of data that can be seen in the viewport. When creating, editing, and saving a staticMeshActor in modeling mode, it is important to keep this in mind. Understanding not only where the information is saved, but also remember that your interactions are operating directly on the saved version of the static MeshAsset and this will impact any instances of that asset.

While using the modeling tool, you can change settings and see the result. Tools will display helpful tips and hotkeys next to the command line. Similar to other editors you need to click the “accept” button to commit those changes to the StaticMesh Asset. The tool operation may be something as simple as assigning a new material or it could be a complete change in the shape and topology from using the dynamic sculpting tool.

Selecting mesh components like faces, edges, or vertices are accessed from the active tool. Tools like triEdit, polyEdit, or triSelect have common selection methods like Brush and Connected. There are also some more advanced selection options for selecting by angle or volume.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image13  UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image45

Selection editing is also available from the details panel of individual tools.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image23

The transform gizmo in modeling mode has some additional features compared to the standard Unreal Engine gizmos. It is a universal gizmo, so all translation, scale, and rotation are available from the single gizmo.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG ComponentGizmoThe Transform Gizmo
Polygroups
A mesh contains a lot more information than just what you see in a lit mode. A static mesh has many attributes that help to define the look and how to utilize the mesh. The ability to modify a mesh’s attributes directly within the editor is a powerful addition for any artist. Grouping triangles together into larger selectable elements is a common feature in many 3D packages. Grouping the polygons into manageable areas allows for quick selections or material assignments. On simple meshes, creating Polygroups is an important organizational step, when working on nanite scale meshes, Polygroups become a vital workflow. 

The modeling mode also utilizes Polygroups in some unique ways. Unreal meshes are triangulated meshes, that is the ideal format for rendering but it makes some modeling operations more difficult. For example, by utilizing Polygroups, the polyEdit tools can mimic some quad based modeling operations. This allows for quick blocking of shapes.

The standard primitive shapes have an option to create Polygroups on a per Quad basis. The resulting meshes can then be developed further with tools like polyEdit, loopInsert, or subDivide.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image7Shape Settings
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG QuadEdit1Polygroups per Quad Selection
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG QuadEdit2Offsetting Polygroups

Unwrapping UVs can be a time-consuming process on any mesh. When working with complex meshes, it can be even more difficult. Trying to define UV islands by selecting a row of edges is nearly impossible on some meshes. The groupPaint tool utilizes an efficient painting process to define Polygroups. After the desired Polygroups are defined, the groups can be evaluated as UV islands and unwrapped. 

Along with polyEdit and UVs, Polygroups add functionality to selection, material assignments, deforming, and sculpting.
Transform
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image9

The Transform tools include tools for aligning meshes, adjusting pivot points, baking rotation, and scale. The pivot tool, for example, includes standard pivot controls for center or world origin. You can also use the transform axis in conjunction with the CTRL key to snap.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG AlignAligning multiple meshes

The xForm tool also provides additional options to transform multiple meshes using a variety of techniques.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG XFormMultixForm tool

Creation

These are some of the tools and workflows that are the most consistent with other existing modeling tools and entail elements like drawing polygons, extruding shapes, or directly interacting with a polygon model. There are some extremely cool workflows in this set of tools that we will talk about later.
Shapes
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image30

One of the easiest ways to start using the modeling mode is to drop in a couple primitive shapes. The modeling mode primitives have some distinct advantages over the placement modes shapes. The first thing you will notice is all the options available for each shape. The details for each one of the shapes has options for resolutions, size, Polygroups structure, and more. One option that is important to look at is the option for instance if possible. When checked on, multiple clicks will create instances of the same asset but when unchecked, a new asset will be created for each click. This can be useful if you want to place, for example, multiple spheres and then sculpt each one individually to create some rock on terrain. In addition, you can select the initial placement mechanism and pivot point.
Create
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image21

The create tab houses some tools that generally create a new mesh object, functions like drawing a new polygon or revolving a new shape may be familiar creation tools. The append and duplicate tools give a variety of options for duplicating, and combining meshes into new meshes.
Poly Model
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image8

The Poly Model menu contains several tools that take advantage of the Polygroups attribute described earlier. The PolyEdit tool is an extremely powerful tool exposing numerous modeling tools in a small package. Using PolyEdit in combination with Polygroups organized into “quads” creates a workflow that is very familiar to some traditional box modeling techniques. The EdgeInsert and LoopInsert are extremely useful to a traditional box modeling workflow when the Polygroups are set properly. Both tools also have an option to retopologize the mesh instead of doing a cut which can help keep a clean mesh while inserting more detail. Of course the mesh does not need to be composed of simple two triangle Polygroups. Polymodel can also be utilized on more complex meshes with Polygroups.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG PolyEditAEditing a mesh using Edgeloop selection
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG LoopInsert
LoopInsert with Retopologize
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG GroupEdgeInsertGroupEdgeInsert

Maintaining four-sided Polygroups will enable you to use tools like Edge Loop Insertion or even subdivide the geometry using catmull-clark subdivision. Creating a smooth surface for further sculpting.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG BaseTopologyPolygroup Boundaries
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG CatmullClarkCatmull-Clark Subdivided Mesh

The subdivide tool has additional options for different subdivision schemes that can add resolution without altering the shape or be more friendly to a model with less structured Polygroups.

When working with a dense complex mesh, it can be difficult to make controllable changes to the overall shape. Although the deform menu contains some additional deformation tools that operate on the entire mesh, you may still want to work on a specific area. The polyDeform tool is a great way to leverage the Polygroups. The boundaries of existing Polygroups are highlighted, enabling you to select the edge, corner, or entire Polygroups and adjust the shape through that selection.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG PolyGroupdeformPolygroup Transform
Tri Model
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image16

In Unreal Engine, all meshes are triangulated. The primary way to interact with these meshes is with the tri-model menu. The tri-select and tri-edit tools provide a large set of editing tools. When you invoke the tri-edit tool, additional operations like extrude operations become possible. There are also some important triangle level tools for splitting, collapsing, and welding. These modeling operations enable you to make important corrections to a mesh without needing to leave the editor.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG TriSelectTriSelect Tool

The Tri Model also contains common tools like mirror and hole fill operations. Cutting a mesh with tools like plane cut, trim, and polycut provide workflows for cutting pathways or dividing shapes into multiple sections.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG MirrorMirror Tool

Mesh operations

UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image39

Mesh operations are extremely useful for a variety of applications when dealing with complex meshes. Simplify and Remesh provide options for adding or removing complexity while maintaining different boundary types. Weld evaluates the entire mesh and welds edges within a specified tolerance. Tools like jacketing and merge can help optimize scene structure. Project allows for shrink-wrap-type operations.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG SimplifySimplify Tool

UV Tools

UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image44

UVs are one of the most important components of a mesh. The UV tools are currently a small but growing suite of tools to help get basic UV work complete. Unwrap, for example, can leverage custom Polygroups to define UV islands for unwrapping, while Seam Edit can help with defining specific cuts to a mesh. Unwrap can also utilize a standard conformal unwrap of the existing UVs to further refine the layout. The tools are designed to work in the standard viewport providing direct feedback. The transform tool, for example, provides a gizmo to adjust the UV island directly in the viewport. The layout tool also creates a small viewport representation of the UV layout so you can quickly see how the islands are organized.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG GrpUnwrapUnwrap using Polygroups

Deform

UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image19

Deform is another extremely powerful set of tools for working with all styles of meshes, from simple meshes that just need a nudge to complex environment elements that need detailed sculpting. These tools allow for a wide array of techniques. The VSculpt tool is a common 3D sculpting brush. It contains a variety of brush types and customizations. DSculpt adds another layer of functionality by dynamically adding resolution to the mesh as you sculpt. This is a powerful way to add specific detail without needing to resample the entire mesh.

The smooth and displace tools will operate on an entire mesh. Both operations support weight maps, and displace also allows for custom texture maps for specific patterns. 
Vertex sculpting
The vertex sculpting tool uses standard brush tools to sculpt the existing mesh. The 3D brush has options for different sculpting techniques, in addition to more advanced options for adding your own alpha to a brush.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG SandSculptingVertex Sculpting
Dynamic sculpting
Dynamic sculpting extends the sculpting tools by editing the topology of the mesh as you sculpt. This is a powerful workflow when doing sculpting that doesn't require the topology to be maintained. The level of detail can be controlled by the Remesh options; the Remesh level is based on the original scale of the mesh. Adjusting the relative triangle size makes it possible to create some extremely fine sculpting.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG DSculptRemeshAdditional resolution from Dynamic Sculpting
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG DSculpt2Edge Details added with Dynamic Sculpting
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Lattice BaseBThe Lattice Deformer

Mesh Attributes

UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image35

Adjusting Normals, recalculating tangents, or just double checking the UV boundaries can all be handled with the Attributes tools. The Attribute Editor provides an interface to view existing mesh attributes but also add new attributes. You can add new UV sets, Polygon Group layers, weight maps, and more. All of these production requirements often require jumping back and forth between packages that may add up to significant amounts of time, by having these tools directly in the modeling mode can reduce costly data exchange for simple tasks.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG InspectorBordersEdge Boundaries highlighted with Inspector

Material IDs can be such a simple attribute to get mixed up when importing meshes from other packages. The material editor enables you to add or remove material IDs. The selection tab opens up to expose several different options for selecting the needed triangles. Once you have the desired selection, you can define which material slot to assign the selection to.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG MaterialIDEditing material ID’s

The Bake texture tool provides another piece of the development puzzle, enabling you to bake texture maps like normals, AO, curvature, and more directly from the editor. Working in conjunction with the rest of the modeling tools, you can develop geometry and LOD’s directly in the editor. 

Volumes

UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG Image46

Creating experiences in Unreal Engine relies on more than just final textured geometry with advanced materials. Crafting worlds requires other types of data that enable you to interact with the virtual space. There are numerous volume types in Unreal Engine and the modeling mode opens up some new opportunities to work with them more directly.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG VolumeConvertConverting a mesh to a volume

Working with volumes is not only restricted to using the conversion tools. Many of the modeling tools like polyEdit will work directly on a volume, making it even easier to custom build specific volumes that accurately fit the requirements of the scene.
 
UE5 Modeling Mode TECH BLOG VolumePolyEditEditing a volume directly with PolyEdit

The mesh to collision tool has several options for automatically creating a collision volume around the selected mesh. Anything from simple volumes, capsules, or more complex operations are available. 

There are so many terms that describe processes that utilize the modeling tools. Sometimes it’s asset development, modeling, sculpting, or character art, while other days you may hear environment art or dataprep. 

The number of tools and workflows that support all of these terms is immense. The modeling tools in Unreal Engine are a quickly growing and developing resource to support artists across every industry and job title, helping to make for a more efficient workflow and ultimately enhancing the experiences they create. 

As the tools have developed, we have benefited from support and feedback by the internal artists working on projects like Valley of the Ancient, or the Medieval Village. We have heard from different industries and disciplines, and that feedback is an extremely valuable resource. 

We hope this high-level overview of UE5’s modeling tools will spark your excitement for functionality that we believe will be an amazing addition to Unreal Engine. So, dive in, play around, and experiment. Many of us have learned more from the community of artists than we ever did from reading a blog post and now that you know these tools are there for you, we are excited to see and chat about what amazing things you create with them.

Join the conversation at: https://forums.unrealengine.com/c/development-discussion/modeling-tools/137

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