First of all, what is Spherical Environment Mapping? Go over here for detailed info. SEM, has mainly been used to fake reflections for many years and has been replaced by cubemaps in this generation of videogame development.
Pixologic, on the other hand is still using the technology in ZBrush for their materials. The results are very good and very performance efficient as well. So why not use them in Unreal 3? You could fake SSS, speculars, reflections, things that otherwise are difficult to control or may get lost because of lighting conditions.
So where do you get these spheremaps? Well, you can paint them yourself, render a sphere in 3dsmax or simply use zbrush matcap feature. Or… take an existing zbrush material and extract the spheremap.
In Unreal you will have to create a material like the one described here.
In these examples I have used a scan of a face that you can find here. I have also used various zbrush materials that can be found in the internet and retouched some of them. I used the UDK and took the sandstorm map as my testing ground.
You can also notice in these screenshots how the normal map is taken into account when mapping the sphere on the surface. (This is all in unlit mode, light will be calculated as usual)
Here is an example of the statue in Sandstorm and a typical sphere map
Here are some comparison shots. First row is without SEM, second row with SEM applied. Remember the spherical map is view dependent!
So get creative, use it to fake reflections in your characters eye, maybe SSS, cool metal reflections, transparency? glow maybe?
Also go and check out the UDK here. Have fun!
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