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Unit information: Virtual Environment Design in 2022/23

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Virtual Environment Design
Unit code COMSM0124
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Mr. Dalton
Open unit status Not open
Units you must take before you take this one (pre-requisite units)


Units you must take alongside this one (co-requisite units)

COMSM0126 Introduction to Immersive Technologies and Arts

Units you may not take alongside this one
School/department School of Computer Science
Faculty Faculty of Engineering

Unit Information

When the acronym CGI was first introduced by the founders and pioneers of computer graphics, they could not have imagined how ubiquitous, immersive and hyper-realistic their computer-generated imagery would become. Visual effects production is now a multi-billion-dollar global market. Beyond the entertainment industry, advancements in games engine and display technology have enabled creatives in all sectors (architects, automotive engineers and product designers) to prototype, visualise and interact with products and environments in new ways, and at unprecedented speed. With the same visual fidelity as film frames, immersive virtual environments can now be designed to render in just a fraction of a second. Beyond the production of AAA games, this technology and this shift now enables designers to think differently about the way that they prototype products and produce content; how they create narrative and discourse. With a focus on geometry and 3D asset development, this unit uses professional software to introduce you to the virtual asset and environment design process -- from artistic concept to VR/AR display.

Within this unit we take a look at the virtual asset development pipeline building up your foundational knowledge and competency of virtual environment design and development which you will then build upon further within the MSc Immersive Technologies (Virtual and Augmented Reality) and MA Immersive Arts (Virtual and Augmented Reality) programmes.

Your learning on this unit

As the founders and pioneers of computer graphics did: today, artists, engineers, developers and researchers continue to innovate, with state-of-the-art technology and breath-taking creativity. Although the acronym CGI may be dated, the demand for ever more realistic, immersive and intelligent computer graphics seems higher than ever. VR and AR are simply an evolution of screen-based media, of cinematography, animation and visual effects production.

The technology that enables the illusion of virtual space is founded on the computer graphics principles of geometry and pixels, of light and surface. Fundamentally this unit introduces you to the polygon. Whatever the build method, or however we classify them, our virtual assets and VR environments are stored as a set of connected triangles, displayed as pixels at render time. In this unit the story starts with the building block, the polygon. The entire programme of study then questions what experience you can create, what worlds you can design and what story you can tell with millions of connected polygons.

The design and production of virtual environments combines elements of classic computer graphics pipelines with new and emerging games engine technology. The fusion enables dynamic and real-time rendering. Virtual and augmented reality blur the boundary of film production and games development. In visual effects production models and frames of animation can now be pre-visualised and directed in real-time on set using virtual production. Engineers, architects and product designers are using virtual reality for design visualisation and virtual prototyping.

This unit explores this new design space. It is designed to introduce you to the polygon, to asset and model development, and to the world of computer graphics production. It introduces the design process used to build assets and sets for deployment in films and games, for product visualisation and for immersive display. Professional software is used as a framework to introduce the virtual asset development pipeline - from artistic concept to model. The focus of the unit is on the creation of polygonal geometry, surface design, shader application and lighting design. Advanced topics will also introduce you to animation and virtual cameras.

This unit is about the creative design process for VR and the use of professional software in computer graphics and animation production. It is not about the algorithms; it is not about the mathematical models or source code.

As a result of this unit you will have a good understanding the virtual asset production process, as well as practical experience in developing your proficiency in the software required to create, design, and develop a virtual asset for utlilisation in a virtual or aumented reality experience.

On successful completion of the virtual environment design project, you will be able to:

  1. Document, illustrate and explain the creative design process for VR asset and environment development.
  2. Use complex polygonal geometry to model virtual environments.
  3. Design and create virtual environment lighting (natural and artificial).
  4. Define UV space for 3D assets, to build PBR shaders and to design surface effects for visualisation.
  5. Experiment with virtual cameras.

How you will learn

Weekly based lab exercises - practical and teacher supported hands-on development using commercial virtual asset development software.

How you will be assessed

100% coursework submission:
- A virtual environment design project and report: ILOs 1-5

Tasks which help you prepare for summative tasks (formative)

Practical sessions run in parallel with theory sessions. These practical sessions will follow a lab format, comprised of a lab tutorial with an activity which helps support the students on their learning trajectory towards completion of their VR asset. As part of their formative assessment, this activity will be validated by one of the unit coordinators or teaching assistants so students get regular feedback on their virtual asset development.

Tasks which count towards your unit mark (summative)

- Virtual Environment Model (working demonstration) (40%) - Individual submission ILOs 2-5
- Virtual Environment Design and Development Document (60%) - Individual submission ILOs 1-5

When assessment does not go to plan

For students who will be required to undertake a re-assessment the student will be required to:

- Virtual Environment Model (working demonstration) (40%) - Individual submission ILOs 2-5
- Virtual Environment Design and Development Document (60%) - Individual submission ILOs 1-5


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. COMSM0124).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.