Niagara Quick Start

A guide to help you quickly start using the Niagara visual effects system in Unreal Engine 4.

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Prerequisite Topics

This page assumes you have prior knowledge of the following topics. Please read them before proceeding.

Goals

The Niagara Quick Start is designed to get you acquainted with creating visual effects (VFX) in Unreal Engine using Niagara.

Objectives

  • How to set up your project with meshes and materials for use with Niagara.

  • How to create a basic effect using Niagara emitters and systems.

  • How to attach a Niagara effect to a character so that the effect displays in an animation.

1 - Project Setup

For the duration of this guide, use the Blueprint Third Person Template project with Starter Content enabled. If you have not created a project in Unreal Engine, see Create a Project .

Before you start creating your Niagara effect, you need to set up your project with some basic materials and assets that you will be using in the rest of this guide. After you complete this section, you will have everything you need to create your Niagara effect.

Create a Mesh Shape

The first thing you need for your project is a mesh shape for your effect. You are going to create a little puff of dust that appears when your character runs. You can create this shape in a 3D modeling application and export it, then import it into your UE4 project.

  1. In the Content Browser, right-click and select New Folder to create a folder for this Quick Start. Put all your assets into this folder. Name it Quickstart.

  2. In your 3D modeling app, create a small cloud shape, such as the one shown below.

    Even if you do not have access to a high-end 3D modeling application like 3DS Max or Maya, you can use an open-source 3D modeling application such as Blender .

Mesh shape

Create a Material

Now you will make a basic material to use for your dust cloud. Follow these steps.

  1. Right-click in the Content Browser and select Material.

    Click image for full size.

  2. Name the new material M_DustPoof. Double-click to open it in the Material Editor.

Name Material

  1. With the main Material node selected, locate the Material section in the Details panel. Change the Blend Mode to Translucent. Check the box for Two Sided. Leave the other settings at their default.

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  2. Right-click in the graph and type particle in the search bar. Select Particle Color to add a Particle Color node. Plug the top output of the Particle Color node into the Base Color input on the main Material Node.

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  3. Create a Texture Sample node. You can do this by holding T and clicking inside the Node Graph.

  4. With the Texture Sample node selected, locate the Material Expression Texture Base section in the Details panel. Click the dropdown, and type Noise in the search bar. Select the T_Perlin_Noise_M texture.

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  5. Right-click in the graph and type dynamic in the search bar. Select Dynamic Parameter to add that node.

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  6. With the Dynamic Parameter node selected, locate the Material Expression Dynamic Parameter section in the Details panel. In Array 0, change the name to Erode.

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  7. Right-click in the graph and type step in the search bar. Select Value Step to add that node.

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  8. Drag off the R output of the Texture Sample node, and plug it into the Gradient input of the Value Step node.

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  9. Drag off the Erode output of the Dynamic Parameter node, and plug it into the Mask Offset Value input of the Value Step node.

    Click image for full size.

  10. Drag off the Results output of the Value Step node, and plug it into the Opacity input of the main Material node.

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  11. Click Apply and Save, then close the Material Editor.

Section Result

You have your mesh shape, and you have a basic material. Now you have everything you need to create your Niagara effect.

2 - Create the Effect

Create System and Emitter

Next you will create your Niagara system. Unlike in Cascade, Niagara emitters and systems are independent. The current recommended workflow is to create a system from existing emitters or emitter templates.

  1. First, create a Niagara System by right-clicking in the Content Browser, and from the displayed menu select FX > Niagara System. The Niagara Emitter Wizard displays.

    Click image for full size.

  2. Select New system from selected emitters. Then click Next.

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  3. Under Template, select Simple Sprite Burst. Click the Plus sign icon (+) to add the emitter to the list of emitters to add to the system. Then click Finish.

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  4. Name the system FX_FootstepDustPoof. Double-click to open it in the Niagara Editor.

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  5. The emitter instance in your new system has the default name of SimpleSpriteBurst. The emitter instance in your new system has the default name of SimpleSpriteBurst. You can rename it, however. Click the name of the emitter instance in the System Overview, and the field will become editable. Name the emitter FX_DustPoof.

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  6. Until you set your mesh and material in the Renderer, you will not see anything in your preview. So in the System Overview, select Render to open it in the Selection panel.

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  7. Click the Trashcan icon to delete the Sprite Renderer.

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  8. Click the Plus sign icon (+) and select Mesh Renderer from the list.

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  9. Click the dropdown next to Particle Mesh, and select the mesh you made in the Project Setup section.

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  10. Click to enable Override Materials. The default is 0 Array elements. Click the Plus sign (+) icon to add an Array element. Click the dropdown next to Explicit Material, and select the material you made in the Project Setup section.

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  11. For Facing Mode, click the dropdown and select Velocity.

  12. From the Content Browser, drag your Niagara system into your Level. Position it near the foot of the Player Character, so you can check the size and shape of the effect in relationship to the character.

When you make a particle effect, it is always a good idea to drag your system into your level. This gives you a chance to see every change and edit in context.

Section Result

After completing this section, you have a Niagara system and an emitter instance, and you have dragged the system into the Level so you can preview it next to the Player Character. In the next part, you will edit the settings in the Niagara system to create the dust cloud effect.

3 - Edit the Module Settings

The Niagara Editor displays each emitter as a stack, with several groups of settings. You will edit the modules in each group one at a time.

Some effects you create may have some modules in the Emitter Spawn group, or in the System groups. The effect you are creating does not, so you are skipping those groups.

Emitter Update Settings

First you will edit the modules in the Emitter Update group. These are behaviors that apply to the emitter, and that update each frame.

  1. In the System Overview, click the Emitter Update group to open it in the Selection panel.

    Click image for full size.

  2. Expand the Emitter State module. By default, the Life Cycle Mode should be set to Self.

  3. Change the Emitter State settings to the following values. This will give you a dust poof that appears once and then dissipates.

    Click image for full size.

    Parameter

    Value

    Life Cycle Mode

    Self

    Inactive Response

    Complete

    Loop Behavior

    Once

    Loop Duration Mode

    Fixed

    Loop Duration

    1

  4. Expand the Spawn Burst Instantaneous module. Set the Spawn Count to 10. A spawn count of 10 gives us a dust cloud that is big enough to be visible, but small enough to be plausible.

    Click image for full size.

Particle Spawn Settings

Next, you will edit the modules in the Particle Spawn group. These are behaviors that apply to particles when they first spawn.

  1. In the System Overview, click the Particle Spawn group to open it in the Selection panel.

    Click image for full size.

  2. Expand the Initialize Particle module. Under Point Attributes, locate the Lifetime setting. Click the small arrow next to Lifetime, and select Dynamic Inputs > Uniform Ranged Float. This adds Minimum and Maximum fields to the Lifetime value. This will add some variation in how long each particle displays. Set the Minimum and Maximum fields to the following.

    Click image for full size.

    Setting

    Value

    Minimum

    .4

    Maximum

    .6

  3. Locate the Color setting. In the example, the Color is set to a light tan color that looks like dust. Set the R, G, and B values to the following.

    Click image for full size.

    Setting

    Value

    Red

    1.0

    Green

    .85

    Blue

    .57

  4. Under Mesh Attributes, locate the Mesh Scale setting. It has X, Y, and Z value fields. Click the small arrow next to the Z value field, and select Dynamic Inputs > Uniform Ranged Vector. This adds Minimum and Maximum vectors to the Mesh Scale value. This setting adds random variation in the size of the particle. Set the X, Y, and Z values to the following.

    Click image for full size.

    Setting

    Minimum

    Maximum

    X value

    1.0

    2.0

    Y value

    1.0

    2.0

    Z value

    1.0

    2.0

  5. Click the Plus sign icon (+) for Particle Spawn, and select Orientation > Initial Mesh Orientation. This contains rotation settings for your particle mesh. You want to add some rotation to the shape so it is less uniform. This will make the dust cloud look a little more natural.

    Click image for full size.

  6. Under Orientation, click to disable the Orientation Vector, because you do not need it for this effect. Under Rotation, click to enable Rotation. Click the downward arrow next to Rotation, and select Dynamic Inputs > Uniform Ranged Vector. This will give you the small amount of random rotation you want. Leave the Minimum and Maximum values at their default.

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  7. Click the Plus sign icon (+) for Particle Spawn, and select Location > Cylinder Location. Cylinder Location constrains the spawning of particles to a cylinder shape.

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  8. You want the dust cloud to stay close to the ground, so change the Cylinder Height to 1. You do not want the dust cloud to be too much bigger than the foot, so change the Cylinder Radius to 10.

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Particle Update Settings

Finally, you will edit the settings in the Particle Update group. These behaviors apply to particles and update each frame.

  1. Click the Trashcan icon to delete the Scale Color module. You will not need it for this effect.

  2. Click the Plus sign icon (+) for Particle Update, and select Materials > Dynamic Material Parameters. This is how you will connect to the Erode Dynamic Parameter in your Material.

    You can drag to reorder modules in the emitter node in the System Overview. However, you cannot reorder modules in the Selection panel.

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  3. In the Dynamic Material Parameters module, you should see the Erode parameter we set up in our material. Click the downward arrow for Erode, and select Dynamic Inputs > Float from Curve.

    Click image for full size.

  4. In the curve, right-click around the middle of the line, and select Add Key to Curve. There should now be three keys on the curve. You will set the keys so that the dust cloud is opaque at the beginning of its life, but thins and breaks apart as it ages.

    You can click the icon next to Curve to copy the curve to the Niagara Curves panel. This icon is highlighted with an arrow in the illustration below.

    Click image for full size.

  5. Set the three keys in the curve to the following values. Your result should look similar to the image below.

    Click image for full size.

    Key Number

    Time

    Value

    1

    0

    1

    2

    .75

    .75

    3

    1

    0

  6. Click the Plus sign icon (+) for Particle Update and select Velocity > Add Velocity from Point. Velocity from Point makes the particles move out from a designated location at a designated speed. you use this so the dust cloud particles start at the foot, and move out from there.

    An error displays after you add a velocity or force module, because added modules are always positioned at the bottom of the group's stack. That positioning places them after the Solve Forces and Velocity module. Click Fix Issue to resolve this error.

    Click image for full size.

  7. In the Add Velocity from Point module, set the Velocity Strength to 2.5. you do not want the particles to spread too far, just enough to represent dust that is disturbed by the runner's footsteps. That's why you use a relatively small number for the velocity strength.

    Click image for full size.

  8. Click the Plus sign icon (+) for Particle Update and select Forces > Acceleration Force. You are going to use this to give the dust cloud a small amount of upward momentum, so the dust cloud spreads out and up from the footstep.

    An error displays after you add a velocity or force module, because added modules are always positioned at the bottom of the group's stack. That positioning places them after the Solve Forces and Velocity module. Click Fix Issue to resolve this error.

    Click image for full size.

  9. In the Acceleration Force module, set the Acceleration to X:0, Y:0, and Z:200. Now the dust cloud spreads out and up, but the upward momentum is a little too much. So you will add some drag to the dust cloud.

    Click image for full size.

  10. Click the Plus sign icon (+) for Particle Update and select Forces > Drag.

    An error displays after you add a velocity or force module, because added modules are always positioned at the bottom of the group's stack. That positioning places them after the Solve Forces and Velocity module. Click Fix Issue to resolve this error.

    Click image for full size.

  11. In the Drag module, set the Drag to 12. The Drag setting interacts with the acceleration force and keeps the dust cloud's upward movement from seeming too unrealistic.

    Click image for full size.

Section Result

You have created the dust effect, and you should be able to see it in your level, next to the Player Start model. If the effect does not look right to you, you can adjust the various module settings until you like the look of the effect.

4 - Attach the Niagara Effect to a Character

Now you are going to add this effect to a character's run animation. In this example, you will attach the effect to the generic Mannequin character included in the Third Person template. However, you can use these steps to add a Niagara effect to any character you have set up in Unreal Engine.

  1. In the Content Browser, navigate to Mannequin > Animations. Double-click the ThirdPersonRun animation to open it in the Animation Editor.

    Click image for full size.

  2. In the Animation timeline, click Pause to pause the looping animation. Use the scrub pointer to find the moment the character's right foot hits the ground. You are going to put your dust effect right at that spot.

    Click image for full size.

  3. Locate the Notifies section. With a notify, you are marking the animation with a location for an effect. You will see a line that runs down from the scrub bar in the timeline. Right-click on the line, and select Add Notify > Play Niagara Particle Effect. A marker is placed at that point in the animation, with the default label PlayNiagaraEffect.

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  4. With the PlayNiagaraEffect notify selected, locate the Anim Notify section in the Details panel. This is where you select the Niagara System you want to add to the animation.

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  5. Click the dropdown next to Niagara System, and select the FX_FootstepDustPoof system you created in Niagara. The label on the notify changes to FX_FootstepDustPoof.

    Click image for full size.

  6. Repeat the above steps for the left foot.

Section Result

You have attached the Niagara effect to your character's run animation. Congratulations!

5 - End Result

End Result

6 - On Your Own!

Now that you have created a basic effect and attached it to a character, you can try some other related How-Tos to do more with this character. You can also make more effects in Niagara.

  • You can use a Ribbon to create a trail behind your character as it runs.

  • You can check out our Animation HowTos to learn how to create or modify additional animations for your character.

  • You can learn how to use Animation Blueprints to do even more with your character.

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