Realizing rapid conceptual design with kitbashing
Our small team quickly mashed up Snaps, KitBash3D, and other Asset Store packages to demonstrate what can be achieved with a little work and a whole lot of prefabs.
“Kitbashing” is combining different assets to create something original and new. The idea comes from modeling hobbyists, who would mash up model train or airplane kits to build their own custom projects. Today, it’s popular in special effects and game design worlds, where blockbusters like Thunderbirds, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope pointed to its potential for creating rich storytelling worlds. Kitbashing enables teams to produce prototypes and polished final projects much more quickly than they could by building everything from scratch.
Our vision for this demo was to create a fresh take on a sci-fi environment by mixing a gloomy, dark, and wet space at the ground level, then shifting into a warm, dry skyline as the camera ascends. We achieved this dramatic mood in Unity’s High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) by kitbashing assets from Snaps and KitBash3D, a premium asset creator that we’ve worked closely with to bring dozens of their high-quality packages into the Unity Asset Store. In this blog post, we’ll share an overview of our production process and highlight some of the kits and effects we used. We hope you’ll walk away with a few ideas to take your kitbashed projects and prototypes to the next level.
The kitbashing pipeline
Our production unfolded in three phases. First, we developed a creative concept and scoped assets from the Snaps and KitBash3D libraries to support our art direction. We added these packages to a library scene for quick development, then mocked up a greybox with basic lighting. We split the project into three scenes, which allowed team members to work independently on the backdrop, lighting, and core environment. In the second phase, we started with our greybox blockout, then subbed in the KitBash3D and Snaps assets. Finally, we polished the demo by adding lighting, VFX, and shader updates.
We developed this project to create the look and feel of an in-engine captured game trailer or an AAA in-game opening cinematic, which allowed our team to push all the visual features and settings to the max to achieve quality and fidelity. The level of detail (LOD) levels are pushed out or set to 1, and we used a lot of VFX, lighting, and planar reflection volumes. Forward rendering is turned on, which lets us use Multisampling anti-aliasing (MSAA) and additional temporal anti-aliasing (TAA). For prototyping, these options are easy to implement and allow for fast iteration. Keeping our scene clean also lets us turn off expensive elements like VFX and planar reflections during production, so we could continue developing and iterating quickly.
We created most of the environment’s stunning backdrop using a mix of KitBash3D packages with a futuristic cyber-city vibe and East Asian visual references. KitBash3D is the Unity Asset Store’s first library partner, bringing a robust collection of premium 3D art assets for building virtual environments – they’re also used in major film productions by Disney, Fox, Marvel and HBO, as well as by AAA studios like Ubisoft, EA, and Tencent, as well as indies. For our project, we used the Neo Tokyo 2 and Neo Shanghai packages to stage the scene, then populated them with props from the Cyber Streets package to give the environment an edgy neon sci-fi look.
Much of the foreground was created using Snaps, Unity’s own packages of themed modular art assets. There are three streams of Snaps – Snaps Prototype, pared-down, snap-in packages designed to quickly block out a project; Snaps Art, modular environment and prop assets to flesh out your prototype; and Snaps Art HD, polished, AAA-quality high-res art to add detail. We integrated elements from three Snaps Art HD packages into the demo, Asian Residential, Construction Site, and Sci-Fi Urban.
While most of the assets used in the demo came from Snaps and KitBash3D libraries, several other Asset Store packages helped us to achieve key effects. AutoProbe saved time by automating the placement of light probes, while Easy Mesh Combiner MT helped us to merge meshes and set the pivot point at mesh level. Bird Flock and the Fly Particle System added movement that brought the scene to life.
We imported a lot of VFX directly from The Spaceship Demo Project, a Unity demo using HDRP and VFX Graph that’s jam-packed with AAA-quality production-ready, optimized VFX that can be copied and used in projects. This approach gave us a quick start to implementing smoke and sparks, which we could easily import from the demo after selecting dependencies. For other content creation, we used Blender.
Shaders and decals
We used the Lit Shader, Layered Lit Shader, and Decal Shader on nearly every material in this project, and we created simple custom shaders for emissive signs and decals.
Decals add an extra layer of polish to our project. Many of the effects we used them for could also be achieved within shaders, such as dirt build-up or crack details, but the decals were a faster solution for our tight production timeline, and they gave us more control over placement.
Both the Snaps and KitBash3D packages include graphic elements like graffiti, utility signs, and ads, which can be turned into decals. Package materials came with normals and alpha channels, so creating projected decals was just a matter of plugging textures into the Decal shader.
We created a few different decal materials to give our scene greater depth. We used them for puddles, graffiti, dirt, and signage, sometimes playing with opacity levels and sort order to allow graffiti and dirt to render above a decal layer.
Puddles were created as decals using the Shader Graph. This required placement control and introducing randomness to break up repetitive tiling. The shader would take three generated puddle shapes, then lerp between each mask based on its world position to give the puddles a random shape, and there were additional controls to let us tweak the values for puddles’ smoothness, shape, color, and opacity.
We added more life to the scene by pulling VFX from demo tools. Smoke and sparks were adapted from the Spaceship Demo, while we grabbed the hologram’s core from Unity’s Visual Effects Graph Samples project. The hologram model uses a depth-based camera to render out, so you can project any correctly tagged asset – we created some basic characters and a quick looping animation.
Lighting is essential to the mood and composition we wanted for this demo. Since the project was rendered as an offline cinematic, we focused on achieving the right atmosphere and color transitions for our storytelling over optimization concerns. We worked on lighting in tandem with creating the environment across numerous iterations, but the compartmentalized structure of the scene let us play with different lighting ideas and iterate on them quickly.
HDRP provides tools and parameters that let us push the scene’s realism – details like giving neon signs and billboards emissive material for indirect lighting contributions as well as real-time lights that bring a layer of specular lighting to nearby objects. We used the highest shadow filtering settings available in HDRP alongside screen space effects like Contact Shadows and Screen Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO) to flesh out the scene’s details.
Volumetric fog and density volumes were used to unify the scene’s elements and create depth. The HDRP allows for high-quality volumetric fog settings to achieve smooth results, but since this demo was created as an offline rendered cinematic, we also “cheated” by placing point lights near some of the more prominent neon signs to artificially boost the local volumetric effect.
Post-processing and polishing
We placed reflection captures all over the scene to make metallic and glass surfaces reflective, while planar reflections on water puddles and shiny floors mirrored details of the surrounding scene. HDRP and planar reflections allow captures of up to 8K, while layers and cullings systems offer the flexibility to define what will be captured onto those reflections. We used the layers system to create clean results with moving cameras and planar reflections that were updated each frame.
A few specular-only lights were added to create rim highlights around some of the more eye-catching props in the scene, making them more prominent against the background while placing them to subtly lead the eye to key points in the scene.
Volumes and visual effects
We used HDRP’s volume system throughout the scene, both to control screen-space effects and for localized color grading. We controlled the main generic overrides in the scene under the Global Post-Processing Volume, so these settings are kept in a single, central location. This global volume setting made the system easier to manage, especially for effects that don’t change much in different regions of the scene and can be controlled by a single value, including Chromatic Aberration, Ambient Occlusion, Fog, Bloom, Film Grain, and Vignette.
Screen effects like Film Grain, Vignette, and Chromatic Aberration – all designed to mirror imperfections of a camera lens and film – help CG to look more realistic by preventing the image from looking unnaturally clean. Use very small values in these effects’ settings, because a little goes a long way, but these details really help to sell the cinematic feel of the image.
Color grading was essential to this demo’s art direction. We used localized volumes, one for the ground area and one closer to the top of the scene, and a large blend distance gave the transition from one volume to the next seamless.
HDRP’s color grading overrides are robust and offer lots of options to fine-tune the colors, saturation and luminance across highlights, midtones and shadows. In color grading, simplicity is key – only adjust what’s needed, rather than overriding everything and ending up with an overly complex grade.
We did most of the color grading using Color Adjustments for broad saturation and contrast adjustments. Next, we used the Lift, Gamma, Gain and Shadows, Midtones, Highlights effects to color shift and adjust the range, finally making more minute adjustments with Color Curves. To create some nice contrast at the ground level, for example, we color shifted the shadows to a warmer tone compared to the cool hues of the midtones and highlights. We used the color curve to override the Luminance Vs Saturation curve, so the shadows were picked out and desaturated to enhance subtle contrasts.
Create scenes faster with kitbashing
Sharing this demo seems like a great way to welcome KitBash3D as the Asset Store’s first-ever library partner, giving artists premium building blocks to create stunning virtual environments in Unity. We hope you’ll explore the power and potential of kitbashing in your own projects – so we’re offering the Snaps and KitBash3D packages used in this demo at steep discounts to get you started.
For a limited time, save 30–50% on the Cyber Streets, Neo Tokyo 2, and Neo Shanghai packages from KitBash3D, and get 70% off the three Snaps Art HD packages into the demo, Asian Residential, Construction Site, and Sci-Fi Urban. Just starting out? Try the KitBash3D Neo City Mini Kit for free to get a taste of what’s possible. We can’t wait to see your kitbashing creations.
Learn more at the Unity Asset Store.