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What is a realtime 3D artist? Your guide to getting started

Environment created in UE: William Faucher

8 minute read

07/09/2021

Virtual production is gaining traction in the film and online game industries, generating exciting opportunities for realtime 3D artists. But what exactly does a realtime artist do? How do you get started in virtual production? What realtime 3D technical jobs are out there, and how do you get them?

These questions, and more, were answered in CG Spectrum's recent webinar How to become a Realtime 3D Artist (scroll down for the replay). Featuring realtime mentors William Faucher (Realtime TD and Unreal Artist), Deepak Chetty (Epic Games Unreal Online Learning Producer - Film/TV/Virtual Production Track), and Simon Warwick (Department Head of Foundations), these experts delve into why realtime artists are highly sought after, real-world examples of how realtime virtual production is currently used, and the skills you need to become a realtime 3D artist.

What is a realtime 3D artist?

A Realtime 3D Artist harnesses traditional skills found in one or more areas of the production pipeline, focusing on content or asset creation in a realtime environment such as a game engine. The basic skill sets are the same, but the media varies from realtime to non-realtime production.

Unreal Engine is the most commonly used program used by realtime artists. The physical accuracy of settings and values is built-in to the software, accommodating a natural transition into the virtual world.

Unreal Engine is certainly at the forefront of virtual production at the moment, there isn’t a single other engine that can even come close to competing with what Unreal offers. William Faucher, Realtime Artist & CGS Mentor
What is virtual production?

Virtual production is analogous to traditional production. The main difference is that renders occur in real-time. Virtual production allows real-world and digital platforms to converge, meaning digital revisions and/or additions can develop alongside any physical changes. Its realtime capabilities are considered one of the most important innovations since digital cinematography replaced analog film cameras.

The democratization of realtime software has recently brought virtual production into the spotlight, but it’s actually been around for a while. Virtual production is probably most well-known for its role on the set of Disney’s The Mandalorian.

Mandalorian-1Realtime production on The Mandalorian. Credit: Disney

For a more detailed account of virtual production check out our post What is virtual production?

How is realtime being used?

Realtime is paving new, improved workflows for the film and online games industries, and bridging some of the gaps found in a traditional production pipeline. It’s been adopted as a tool by filmmakers and content creators to visualize at the pre and production stages what they’d usually only be able to view in post.

On large-scale productions live realtime virtual sets are displayed on LED screens. These virtual backdrops with interactive lighting replace the traditional green screens, helping to contextually immerse the talent within a setting and rendering them in final pixels.

Realtime also aids in expediting the concept art stage. With access to ready-made assets and lighting set-ups, content creators are now able to mock up a proof of concept within a few hours — something previously unheard of in this line of work!

Outside of film and online games, realtime is applied across a range of industries for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Installations and projections for events for exhibitions and concerts for more interactive and immersive experiences
  • Marketing and commercial purposes such as fashion shows (see Deepak’s virtual fashion show for GCDS as part of Milan Fashion Week)
  • Broadcasting
  • Architectural visualization
  • Product design
  • Environment and theater design.
Virtual production workflow vs traditional workflows

The main difference between virtual and traditional production workflows is that virtual production encourages more nonlinear and collaborative processes, largely due to its capacity to render in realtime.

Virtual production’s non-linear workflow has created some exciting opportunities for realtime artists and content creation, including:

  • Artists can mock up a concept in a few hours and see changes in realtime.
  • The iteration process (e.g. experimenting with VFX in film) begins much earlier in the production schedule.
  • Content creators have the power to generate high-quality imagery from the outset of production rather than further down the line, traditionally in post.
  • Assets such as 3D models are cross-compatible and may be implemented from previsualization through to final outputs.

William offers photography as an analogy to explain the difference between traditional production workflows versus virtual production workflows. Unlike analog (film) cameras, digital photography enables you to see your photos as you’re taking them, which means you can learn from your mistakes faster and adjust your shots accordingly.

Want to know more about Realtime & Virtual Production? Download our cheat sheet here.

Is Unreal Engine difficult to learn?

If you want to be a realtime 3D artist and work in virtual production, learning Unreal Engine is important, even for established filmmakers.

The good news is that, according to the experts, the learning curve is not too steep when it comes to navigating some of Unreal Engine’s basics, like the layout. There are dozens of free Unreal Engine courses through the Unreal Online Learning platform. For more personalized career training and mentorship from an established realtime artist, CG Spectrum’s Introduction to Realtime 3D & Virtual Production is a great place to start. The even better news? You don’t necessarily need VFX experience to get started!

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Here are the three most common challenges aspiring realtime artists face when starting out with Unreal Engine:

  1. Finding and downloading/installing it
  2. Working out where to find the answers and learning how to figure stuff out on your own
  3. Familiarizing yourself with a new interface: where the tools live, and what they do.

Mentor William Faucher believes that until another worthy competitor comes along to rival it, learning Unreal Engine is integral if you want to become a realtime 3D artist and work in virtual production.

Get started learning how to operate the software today by downloading UE for free!

Is there a demand for realtime artists in films and games?

Realtime artists are sought after right now, making it a very exciting time to get into virtual production. Here are some reasons to consider becoming a realtime 3D artist and why this role is currently in demand:

  • Realtime artists have the ability to create photorealistic images at an incredibly fast frame rate, and you don’t need a supercomputer to generate the content.
  • Realtime artists support film and game makers in creative decision-making early in the production process.
  • Post-production vendors receive a more reliable idea of what they should be creating, giving the client more creative control and ensuring better communication throughout the pipeline.
  • Realtime artists bridge some of the gaps between pre-production, production, and post-production.
  • There is less chance of scope creep if you’re solidifying everything in pre-production.
  • Virtual and physical sets can be built concurrently with live production which shortens the timeline.

What skills does a realtime artist need?

To be a successful realtime 3D artist, it’s worthwhile broadening your skill set beyond a solid understanding of Unreal Engine. The mentors suggested brushing up on the following skills:

  • Problem-solving (possibly the most critical skill to accompany content creation)
  • Good foundations in art, like those of a DOP
  • An understanding of animation and animation rigs
  • Basic knowledge of film production processes (e.g. scripts, concepts, sets, storyboards)
  • A general understanding of cameras and how changing their values will contribute to how you might block, light, and shoot a scene. Practice with a camera (even your phone camera!) and explore settings like manual exposure, shutter, aperture control, focal length, sensor size, and field of view.
  • Because virtual production is non-linear, having a grasp of the traditional production pipeline and its various stages is beneficial.
How to get started as a realtime artist?

There are four easy steps to start your journey towards becoming a realtime technical artist:

  1. Download Unreal Engine
  2. Take advantage of some of the great, free online tutorials on the Unreal Online Learning platform, or check out William’s popular YouTube channel
  3. Join communities that offer opportunities to troubleshoot and discuss techniques and ideas
  4. Try recreating a scene from a movie or television show that you like.

Deepak also suggests watching more films and saturating yourself with content. Try to view them analytically. Pause shots you like and try and work out how they were produced. Be inspired!

Next steps: if you’re serious about starting a career as a realtime 3D technical artist, consider a formal realtime course such as the Realtime 3D Technical Art & Virtual Production Diploma, taught by industry professionals like William and Deepak using Unreal Engine.

There is a HUGE demand for Unreal Engine artists and with UE5 right around the corner, now’s the time to get as big of a head start as possible.  William Faucher

Want to work in virtual production and create awesome content as a 3D realtime artist?

If you want to become a realtime artist, check out CG Spectrum's Realtime 3D & Virtual Production Diploma. The diploma teaches you world-building and how to operate virtual cameras, rigs, lights, and humans to create a compelling scene for your portfolio. Your experienced mentors will also demonstrate how to apply these skills in the real world, ensuring you hit the ground running at your first virtual production job!

*CG Spectrum is an Unreal Authorized Training Center and Unreal Academic Partner.

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Tags:   Visual Effects ,   Unreal Engine ,   Virtual Production
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