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Virtual Production Real-time 3D Artist - Film

The role, salary, software, and skills of film & TV Real-time 3D Artist

Student work by Marc Carratala & Benjamin Oman

What does a Film Real-time 3D Artist do?

A real-time 3D artist, working in virtual production for film or TV, harnesses similar skills found in one or more areas of the traditional production pipeline but executed in a real-time environment such as a game engine. The basic skill sets are the same, but the medium is different (real-time vs. non-real-time). They are often generalists who collaborate with other artists, designers, and programmers to realize a broader vision, commonly known as virtual production.

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Still from Marc Carratala's short film, 'Frozen Lands' created in Unreal Engine 4 as part of the Virtual Production Course at CGS

What is Virtual Production?

Virtual production is analogous to traditional production. The main difference is that renders occur in real-time. Real-time is paving new, improved workflows for the film industry and bridging some gaps in the traditional production pipeline, allowing real-world and digital platforms to converge. It’s been adopted as a tool by filmmakers and content creators to visualize what they’d usually only be able to view in post-production at the pre-production and production stages.

Marc's latest captivating short film using Unreal Engine 5, 'Dark Nebula', inspired by Ridley Scott's Alien. Marc worked on all aspects of the production — from concept, script, and direction to world building, animation, and cameras — as part of the Real-time 3D & Virtual Production Course at CG Spectrum.

One of the most well-known methods of film virtual production involves creating a real-time virtual rendered scene using a game engine and displayed on an LED wall that surrounds physical props and actors. When the camera moves, the virtual environment on the LED wall shifts perspective as well, using gaming technologies to navigate a virtual landscape. The unison of movement between camera and imagery is called the parallax, creating the illusion of a physical location. Live camera tracking translates accurate camera movements into the rendering platforms where they are realized in real-time.

Film Real-time Artist job description

Real-time artists focus on content or asset creation in a real-time environment such as a game engine, often working on a project from concept to completion. They are also responsible for maintaining visuals in both quality and optimization — from entire environments down to small 3D props, known as assets.

Role & responsibilities of a Real-time Artist in virtual production for film and TV:

  • Mockup concepts and adjust as directed
  • Work with the Director and Real-time team to design interactive experiences using a game engine
  • World building (create and layout assets in a real-time engine)
  • Light scenes for a better cinematic experience
  • Optimize content through profiling and enhancing performance with the help of diagnostic tools 
  • Collaborate with programmers to develop and test new features, prototype shader code, and provide useful feedback during R&D phases.
Skills required to become a Film Real-time Artist

When starting in this competitive field, you’ll need to focus on learning technical tools and be proficient in a game engine such as Unreal or Unity, which often also involves some coding.

Employers may look for the following skills in a Real-time Artist for film:

  • Experience in a real-time engine
  • Real-time ready asset creation (props, characters, etc.)
  • Texture/Shader knowledge 
  • An understanding of animation, animation rigs, and anatomy
  • Scripting languages like MEL, Python, C#, and Javascript are useful
  • A general understanding of cameras and how changing their values will contribute to how you might block, light, and shoot a scene.
  • Basic knowledge of film production processes (e.g., scripts, concepts, sets, storyboards) and the production pipeline.
What software and tools are used in virtual production?

When starting out in this competitive field, you’ll need to focus on learning a real-time game engine, but the importance of art fundamentals cannot be underestimated. However, because Real-time Artists often take on a more generalist role, there’s plenty of other software that’s worth learning too.

Real-time Artists may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:

  • Unreal Engine
  • Unity
  • Motionbuilder
  • World Creator
  • QuadSpinner Gaea
  • Substance Painter
  • Blender
  • Maya
  • Houdini
How much does a Film Real-time Artist working in virtual production make? 

The national average salary of a Real-time 3D Artist is $62,053 per year in the United States. (Source: Glassdoor)

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