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UE3 Home > Getting Started Creating Content with the Unreal Development Kit

Getting Started Creating Content with the Unreal Development Kit

Welcome to the Unreal Developer Network getting started page for UDK Content Creation. This page is designed to introduce artists and animators, level designers, and audio composers to the Unreal Development Kit.

But first...

Download the latest version of UDK here!


Unreal Development Kit provides all the tools needed to make a huge variety of custom 3D applications and games. This is a short guide to getting started making art with Unreal Development Kit.

Artists and Level Designers will use three programs included in the Unreal Development Kit for content creation. Unreal Editor is used for importing and creating content and levels, UnrealFrontend is used for cooking, launching, and packaging your applications. Unreal Development Kit now supports FBX for importing Static Meshes, Skeletal Meshes, Skeletal Animation and Skeletal Morph Targets (BlendShapes).

Here are some links to useful tutorials and guides to getting started:

  • Video Training Modules - Video tutorials showing basic use of content-creation tools.
  • Design Workflow - Rough detailing of a typical design workflow.
  • User Guides - A list of user guides for the Unreal Editor suite of tools.
  • Tutorials - A list of tutorals for getting content into the Unreal Engine.

Visit Content Creation Home and Level Creation Home for more in depth information.

Content Pipeline

The content pipeline for Unreal Engine 3 is very different from previous versions of the Unreal Engine and the staffing/production planning requirements have changed right along with it.

With the generation of graphics hardware targeted by Unreal Engine 3, there are several options for setting up an art production pipeline. There are substantial cost/visual quality trade offs for the various methods of creating models, so it's advised to pick the right method for the job.


High Polygon Modeling

To achieve the best visual quality, a high polygon model is used generate normal maps which are applied to the rendered mesh or low polygon version of the mesh. See the FBX Static Mesh Pipeline document for more information on this process. Normals maps can of course be applied to any surface in Unreal Development Kit; not just Static Meshes.

High polygon modeling is a very time consuming task, especially given the detail required to make normal maps really shine. It is helpful to ask around and find out what experience your artists have with high polygon modeling and scale your production estimates accordingly. If your artists have no experience in creating high polygon models, expect up to five to six times as long to create a model in Unreal Development Kit compared to a model for Unreal Engine 2. As artists become more comfortable with UDK, that should drop to four to five times. Finally, expect a seasoned high polygon modeler to take about half as long as that.

NOTE: Once your art pipeline is well-oiled, and your artists are comfortable with high polygon modeling, models will take about two to three times as long to create as they did with previous-generation engines.

In order to help your team make this transition smoother, and to help get the five to six times down to two to three as quickly as possible, we've found the following techniques to work well:

  • Have one or two art-leads learn the engine and make the high polygon transition ahead of everyone else. Give them a month to get a feel for everything and then devote their time over the course of the next couple of weeks to helping everyone else learn the tools.
  • Hire high polygon modelers. The movie industry needs them, now you do too!
  • Train your existing artists. It ain't rocket-science! Our artists are eager to learn the new skills. In general, we've found most artists don't seem to like the idea of having one person create the high polygon model and another person create the low polygon one, so you will need folks proficient at both skills.
  • Use UDN. We got started with the new tech before just about anyone else. A day messing around with tools with documentation is worth five fumbling around with no direction.
  • Epic is using 1-2 million triangle meshes for much of their content, but you could easily elect to not use this level of detail for all of your meshes. Lower (100K-250K) polygon detail meshes could easily be used in many places where all that detail isn't being taken advantage of. The results won't be the same high fidelity, but you might save a lot of time in the process.

Manual Normal mapping

An alternative to the high polygon modeling method exists. Artists can create models as they normally do, and then manually draw the height information that is used for bump mapping. This technique applies especially well to world geometry with tiling textures because of the overlap limitations associated with the high polygon method of generating normal maps.

In our experience, each of these kinds of textures adds about 25-50% to the texture creation time, and the entire high polygon mesh process is circumvented. nVidia has a set of texture tools for Adobe Photoshop which can convert height maps (as well as diffuse maps) into normal maps.

Which to Choose and When

Manual normal mapping works well when the end surface is going to be largely flat. It also works well if the texture is not overly complex and has obvious heights to work with. A good example is a grate texture, it's very easy to predict the height map required as it only really needs recesses for the screws and at the edges of the grate holes. Manual normal mapping is not particularly easy for ornate or organic styled meshes. It is much better to create a higher detail mesh and then create normal maps from that based on a lower detail mesh.


Texture resolutions are considerably higher for future PC and Console platforms, so expect artists to need to spend more time per-texture. On PC, Epic is using textures that are about twice the amount of next-generation consoles. As seen in the Unreal Engine 3 demos, Epic expects to ship with mostly 1024x1024 DXT1-compressed textures on consoles and 2048x2048 textures on PC.

Texturing in normal mapped environments is fundamentally different from texturing without per-pixel lighting. There will be an adjustment period as artists learn how the lighting effects created by the various Unreal Engine 3 shading techniques replace some of the baking-in that they are used to doing.

Additionally, some materials require more than just a diffuse and bump texture. Be certain to budget time for detail textures, detail normal maps, emissive maps, etc.

Useful Links


Animation is supported via animated skeletal meshes. Vertex-blended animation is no longer supported. Typically, we bring in character, vehicle and weapon data as bone animation using FBX. Character facial animation is done with a mix of FaceFX and Morph Targets.

Non-animated meshes are known as static meshes.

Useful Links

Swarm Setup

Swarm spreads a lighting build out over your entire network which makes building lighting quicker.

Swarm Coordinator

  1. Identify a machine that you want to be the coordinator
  2. Go to \UDK\Binaries on the desired coordinator machine
  3. Launch SwarmCoordinator.exe
  4. Take note of the IP address for the coordinator PC

Swarm Agent

  1. Figure out what machines you want to help with the builds.
  2. Go to \UDK\Binaries on each of the helping machines.
  3. Launch SwarmAgent.exe
  4. Switch to the Settings Tab
    1. AllowedRemoteAgentNames = * 1 CoordinatorRemotingHost = [host IP address]
  5. Close Swarm Agent for changes to take effect.


  1. Open Editor and Rebuild lighting in a map
  2. Look at the Swarm Coordinator, make sure the clients name is listed.

Running your map

You can use the UnrealFrontend to run the map you've created. Click on the profile you are using, and add the map you created to the Maps to Cook list. You can now cook the map using the cook button. For more information about cooking see content cooking. Press the 'Launch' button to play your map.

You can also create a shortcut to run the map you've created. Copy the 'Game - Unreal Development Kit' shortcut, and open the properties window for your shortcut. Add the name of your map, following a space, to the existing target under the shortcut tab. For example:

"C:\Program Files\Unreal Development Kit\UDK-2011-07\Binaries\Win32\UDK.exe" DM-Deck

In addition, custom maps will automatically show up in the sample UI, using the file name of the map. If the map has a gametype prefix (DM- or VCTF-) it will be placed in the appropriate gametype list. All other maps will be added to the Deathmatch map list. To customize the graphics and text used for the map, you can create an ini file describing the map, which will set these values.

For example for DM-Coolmap, you'd create a DM-CoolMap.ini file, with the following text in it:

[DM-Coolmap UTUIDataProvider_MapInfo]
NumPlayers=2 to 6 players     Author: John Doe
Description=This is the coolest map ever.

Packaging Your Application - Installation and Distribution

For a guide to the process of packaging your application, please see the Deployment on Unreal Development Kit page.

Support - Documentation and Forums, Guidelines

As a developer using the Unreal Development Kit, you will have access to a limited amount of documentation via the Unreal Developer Network, as well as tutorials and Reference materials specific to game development and games developed by Epic.

NOTE: An offline version of UDN is not available at this time. Spidering the UDN site is not allowed for anyone. This can cause the site to become very sluggish, which ruins the experience for other site visitors.

If you would like to submit a tutorial, please contact tutorialsubmissions@epicgames.com. If, after looking through UDN and the forums, you need specific information, you can request that the information be placed in a tutorial on UDN. New pages will be created as priorities allow. Please do not use this channel of communication for anything else.

  • The UDK forum is the place to go for questions, feature requests and discussions about the Unreal Development Kit. Feel free to contribute to help build the UDK community!
  • Please do not mail UDN directly unless otherwise directed.
  • Please do not mail Epic employees directly unless otherwise directed.