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?

Real-time artists create interactive 3D content and assets that are rendered in real-time. They often work on a project from concept to completion, collaborating with filmmakers to realize a broader vision. Real-time artists are also responsible for maintaining visuals in both quality and optimization—from entire environments down to small 3D props, known as assets. real-time artists also add lighting, and create textures.

Real-time 3D artists are often generalists who collaborate with other artists, designers, and programmers to realize a broader vision, commonly known as virtual production.


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.

The LED volume is possibly the most recognized use of virtual production methods. A wall of LEDs (light-emitting diodes) display a real-time rendered 3D virtual environment that curves around physical sets, actors, and props. Through live camera tracking, the virtual camera within the game engine moves to match the physical on-set camera, shifting what’s displayed on the LED wall, like a shift in perspective. This synchrony between camera and imagery creates parallax, helping to create the illusion that the real and virtual elements reside in the same space. Lucasfilm’s The Mandalorian is a well-known example of a production that used virtual production on set.

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.

Film studios 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 do real-time 3D artists use?

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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