Experimenting with HDR Skyboxes in Unity 5.

Unity 5 has implemented a HUGE update on the rendering / graphics side of the engine, introducing new lighting workflows with realtime GI, a Physically Correct Shader (Metallic & Specular workflows supported) among many other things..

I wanted to do an experiment today, where I test out HDR Skybox’s in Unity 5 to see how drastically the lighting and mood of a scene can change.

HDR:

High-Dynamic-Range is an imaging photography technique to produce a higher dynamic range of brightness. This is achieved by capturing different exposures of your chosen subject matter and combining them into one image.

In Unity we can use these HDR images to help blend 3D models into the environment, this can drastically add to the belief that the 3D model is actually in the environment.

Quick mention – I’m using HDR images from NoMotion HDR’s¬†– 150 free HDR images, check EULA before using for commercial usages.

I’ll be showing how these 3 HDR images help create a completely different feel and look to the scene:

I have daytime, evening and night-time HDR’s, they should all create drastically different lighting conditions in Unity.

Time’s up chumps..let’s do this:

Unity 5’s new standard shader has built-in support for image based lighting (IBL), this really helps with the belief that the 3D model is in the environment I am setting with the HDR skybox.

Here’s the model with just Unity 5’s current default procedural skybox:

Default Skybox

With a bit of trickery (not really, just pushing a few buttons in Unity), let’s now see what happens when I add the daytime HDR Skybox:

Daytime Skybox

I haven’t messed with any lights at all, all I have is the default Directional Light in the scene with default settings. looks rather impressive after just adding a new HDR Skybox to the scene.

Let’s try the evening HDR Skybox now:

Evening Skybox

Awesome, I am really enjoying playing around with this, I love how quickly I can completely change the lighting conditions which in turn drastically changes the mood and atmosphere in the scene. I can’t wait to see how games are going to utilize these new features.

Okay, last one, the night-time HDR Skybox, I’m a little skeptical about this one, I’ve no idea how this will look and I imagine it’s not really desirable to use a night-time HDR image. Anyway, let’s see what it looks like:

Nighttime Skybox

Actually turned out rather well, the image doesn’t show the white spots on the model as much as in the editor, these white spots are produced by the specular smoothness on the Standard Shader, i.e the more smooth I make it the more white spot artifacts are produced, not sure why this is more present in the night-time scene, I’m sure there’s a setting I’ve missed or something..

Overall, I’m really impressed with this, especially how quickly I can change the mood and lighting of the scene and the visual output from Unity 5’s new rendering / graphics update.

Look forward to seeing what you all produce with Unity 5. ūüôā

R&D with new Unity 5 Graphics..

My job is based on supporting Unity’s customer base in the EMEA region, to do a good job that means I need to learn all of the Unity things, features and new services, at least on a high level.

I tend to experiment a lot with Unity’s new features, today I wanted to share with you some of my R&D with Unity 5’s new Graphics overhall, this includes the new Physical Based Shader, Realtime Global Illumination and the new Scene Render Settings.

My experiments are usually aimed at producing a small scaled demo that can squeeze in as many features as possible, this enables me to demonstrate these features easily to customers while in the field.

Field

PBS (Physically Based Shader):

Unity’s new Physically Based Shader a.k.a one shader to rule them all a.k.a standard shader (actual name) allows us to create materials for a wide range of natural surfaces such as Metals, Dielectrics (non-metals): monolithic materials = rock, water, plastic ceramic, wood, glass etc..cloth and organic.

The new PBS also plays nice with IBL (Image Based Lighting), we can setup a skybox cubemap in the new Scene Render Settings to help with really blending our objects into the surrounding environments:

Scene Render Settings

One demo (not developed by me) shows a nice range of different surfaces used by the new standard shader in Unity 5:

We can see there’s at least six¬†different surfaces represented here with the usage of just one shader – Ceramic, Cloth, Metal, Glass, Rock and Wood. The Scene Render Settings really help blending the Doll model into the surrounding area, helping us believe that the Doll is in the Forest environment.

The new shader includes many different texture slots, allowing you to add really nice detail to models. The shader includes a multi-variation of smaller shaders with versions for mobile and high-end.

Standard Shader PBS

Our built-in shader code is always available for download and currently with Unity 5 this will include the new standard shader as well – Could change but I doubt it.

Realtime Global Illumination:

The lighting for realtime is half pre-computed realtime lighting, allowing you to dynamically light your scene, dynamically changing: light sources, environment lighting and material properties such as diffuse reflective and surface emission.

Geometry needs to be marked lightmap static but you can relight geometry using Light Probes¬†that are updated in realtime with the GI generated from¬†the static geometry. In my little demo I’ve combined the usage of Realtime GI, PBS, Reflection Probes and Light Probes, the majority of the objects marked as static apart from a few props¬†which demonstrate the usage of Light Probes for non-static objects:

Couple of shout outs, I’ve used the Medieval Assets Pack by Naresh and the Medieval Boat from Mr Necturus which are available on the Asset Store for most of the props. The wooden cottage model center piece is a free model from some site I can’t remember.

Here’s a Vine I recently sent out, little outdated comparing to the above screenshots, but demonstrates the realtime GI in editor with play mode on:

There’s more of this to learn as Unity 5 develops through the beta stage. Note: Screenshots from beta version of Unity 5 – May look different when released.

Also worth sharing is what Alex Lovett is doing with the Unity 5 beta and Realtime GI:¬†http://forum.unity3d.com/threads/unity-realtime-reflections-and-gi-and-realism-exploration.266258/ – Now if only my Realtime GI R&D looked like that ūüėÄ

Unity5 Announced!

Unity5http://unity3d.com/5

I’m getting straight to the point here, what is in included in Unity5:

Physically-based Shading:

There’s a new shader to setup great looking materials in a range of lighting environments, it’s one shader to rule them all, an uber-shader one might call it, you can use it for a range of different surfaces such as wood, metal, plastics, ceramics, cloth and many others.

Unity5_Teleporter

Realtime Global Illumination:

Built upon Geomerics Enlighten Technology, Unity5¬†has integrated realtime physically-based Global Illumination for cross-platform, runs super nice on mobile / tablet devices. You can animate lights, setup beautiful environments lighting and make use of emissive materials to create stunning effects and visuals. What’s really nice, as an added bonus, you now don’t need to be rebaking any lightmaps, which is especially painful when bake times are long for larger scenes, Global Illumination updates immediately upon making any changes to help dramatically increase iterative times.

WebGL:

The plugin-less browser technology is approaching fast and Unity5 will offer the option to deploy to WebGL without the need for a plugin download to playback content, with a one-click deploy system the building times are super fast and simular to what our WebPlayer plugin build system is like.

Audio Mixer:

New audio mixng technology enters Unity5 with simple workflows for setting up different sounds within your 2d / 3d games. Setup realtime mixing graphs, ability to edit tweak in play mode, create and blend between snapshots, insert effects into the mixers, implement ducking of sounds and many more..

UnityCloud:

This service offers the ability to integrate cross-promotion campaigns for acquiring players and help with retaining them

64-bit Editor:

64-bit editor brings massive improvements to Unity for handling demanding tasks 32-bit version might just crash on with out of memory, the runtime was ported a while back now, but getting the editor ported with all the dependencies took time.

PhysX 3.3:

The much requested update to PhysX has arrived, NVIDIA completely rewrote the system, bringing excellent performance boosts which is great for mobile / tablet devices. A new wheel collider is available amongst other things, more PhysX 3.3 features will be exposed later in the 5.x cycle.

There’s many more features in Unity5¬†which will just populate my blog, but here is more smaller but equally juicy feature set:

  • AI: NavMesh supports LoadLevelAdditive.
  • NavMeshObstacle supports two basic shapes – cylinder and box for both carving and avoidance.
  • Editor: The editor is now a 64-bit application.
  • Graphics: Improved ambient lighting.
  • Cubemaps support texture compression
  • Improved LODGroup. A “fade mode” can be set on each level and a value of “how current LOD be blended/faded to the next LOD” will be passed to shader program in unity_Scale.z.
  • Non-uniformly scaled meshes no longer incur any memory cost or performance hit.
  • PluginInspector: new plugin system.
  • Scripting: Introduced option to auto-update obsolete Unity API usage in scripts / assemblies.
  • Version Control: Scene and Prefab Merging.
  • Asset Store: The asset store window is now many times faster, more responsive, and looks better.
  • Model importing: Updated FBX SDK to 2015.1
  • Windows Store Apps: You can now use joysticks in addition to Xbox 360 controllers

For a more visual look at Unity5‘s new feature set, take a look at the official Unity Feature Preview video:

With such an exciting announcement I can’t wait for all you guys to get your hands on this awesome toolset!

Thanks!