Virtual Production: World Building & Natural Aesthetics in Unreal Engine | NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Virtual Production: World Building & Natural Aesthetics in Unreal Engine

Online with Live Sessions

Sunrise in Unreal Engine landscape

Next Course Run starts: November 7, 2022 (Registration is now CLOSED)

Format: Technical Intensive


This course will introduce the fundamentals of worldbuilding and environment design for digital worlds. The course will consider some conceptual frameworks for creating compelling worlds, the practical concerns for how to bring your worlds to life in Unreal Engine, as well as how best to capture, present, or explore your world. There is a strong focus on taking observations of and inspiration from nature.

This course involves rigorous application of your conceptual explorations in Unreal Engine. You will learn how to use the Landscape, Foliage, and Water tools, the Materials editor, the lighting system, Niagara particle engine, and a little Blueprints too.

Key Takeaways

  • Understand the basics of Unreal Engine’s environment/level design tool set (Landscapes, Foliage, Materials, Lighting, Effects, Camera)
  • Leverage the Quixel Megascans asset library to quickly prototype diverse environments.
  • Develop a vocabulary for both conceptual worldbuilding and practical environment design.
  • Apply aesthetic principles inspired by natural phenomena to scenes in Unreal Engine.
  • Identify and interrogate personal, technological, and societal trends between humans and the natural world. 
  • Hands-on experience creating three short digital/virtual projects inspired by nature, from concept to production.

Who Should Attend

The specialization is designed for three categories of students:

  • Digital Fabricators - See your assets work in real-time
  • Traditional 3D Animators - Learn to optimize and prepare assets for real-time
  • Technical Directors - Gain insight to the technical artists pipeline 
  • UX Designers - Take your art into the 3rd dimension
  • Storytellers - Create your own 3D assets
  • 3D artists / designers - Learn to create dynamic scenes in Unreal Engine
  • Immersive storytellers - Build experiential worlds

Course Outline

Week 1: Impressions

This section explores what it is to attempt to capture, depict, recreate nature in a synthetic medium. We look at some examples through (a heavily abridged) history of art, and interrogate ourselves and our own reactions to being in natural environments both truly natural and entirely fabricated.

Week 2: Constructions

This section explores how society constructs its relationship with nature. We delve further into a definition of “natural” and different ways that society attempts to interact with, exclude, contain, and access that natural world.

Week 3: Open Office Hours

Students will schedule a time with the instructor. During this time, students will have the opportunity to discuss the course content and final project or discuss personal professional projects and goals.

Week 4: Speculations

This section explores the relationship between nature and technology. We imagine coherent future possibilities — utopian, dystopian, anywhere in between. What do you predict the future will look like? What do you want the future to look like?

Week 5: Student Work Week

Students will use this week to work on their course project. Students may also use this time to catch up and review course content and activities.

Week 6: Final Project Showcase

Students will present their final projects in a live presentation and receive feedback from the instructor and other students. This is your opportunity to show off your skills and creativity. Students must submit their final project by the end of Week 6 to obtain the certificate.


Week 1: Photo Series

Create a virtual world inspired by a memory/painting/photo/video of a natural environment. Curate a series of about 6 photographs (taken in-engine) which demonstrate the story of your world.

Week 2: Virtual Garden

Design and build your own garden in Unreal Engine. What and who is this garden for? Where is it? What do you put in? What do you leave out? 

Final Project: Visions of a Natural Future

Extend reality or envision the future with a speculative natural experience. You are welcome to think small in scope (tackle a problem for you and your neighbors) or think massive in scope (tackle a global problem), but keep in mind the time you have for the project. The project prompt is intentionally left open, but here are some ideas for potential projects:

  • A virtual city park for a post-Covid world
  • A VR garden for self care
  • A post-apocalyptic setting for the next summer blockbuster
  • Manhattan’s next-gen skyscraper
  • A natural history archive 500 years in the future


Technical Requirements & Prerequisites

  • An Epic Games account (register here)
  • A computer that runs Unreal Engine 5 (Recommended Specs)
  • At least 60 GB of free hard drive space (there will be a lot to download!)
  • A three-button mouse
  • Recommendations
    • Introduction to Unreal 
    • A general understanding of 3D software (you are now entering the third dimension)
    • Access to a broadband internet connection (there will be a lot to download!)