Unlocking the Unreal Engine Material Editor
Find out the tricks and techniques to create complex, high quality shader effects for your games!
This course will teach you how to create advanced materials and shaders using PRACTICAL REAL WORLD examples!
The power of materials in a game environment is often severely underestimated. Many complex effects like animated grass, parallax shading, light absorption, and more are achieved with only an object’s material and not with any complicated scripts. Good materials and shaders are becoming an ever more important facet of a game’s overall look and node based shader networks are the industry standard for creating them. The Unreal Engine material editor is one of the best on the market.
This course will teach you how to use this powerful tool
Being a good material artist is all about understanding how to manipulate textures using math operations and information from the 3d-world. There is a special design philosophy that surrounds node based shader networks and it requires a new way of thinking about color and value and how they all interact. This is not only true of the Unreal material editor, but of nearly ALL node based shader editors. Meaning that you can use the techniques taught in this course in many different software applications! By the end of this course, this design ethos will be second-nature to you.
Learn by DOING
This course is divided into several projects. Each is intended to teach you a new powerful technique for creating materials. For each material, we’ll go step-by-step through each node, what it does, and why it’s used. By the end, YOU will make a collection of high quality materials that you can build off of for your own games!
Downloadable project files to help you follow along
This course includes a .zip file which can be extracted into an Unreal project directory. Within the project, you’ll find all of the textures, meshes, landscapes, and map files that are used with each lesson so you can follow along from any starting point! This directory even includes all of the exact materials that I made during the curriculum’s production so you can dive in and see how they were made or even modify them to create something new.
This course will cover:
The fundamentals of the Unreal Engine material editor
The differences between textures and materials
How to use information about an object like its position, rotation, and proximity to other objects to affect the material
How to combine colors and values using simple math operations to have total control over the material’s look
How to create your own custom material functions
Get a Certificate of Completion when you finish the course!
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In this video, we'll go over the course outline and how the curriculum is organized.
In this video, we'll go over how the use the included .zip file and how the Unreal project directory is organized.
In this video, we'll go over the basics of the Unreal Engine Material Editor. We'll cover how it is laid out, what nodes are, and how to work with all of the editor's features.
It's time to make our first material! In this video, we'll create a basic material and go over how we can use some simple nodes to add more customization to our setup than just textures by themselves will allow.
This section of the curriculum is meant to serve as an overview and a reference for the many different categories of nodes. This is not a comprehensive list, but it will go over the most commonly used nodes from each category.
The Base Material node is the final output of every material you create. There are a lot of properties to understand about it and these can drastically change the look of your material without altering any of the other nodes within it.
The Constant nodes represent constant values. These are the simplest nodes and are often used when your material calls for an exact number like a 0, 1, or 2.
The material editor by itself is inert. There is no way to alter a material from outside the editor unless you use Parameter nodes. These expose data outside of the editor allowing you to change properties about your material in material instances or by a script/blueprint.
One of the most important features about node based editors is understanding how values work together to achieve a specific result. In this video, we'll cover how you can add, multiply, and work with numbers to precisely manipulate the look of your material.
Vectors are combinations of either 2 or 3 numbers. There are some math operations like dot/cross products that only work with vectors and there are other nodes that are meant to work only with the scalar values within a vector value. We'll go over some of these nodes in this video.
In this video, we'll go over the different forms of information that your material can use. Your material can be affected by an object's position, or its location on the screen, its size, or a multitude of other factors.
Several nodes within the editor perform very useful operations but they don't all fit into one category. We call these the utility nodes and we'll go over them in this video.
Project 1: Scale-able Metal
In our first project, we'll create some metal materials with added features that will help them look crisp and details from both very close up and far away. We'll go over mask textures and how we can use them to break up the repetition of our tiling textures.
In this video, we'll create an aluminium material. We set up the included texture files and then learn how we can add variation and character to our material with the help of a mask texture.
Our metal material currently has a lot of detail, but if we put it on a large surface, we'll see some very noticeable repetition. In this video, we'll cover techniques for overlaying multiple textures at varying scales to help our surface look natural both close up and far away.
Being able to combine multiple materials is a crucial skill to keep your node graphs organized. In this video, we'll go over how you can turn your metal materials into reusable nodes and combine them into a single master material.
Project 2: Snowy Rocks
For our second project, we'll learn about how to create procedural materials that will work on any object. We'll create a snowy rock material that will be perfectly seamless regardless of the object's UVs and will always apply snow on top no matter how the object is rotated.
In this video, we'll start with our base rock material and learn how we can use an object's position in space to map our textures as opposed to its UV coordinates.
In the last video, we created a planar projection for our textures. This only works from one direction though, so now we're going to learn about a technique called "Triplanar Mapping" which will project our textures from all directions. We'll also go over how to turn our node structure into a custom material function that we can use in other materials.
In this video, we'll create the separate snow material for our rocks. To do this, we'll cover the different shading models that the base material node can use and how to make our material use Subsurface Scattering.
Now it's time to add our snow material to our rock material. We'll learn about how to use an object's vertex normals to isolate the snow to the top of the rocks and we'll learn about "Height Lerping" in order to make the transition from snow to rock look more natural.
Project 3: Holographic Effect
Materials aren't just used for surface shaders like rock and metal. They are also vital for creating visual FX. In this project, we'll learn how to use the material editor to create a holographic plane that can interact with the environment.
Materials in Unreal do not exist in isolation. They are capable to changing based on their environment. In this video, we'll go over how we can use Mesh Distance Fields to create a glowing border around the objects in our scene when they intersect with our holographic plane.
One of the most powerful features in the Unreal material editor is the ability to create texture animation via panner and rotator nodes. In this video, we'll go over how to add a scrolling grid pattern as well as an animated TV scanline effect.
Project 4: Materials for Landscapes
Creating a material for a landscape asset requires special nodes to take advantage of the Unreal's landscape painting tools. In this section, we'll go over some of these nodes and how we can combine them with scalar math nodes to create more complex effects.
In this video, we'll go over how to set up a basic landscape material. Landscape materials often require many textures for their various layers and we'll cover what nodes you can use to keep them organized and customize how the layers appear when painted on your landscape.
One of the frustrations of creating landscape materials is balancing textures that don't look too repetitive from far away and not too blurry from close up. In this video, we'll use a fractal noise pattern to organically blend between two different versions of the same texture based on how far away it is so it always looks crisp an natural.
Project 7: Materials for Particles
Like landscapes, materials intended for particles also require special nodes for the material to be affected by the particle properties. In this section, we'll go over the basics of how these nodes work and how you can combine particle behavior with material properties to get some advanced effects.
Particle nodes allow the particle's look to be affected by properties of the particle system like their color, size, speed, etc. In this video, we'll go over a couple examples of how to integrate particle age, color, and speed into the material for your particles.
Particle materials don't have to just use the particle nodes. Any of the scalar and vector math nodes can be utilized to achieve complex effects. In this video, we'll learn how to create a dissolve effect using just the material editor as well as how to combine the position of many particle to create a smoky hologram effect.
Project 8: Water
In our final project, we'll combine several the techniques we've already learned along with some new ones to create a realistic water shader. This material will have a lot of functionality behind it so it can interact with the environment in believable ways.
The first step in creating our water material is to add all of the ripples and waves on the surface. In this video, we'll learn how to overlay multiple animated normal maps on top of each other and how to displace the vertices on our water plane.
In this video, we'll add a foam texture to make our water surface interact with the landscape it's in. We'll go over how to take advantage of Mesh Distance Fields and how we can combine them with height lerping to achieve a convincing effect.
One of the most advanced effects we'll apply to our water shader is a technique called "color elimination". With this, we'll set up our material to appear to get darker as the lake gets deeper, as well as being able to tint the color of our lake in a believable way.
The final step for our water shader is to add distortion to the image behind it. In this video, we'll learn how we can make changes to the plane's UVs in order to mimic a refraction effect that would otherwise be impossible.