3D Artist

How to use Unity 3: a free tutorial to get you started

Tips & Tutorials

Getting started in Unity 3 is made even easier with this quickstart guide from Unity Technologies

Ladybug asset created by Massive Black in Unity 3

Unity is a free game engine for everyone. It’s free because Unity Technologies wants people to be able to use it to make money, so when you download the free version of Unity 3 you have the license. Even startups get it for free! The concept behind this generosity is that eventually these companies will grow, and then invest in the professional version.

Not just for games, Unity 3 can also be used for arch-vis, military simulations, pre-visualisation and more – there are many people working in the same ways, with the same skills, same needs. Unity 3 steps in to make life easier, transforming worlds by allowing people to be productive in a couple of days – inevitably saving money, as well as time.

Getting started in Unity 3

Once you’ve downloaded Unity 3 for free, importing assets into the free game engine is a streamlined and painless process, with almost all commonly-used art file formats supported.

Step 1 – Laying a foundation

Laying the foundations in UnityTo add a mesh or texture, place it in the Projects/Assets folder. Import files into subfolders that specify file category, and name them to stay organised. Organisation is a must for coordinating assets in an interactive environment!









Step 2 – Adding meshes to the scene

Add meshes to a scene in Unity 3Click and drag a mesh from Project View into the Hierarchy, or to the Scene View to add it directly to the scene. It will appear with default grey as no textures or materials have yet been specified.

Step 3 – Tweaking a mesh

Tweaking a mesh in Unity 3Select a tool from the toolbar in the upper-left corner and use the mouse to control the corresponding gizmo to easily translate, scale, or rotate the mesh. You can enter values into the number fields directly in the Inspector window.

Step 4: Streamlined surfacing

Layers are maintained in your textures in Unity 3Imported textures with layers (like those in Photoshop) are flattened automatically for use by Unity, but layers are maintained in the assets themselves. So you can work with a single texture file in a streamlined fashion.

Step 5: Understanding texture settings

Understand texture settings in Unity 3To change texture properties select the texture file in Project View and modify import settings in the Inspector. Texture settings are simplified into seven types – select the correct one to tell Unity what the texture will be used for.









Step 6: Applying textures and materials

Applying textures and materials in Unity 3To apply a texture to a mesh, drag a texture from the Project onto a selected object in the scene. For multiple materials select the object in Scene View to reveal the materials in the Inspector window. Drag and drop or select a texture for each texture square.







Step 7: Setting material properties

Setting material properties in Unity 3When selecting a material, the Inspector window will change to show the material properties, which change depending on the shader selected. The properties can be colours, sliders, textures, numbers, or vectors.









Step 8: Adjusting materials

Adjust materials in Unity 3Lock the material by clicking the link in the upper-right corner. With the lock enabled, the mesh can be deselected in Scene view so that the wireframe will no longer obscure the view, allowing fine-tuning of material properties.

Step 9: Importing animations into Unity

Import animations into Unity 3It’s easy to import all animations attached to a specific model and define which frames make up each part of the animation. The ‘@’ naming convention can also be used where separate FBX model files are exported from an animation suite with the name ‘model_name@animation_name.fbx’.








Step 10: Make it move!

Animate your objects in Unity 3On the left side of the Animation View is a hierarchical list of the properties that can animate in the selected object. In the top right of the list is a pull-down menu where each animation associated with the object can be found.

Check out the following resources for more useful guidance to help you on your way:

  • The Unity forum
  • Unity Answers – great when you have a specific problem!
  • The Unity IRC community (group #Unity3D) – a great, friendly IRC channel which is very helpful (you’ll need an IRC client, such as mIrc or Colloquy)
  • Unite presentation videos – these videos of Unite conferences can be pretty handy!
  • Unity tutorials – these two free tutorials introduce various elements of Unity to you, if you are more tutorial inclined
  • Unity Wiki – a great community lead resource with free-to-use sample code and additions to Unity that is constantly growing and well worth looking at
  • Unity Documentation – Unity documentation is divided up into scripting, component reference, and the manual itself
  • 3DBuzz – you’ll find a bunch of free professional training from the guys at 3DBuzz

Find out how Massive Black used Unity 3 to create a character-driven tech demo in 3D Artist issue 36. Available to buy as a back issue from the official Imagine Publishing online store.

All images © Unity Technologies and Massive Black