Music Meets Mayhem in the Rhythm Action of Soundfall

When you’re securely employed by one of the most established companies in gaming, you might raise some eyebrows if you suggest jumping out of that safety net and into indie developing freefall. This was the first question I asked of Julian Trutmann and Nick Cooper, who left their positions at Epic Games to develop Soundfall as Drastic Games.
 
Soundfall is a vibrant and stunning game built on the backbone of Unreal Engine 4. Leaning on their experience with the engine, Drastic is creating a fast-moving action game that takes the player’s own music and sets it as the soundtrack and tempo to their adventure. Syncing bass beats with gratifying gunplay isn’t a feat easily achieved, however, so Drastic had to go to considerable lengths to make it all work.
 
Debuting their game on August 7, 2018, the reaction was swift and supportive. Soundfall had people intrigued and even Drastic themselves were not prepared for how well the game would be received. Now, with a number of appearances under their belts (PAX West, EGLX, and more), they’ve launched the game into crowdfunding on Fig and successfully smashed their goal within 24 hours. With plenty more time to go, the Soundfall team has set its sights on its many stretch goals.
 
We took a moment to chat with one half of the Drastic Games team, Julian Trutmann, about the perils of going indie, the passion of creating something you love, and the power of Unreal Engine.
 

 
Drastic Games is a small studio made up of two people who both came from the fold of Epic Games itself. What motivated you to pursue indie development?
 
Over the course of our years at Epic, both of us were lucky enough to be a part of the small initial teams on several projects, such as Fortnite and Paragon. We were repeatedly blown away by what a small, talented, coordinated, and focused team could accomplish in a short amount of time. This got us wondering what we could do with a small team of our own and wanting to explore pushing the limits of small team game development.
  
Soundfall is a fast-paced blending of action/adventure with a rhythm game, unlike anything we’ve seen before. How did you come up with the idea for the game?
 
Our initial plan was to brainstorm and game jam a simple concept that we could execute in six months. Obviously, our plans changed!
 
A few ideas we had floating around included a simple rhythm game and an Ikaruga/Gradius-style space shooter. At the time, we had recently played Audioshield, so the idea of a procedural rhythm game was also fresh in our minds. The music element stuck, and the shooter element evolved to be twin-stick since the versatility would allow us to use the systems we developed in a variety of possible projects. We moved forward with these elements and did a game jam over the course of a long weekend to see if they could mesh together in an interesting way. The result turned out way better than we expected!
 
We knew we had something with incredible potential on our hands, and we didn’t want to waste it on a small quick project. From that game jam, we had the beginnings of what would eventually become Soundfall.

  
Obviously, coming from Epic you have a strong grasp of the Unreal Engine, so what can you say has been your greatest advantage coming into Soundfall with so much experience?
 
Having a lot of experience in Unreal Engine gave us the courage to take on Soundfall’s riskier elements. Audio analysis is a good example. I’m not sure we would have even considered going down that road if we didn’t already know the tools inside and out. Knowing the engine also gave us the confidence to take on other features that we don’t see as often in similar indie games, such as online co-op.
 
We haven’t seen too much of the game just yet, but what we have seen is gorgeous. What’s been your most vital Unreal Engine 4 tool bringing this vibrant world to life?
 
There’s no one tool that takes the cake here. What’s made Unreal Engine 4 so powerful for us is how multifaceted its systems are. If we absolutely had to call out one tool, it’d probably be Blueprints. Basically, anything that reacts to the music in Soundfall is a Blueprint that’s responsible for coordinating some combination of other systems, like particles, materials, and animations. Ultimately, it’s using all these tools in concert that’s responsible for the vitality in our world.

  
What have been the biggest challenges aligning rhythm alongside the fighting mechanics of an action game?
 
Since Soundfall was designed to work with any song, the biggest initial technical challenge was getting the audio analysis up and running – in particular, beat detection. Initially, we spent a while developing some audio-analysis tools ourselves. We then discovered an audio-analysis library called Essentia, which we integrated to get a vast improvement on our beat detection, as well as a lot of other data about each song that we now use for our procedural dungeons and loot.
 
Switching gears from thinking about all game actions in terms of “seconds,” to thinking about them in terms of “beats” was another major technical and design hurdle. Since we typically want actions to begin and/or end “on-beat,” there is never a simple, consistent conversion between seconds and beats. For instance, the number of milliseconds in a “one-beat” delay is going to differ based on if we’re asking right on the previous beat, or halfway to the next beat! This gets even more complicated when we consider tempo changes.
 
As far as gameplay goes, just about all of our animations, abilities, and behavior trees needed to be authored in such a way that they are “beat-aware” — any portion that should be punchy or gameplay-relevant needed to occur exactly on-beat, and robust enough to work regardless of BPM and tempo changes.

 
Obviously, a massive component of any rhythm game is the music! Have you guys composed the tracks yourself? Tell us about the creative process involved with bringing the sound alive in Soundfall!
 
We’ve worked very closely with our audio engineer, Jens Kiilstofte, to shape the tone of Soundfall. In addition to all of the game’s folie art, Jens is responsible for the killer track on our trailer.
 
On the music side, we all wanted Soundfall to work with lots of different kinds of music. Even within the team, we all have very divergent tastes in music and we think that half the fun of Soundfall will be seeing how the game reacts to different songs.
 
When it comes to sound effects, striking a balance between musical and impactful has been challenging. If weapons (like Melody’s sword and beat blaster) sound too melodic, they’re often unsatisfying to use. On the flip side, more traditional video game sword and gun sounds don’t really synergize well with the music, or add to the world’s ambiance.         
 
 
From what we’ve seen in Soundfall’s reveal trailer, the world isn’t only stunning but is brimming with life and movement! What are the hurdles that present themselves when adding so many moving pieces to your levels?
 
On top of all the rhythm-based gameplay challenges we talked about before — performance! This has been particularly important to us, since traditionally in both rhythm and twin-stick games, players want the action to feel fast and smooth at all times. In typical games, most objects in the world are static, but in Soundfall, just about every actor in the world is animating or moving to the music. One of our saving graces is that our top-down camera helps give us a reasonable limit to how many of these moving actors are going to be visible at a time, so we can be smart about which actors we need to be ticking, animating, and sending “beat” events to.
 
When a lot of slow operations occur in a single frame of a game, that frame will take longer, causing players to experience a hitch. In normal game development, we often try to distribute expensive tasks over several frames to avoid this as much as possible. Unfortunately for us in Soundfall, having most of our big actions occur on-beat means we end up forced to have a LOT of instances of many expensive operations happening at the same time! The game would be essentially unplayable if it was hitching on every beat when we expect players to perform their most important actions. We’ve had to be very smart about how much we are doing on-beat, and what operations can be moved to occur off-beat, in order to prevent hitching.  

Soundfall still has a long way to go before it’s released, so it’s safe to say you have a lot of development time in front of you. How does Unreal Engine 4 help you streamline and save time on complicated processes?
 
First off, being able to get the initial game prototype up and running very quickly was very streamlined with Unreal Engine 4. Being able to quickly get an answer to our question “will a mix of rhythm and top-down action actually be compelling?” was crucial to deciding to go down this path. So many complex systems we needed just immediately work out of the box with Unreal — physics, networking, and navmesh, just to name a few. Blueprints and behavior trees continue to make gameplay iteration very quick and allow us to easily make new music-reactive actors.

 
Based on your experience, what advice would you give to aspiring developers just starting to learn Unreal Engine 4?
 
Start very small, learning one system at a time and by modifying existing examples. Re-creating an existing simple game, an 80s arcade game perhaps, is a great way to learn and will help anyone gain an understanding of how every system and discipline work together. Definitely don’t dive straight into trying to make a 100-player shooter or MMO!
 
Where are all the places people can go to stay up-to-date on Drastic Games and Soundfall?
 
People can check out more info about Soundfall or sign up for our newsletter at www.soundfallgame.com.

We’re also currently running a crowdfunding campaign on Fig, where people can pledge or invest to become more involved with development and share in our future success!

We also post a lot on social media:

Buddy VR Pioneers A New Genre of Interactive Animation

When it comes to using animations for marketing and brand engagement, many VR film projects currently on the market focus on providing an immersive one-off experience to captivate viewers in the moment. Rather than a mere afterthought, replayability is an essential ingredient for global VFX and animation studio Redrover, who is exploring fresh ways to engage viewers on a deeper level by combining story, gameplay, and greater interactivity.
  
Buddy VR – the team’s recent VR film spinoff of its Hollywood animated blockbuster, The Nut Job – recently took home the Best VR Experience Award at the Venice International Film Festival this fall. The project is part of Redrover’s vision to create a new genre of interactive animation, and what makes Buddy VR especially unique is the way it bridges the gap between animated short films and video game experiences.
 

A virtual interactive friendship

Starring “Buddy,” the loveable blue rat from The Nut Job, this vibrant interactive animation short has you meeting and befriending the little critter in a whimsical story that balances plot and gameplay elements. “We wanted to lead the story through intimacy between the player and character,” explains Chuck Chae, Director for Buddy VR. 

Players get to know Buddy through a series of non-verbal interactions like exchanging names, petting, playing musical instruments, and more. It’s a humorous, heartwarming 16-minute interactive experience, and the response from those who have played it is overwhelmingly positive, he adds.

“Simply experiencing VR offers the player an extraordinary experience, and provides deep immersion while wearing VR equipment. However, many VR titles on the market are difficult to enjoy again once they have been played through the first time,” says Chae. “Our goal is to break away from this approach and produce titles that can maintain their replayability throughout lengthy and multiple playthroughs by combining Redrover’s IP and VR technology with interactive elements.”

Optimizing creative potential with Unreal Engine

For this project, overcoming the challenge of creating cohesive story interaction through speechless communication required that the team weave in extra layers of detail and nuance to Buddy’s facial expressions, physical actions, and eye movements. Using Unreal Engine gave the team the tools and additional programming flexibility to craft a level of real-time interactivity and realism that could foster a believable relationship-building experience between players and the furry protagonist, says Chae.

“High-quality graphics and animations are essential for creating speechless interaction, which is the highlight of our product. It was amazing enough that Unreal Engine easily fulfilled our graphical standards, but it also had unbelievable real-time functionalities, allowing us to apply desired animations, edit unnatural or incorrect aspects, and then reapply to view the results all in one sitting,” says Chae, adding that the team was able to minimize production time using real-time rendering.

Optimizing their production workflows using real-time rendering also helped free up more of the team’s time and energy for creativity. “The greatest strengths of Unreal Engine are the ability to quickly make a prototype using codeless Blueprints and the ability to create high-quality graphic productions through real-time rendering,” he says. “By minimizing the workflow of realizing the designs and animations in your head to an actual render, there can be more time to concentrate on the creative aspects.” 

Ready to get started with Unreal Engine and Unreal Studio to enhance your creativity today? Download them for free right here.

Save Big with the Unreal Engine Marketplace Fall Sale!

We are excited to announce the Unreal Engine Marketplace Fall Sale, with over 3,100 items discounted up to 90% off. 

You can start shopping at 12:00pm EST today by heading right here. The Fall Sale runs for just over one week and will end on November …

Understanding the Differences Between Experimental and Early Access Features

As Unreal Engine continually evolves, we often release ‘Experimental’ and ‘Early Access’ features for developers to explore. As these names imply, these features are not yet production ready, but provide an opportunity to experience – and contribute to…

Sail with Unreal Engine Throughout the Mediterranean this November

Hello again, Unreal Engine developers! We are excited to let you know that we will be traveling throughout the Mediterranean very soon to experience your amazing projects and meet you in person. Following up on our trip to Milan Games Week last month, we’ve decided to visit the developer communities in Italy, France and Spain where we can’t wait to meet new friends and witness the diversity and quality of your projects!

We will be present in four cities this November and host various gatherings and technical sessions on Unreal Engine.

We hope you’ll join us at one of our many events and feel free to chat with us as we are here to support and help you however we can!

BONJOUR LYON!  

Our first stop will be in Lyon, France where we will co-host an Unreal Engine evening together with Lyon Game Dev on November 19. During this free event, Sjoerd De Jong and Mario Palmero will share the latest news about Unreal Engine and demonstrate building gameplay effects and fog in engine. Free refreshments and snacks will be available during the event. Hurry up and RSVP here.
 

HOLA BARCELONA!

On November 21, we are heading to Barcelona, Spain, where in cooperation with the University of Barcelona, Sjoerd and Mario will discuss the ‘State of Unreal’ and provide attendees with a technical deep dive into the engine itself. Our friends from Novarama will share insights into their usage of UE4 as well. More information and registration can be found here.
 

CIAO ROMA!

Meanwhile, Milena Koljensic and Joseph Azzam will be visiting Rome, where they will participate in Gamerome, from November 21-23. To see their sessions, please view speaker agenda here.

And, if somehow you manage to miss our team during the conference, we have an Unreal Engine Mixer with free pizza on November 23! More info can be found here

  
We are also supporting the Rome Unreal Engine Meetup Group and their local community, as we believe they are truly epic! We are eager to meet awesome people, check out their projects and host a Q&A session! Thank you for inviting us! Register here.

HOLA MADRID!

  
Our last gathering in the Mediterranean will be held in Madrid, Spain on November 27. With the help of the fascinating Madrid developer community, we would like to invite you to join Sjoerd and Mario at Loom House Huertas. The evening will be filled with inspiring talks and great opportunities to network, as well as free drinks and meals! For more info and to register to go here

Questions?

We are always here to help you, so if you have any questions regarding these events or how to get in touch with us, please connect with Sjoerd (@Hourences) directly on Twitter or @UnrealEngine.

We can’t wait to see you soon in Southern Europe!

More November tours where you can meet our UE Evangelists:

DevGamm Minsk, Belarus 15.11-16.11
Unreal Engine Meetup, Istanbul, Turkey TBA

Unreal Engine Wins Technology & Engineering Emmy® for Animation Production

The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences has awarded Epic Games with the first Technology and Engineering Emmy for Unreal Engine in the 2017-2018 category, “3D Engine Software for the Production of Animation.” We couldn’t be more thrilled w…

Celebrating Unreal Engine Developers Throughout Europe

This October the Unreal Engine team traveled all over Europe where we had the privilege to meet and greet an enormous number of talented Unreal Engine developers while laughing, cheering and playing amazing games. 

We are moved by your determination and dazzled by your passion – which is a cornerstone beneath all of your fascinating projects. Our team is very grateful to have such a devoted, talented and inspiring community of Unreal Engine developers. That is why we wanted to share your accomplishments with the world! 

SALUTI A MILANO!

Thanks to AESVI for co-hosting the Unreal Engine Mixer in Milan

We saw great projects on display at Milan Games Week and met with outstanding local studios, titles both in the midst of development and released. 
 

The Suicide of Rachel Foster | 101%, in cooperation with Reddollgames and Alphaomega

The Suicide of Rachel Foster is a mystery thriller adventure, with a focus on a narrative.
As Nicole, investigate a story of a girl who committed suicide years ago. Her story seems to hide a mystery far deeper than imaginable, a tale of love and death, where melancholy and nostalgia melt into a gripping ghost tale.
 

NOIZ | Nage Software House 

NOIZ is a racing survival game that integrates arcade components with RPG and simulation elements. The story catapults you in the shoes of a talented runner adrift, to join an interstellar tournament organized by the alien Tumak race, where you and others have the opportunity to experience something really unique and very dangerous.
 

Terramars | Untold Games 

In Terramars, manage six crew members in a mission to start the terraforming Mars. You’ll manage the planet’s resources, development of the base camp and the repercussions on the mental and physical health of the astronauts from the conditions in which they’re living. The game explores the challenges and stresses on human bodies, minds, and social relationships when adapting to life in an alien environment.

BRAVO, BUCURESTI!

Thank you to Dev.Play for hosting us in Bucharest and welcoming Unreal developers at Indie Booth 

While in Bucharest, our team visited Unreal developers who were showcasing their games to the public, game industry professionals, and publishers. Together with Dev.Play we co-organised an Unreal Mixer inside of the venue and held multiple talks.
 

Blink: Rogues | Fox Dive Studios

In Blink: Rogues, a mash-up between classic shoot’em up and arena style games, you can engage in competitive 5-minute PvP matches with your friends. Use the unique Blink mechanic to outsmart them, steal their loot or outright frag them.
 

PositronX | Scorpius Studios 

PositronX is a rogue-lite first-person shooter that emphasizes strategic fast-paced combat, creative time and movement mechanics and detailed graphical quality, packed into a highly replayable experience.
 

Gray Dawn | Interactive Stone

Gray Dawn is a first-person horror game that entangles you into the terrifying adventure of a priest on a quest to prove his innocence. It is an atmospheric thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
 

Unbound: Worlds Apart | Alien Pixel/Square Head Games

In the visually breathtaking 2D adventure game Unbound: Worlds Apart, enjoy exploring beautifully crafted worlds using portals and solving puzzles by thinking how to use the enemies in order to progress through your adventures. Unbound: Worlds Apart is a recent Unreal Dev Grant recipient.

DANKE MUNCHEN!

Thanks to Games/Bavaria for co-hosting the second edition of the Munich Unreal Engine Evening and to our friends from Bulkhead Darkhorse, FFF Bayern, and Aesir Interactive who took part as speakers. Your talks were very enlightening! 

BRAWO POLSKA!

Many thanks to Polygon who helped with UnrealMixer in Warsaw, and thanks to the attendees for a great time!

While attending the Game Industry Conference in order to support the incredible Polish developer community, our Technical Evangelist Sjoerd de Jong and developers from Fool’s Theory shared ‘Storytelling Tools Development for an RPG Game in UE4’.

Unreal Engine Developers at PGA in Poznan

At the Poznan Game Arena, we had the pleasure to host 12 shocking, visually breathtaking and highly entertaining indie games in our beautiful booth!
 

Monster League | Render Cube

Monster League is a split-screen multiplayer kart game set in a cartoonish world of familiar monsters known from legends and pop-culture. Choose your favorite monster to race against your opponents or even battle them. Monster League offers a pleasant and easy-to-learn driving system, as well as casual and enjoyable entertainment for players of all ages.
 

Steel Rats™  | Tate Multimedia

Steel Rats is a 2.5D action arcade genre, fusing destructive, octane-fuelled, motorbike combat and death-defying stunt gameplay, set in a stylised retro-future world. 

Weakless  | Punk Notion

Weakless is a 3D isometric puzzle game in which you switch between two characters – Blind and Deaf. Only by using the cooperation of both can you overcome the obstacles found along the way.
 

Devil’s Hunt | Layopi Games

Devil’s Hunt is a third-person action game where a war between Demons and Angels takes you to hell and back. You are Desmond, the one man with demonic powers who can decide the fate of our world by joining either side of the conflict. The game is based on the original novel by Paweł Leśniak “Equilibrium“.
 

Atomic Heart | Mundfish

Atomic Heart is a first-person shooter adventure, set in an alternate universe during the high noon of the Soviet Union. As a Soviet KGB officer, you encounter futuristic enemies and a variety of combat vehicles. 

The games from Unreal developers were so attractive that even the Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, could not resist stopping by!

СПАСИБО, МОСКВА!

Indie Area powered by Unreal Engine at White Nights conference. Thank you for your hospitality!

 

FeArea | MUVGames

FeArea is a Sci-fi action game with MOBA elements. Join team battle on futurstic armored vehicles, combat robots, and machines. Fight against other players or AI bots. Use lasers, plasma guns and rockets to defeat your enemy!
 

The PUB Simulator | EvilCG

The PUB Simulator is a first-person management game, where you need to build a bar, serve customers, collect money and fix any mess which wild drunk people can make.
 

Blazing Core | OctoBox Interactive

Blazing Core is a team-centric tactical shooter featuring mech-knights. You can adjust your mech according to your chosen playstyle, combine your abilities with those of your teammates, come up with and use various tactics to fight giant battle machines.

TACK SVERIGE!

UE Technical Evangelist, Sjoerd de Jong speaking at Sweden Game Arena Conference

Our last stop was in Skovde, Sweden where we saw so many familiar faces and made new friends at the Sweden Game Arena. Thank you to Goodbye Kansas for co-hosting an amazing after-party and all developers who joined us there!
 

Medusa’s Labyrinth | Guru Games

Medusa’s Labyrinth is a short mythological first-person horror game set in ancient Greece. It takes myths and legends that have stayed with us for over 2000 years and mixes them with modern gameplay. The game lets you explore murky catacombs and follow along a classic, tragic story.
 

Hyss | Sunscale Studios

Hyss is a lighthearted 3D-puzzle adventure where you have to combine the strengths of both Vilde the gnome and Grusa the troll to save the abducted cows from the fairies’ tricky puzzles. Set in an enchanting Swedish forest, Hyss is a treat for both the eye and ear, as well as a tricky challenge for the puzzle enthusiast. 

Being Epic!

Thank you Unreal Engine developers for being hard-working, passionate, talented, determined, creative and for being who you and your projects truly are – epic!

In case you have any questions regarding our upcoming events or want to get in touch with us, connect with us via Twitter.

We are always here to help you!

More Great Titles from the Tour:

Active Soccer | The Fox Software
Ancestors Legacy | Destructive Creations
Another sight | Lunar Great Wall
Chernobylite | Farm 51
CryoWar | Kipi Interactive
Gates to Nowhere | Symmetry
Guntastic | We Are Ludicrous
The Iris Project | Red Coi Box
Lost Paradise | Stigma Games
Marcenaries | TVX
Metamorphosis | Ovid Works
Paradise Lost | Polyamorous
Run of Mydan | Virtew
Space Cows | Happy Corruption
Unforgiving – A Northern Hymn  | Angry Demon Studios
Wizard PSVR | Carbon
Wrecking ball adventures | Don’t bite devs
Xenon Racer | 3D Clouds
 

Jobs in Unreal Engine – Technical Artist

Understanding the Role of a Tech Artist

Real-time technology is powering the world of interactive entertainment and transforming industries such as TV/film, architectural visualization, industrial design, and visual FX. It is now standard for game developers to create high quality games that render vast open worlds and for enterprise leaders to quickly deliver high-fidelity interactive experiences in real time. With the evolution and the complexity of real-time rendering across so many industries, it has never been so critical to bridge the gap between art and code to deliver exceptional results. This is where the technical artist comes in.

What is a technical artist?

A technical artist is a relatively new term in 3D development and real-time technology, but the demand for this particular role is growing quickly with a 48% increase in job postings in the last 12 months (Burning Glass, 2018). In game development, a technical artist, or tech artist for short, is the bridge between level designers and programmers working on a game. They are essentially the link between code and art. They ensure performance, consistency, and workflow. A proficient tech artist will allow a project to ship faster and at a higher level of quality.

Tech artists tend to be generalists while also having a strong focus in at least one area such as:

  • Shading 
  • Lighting
  • Procedural creation
  • Scripts/Pipeline work
  • Optimization
  • Visual Effects (FX)

They often look at performance and profiling data with programmers, then brainstorm and implement content optimizations. Tech artists must be tools and technology experts, knowing the best routes to take and how to harness the tools being used most effectively. Tech artists fill in the gaps that studios may not even know exist, which is why every game studio needs a tech artist to ensure efficiency on all ends.

Volumetrics, Materials, Lighting

Why are they needed?

Prototyping 

With more procedural content creation methods like Blueprints, Houdini and noise/shader based creation, tech artists are needed to test and prototype new graphics or content creation methods. They also aid with tool development when writing scripts in 3D rendering software such as 3ds Max, Maya, and Python. Prototyping can help other artists process assets for game use. 

Tech artists work closely with engine/rendering programmers to share feedback on tools as well as prototype results. A tech artist can often make a fully functioning feature prototype in just days using Blueprints/shaders alone and demonstrate it to the team . The same feature may then take weeks to ‘officially’ rewrite in C++ into the engine in a general purpose way.

Custom FX implementation
Custom FX implementation

Optimization

A tech artist’s optimization goal is to hit the target frame rate while having a net neutral (zero impact) or even positive impact on the graphical quality of a game. They help to ship games on various platforms, and work closely with artists when necessary to implement changes. A mix of art and technical skill combine to facilitate better engine and game development.

Typical tech artist optimization tasks include:

  • Developing content guidelines and workflows to ensure best practices
  • Reducing scene complexity 
  • Analyzing content using profiling tools and/or spreadsheets to find ways to optimize memory/perf
  • Adjusting project graphics settings
  • Negotiating between art/code to find best compromises  

Where are they needed?

Games Industry

Advanced technology for games increases the demand for technical roles at game studios. Not only do gaming companies need more experienced level designers and programmers, they need someone to bridge the gap between art and code. 

Tech artists ensure that programmers are programming, designers are designing, and artists are creating amazing art. This means everyone on the team is being utilized to their best potential. Real-time rendering also entails quick turnaround and a tech artist’s job is to prioritize and optimize game production. They can help quickly implement needed changes and prepare games to ship.

Tech artist jobs postings have seen a 48% growth rate in last 12 months – Burning Glass, 2018

Film Industry

Media and entertainment studios are increasingly turning to real-time technology to reinvent their pipelines. Real-time engines, like UE4, allow TV/film production teams to develop new workflows that drastically speed up processes, reduce hardware requirements, and promote creativity.

UE4 allows films to be shot, edited, and shipped, virtually eliminating post-production. A tech artist can keep these processes streamlined and running seamlessly. In addition to optimizing art and tech in the engine, TV/film studios also have a demand for technical specialist roles for positions such as shading technical director, lighting technical director, and pipelines technical director.

Reflections real-time ray tracing demo

Architecture Industry

When it comes to architectural visualization, it’s the tech artist’s job to develop data pipelines and adapt existing pipelines to integrate new technologies or tools. In this vertical, tech artists often act as the primary programmer or developer for smaller teams that rely mostly on off-the-shelf features of the tools being used. They are usually tasked with learning new software, then training the team how to best use it for the studio’s particular needs.

What types of skills do they require?

In order to be successful with tasks like optimization and profiling, here are some of the skills a technical artist needs:

  • A solid understanding of trigonometry and vector math
  • A foundation in at least one ‘traditional’ category such as level design, environment art, animation or coding
  • Experience writing in various scripting languages is hugely helpful: MAXScript, Python, MATLAB
  • For UE4:  Blueprints, materials, level streaming
  • Understanding how computers work from a hardware to software level
  • They should understand how the various parts of a computer work together to render a scene, from loading the data from the hard drive to presenting it as an image to the player.

  

John Lindquist’s Pivot Painter 2 Max Script

What does the career path look like?

The best route to becoming a tech artist is to come from either an art or programming background. Most technical artists come from an art background and have specialized in a particular area such as architectural visualization, animation, lighting/shading, texturing, special FX, or character rigging. A technical artist can work in multiple industries including gaming, architecture, TV/film, industrial design, or the automotive industry.

“Usually tech artists have something tangible and ‘techy’ to show if they are hired directly into that role, or they slowly shift into the role after starting out in another content creator role, such as a level designer or environment artist. I personally started as a level designer and transitioned into tech art over the period of a few years, and a few others have followed a similar path.” – Ryan Brucks, principal tech artist, Epic Games.

Automotive-themed PBR Materials and Textures
Automotive-themed PBR Materials and Textures

How can they excel?

Always learning

A good tech artist loves to learn new things. It’s important for them to attend talks and events and network with professionals in their area of expertise. They should always make an effort to stay up to date with the latest technology as this makes them a valuable source of information within a company.

“You’ll never be bored being a tech artist. One day you might be writing a tool, the next you’re experimenting with new hardware, the next you’re developing the art guidelines for the studio’s next big project, the next you’re leading a training session for your peers. You’ll also have your pick of fields to work in and studios to work for, from automotive and aerospace to games, film, and TV; they all need great tech artists.” – Tom Shannon, technical artist, Education, Epic Games

Epic Games Technical Artist Tom Shannon at Unreal Academy EDU in New York City

Communication

Communication is key as a tech artist as it’s important to get in the habit of sharing lots of information. They potentially have to work with many different people on a variety of projects. It’s the tech artist’s job to ensure open communication channels by asking questions and providing feedback.

“Being able to communicate with different groups that may not often communicate, i.e., being a link between engineering and content teams is critical. This means staying engaged with what people are doing around you locally and in the industry as a whole. Even if you have a specific focus, it helps to be somewhat of a generalist so you can still be nimble as projects and opportunities shift.” – Ryan Brucks, principal tech artist, Epic Games

Epic Games Technical Artist Tom Shannon at Unreal Academy EDU in New York City

Would I be a good tech artist?

✔ I like tinkering with all the settings and checkboxes in my art software.
✔ I have thought about or have written scripts or tools to help automate boring or repetitive tasks (zero joy tasks).
✔ I enjoy problem-solving.
✔ I can talk to programmers, artists, producers, and designers alike and kind of want to do all their jobs!
✔ I enjoy learning how my favorite applications work from a technical perspective.
✔ I am the person on my team that is the “scripting”, “rigging” or “materials” person. 
✔ Whenever there’s a technical issue on a project, I’m eager to help.

Interested in a career as tech artist or another role in real-time technology? Get started on your career today by using our Unreal Engine Online Learning Portal here. These guided videos are free and on-demand so you can learn UE4 anywhere at any time!

Epic Games Announces over $800K in Unreal Dev Grants

Today Epic Games announced the latest recipients of Unreal Dev Grants, a $5 million fund supporting developers working with Unreal Engine 4 (UE4). This new round awards $800,000 to more than 30 individuals and teams, with no restrictions or obligations to Epic Games. As with previous rounds, these recipients illustrate the wide variety of use cases for UE4, including independent games, interactive visualizations, virtual reality surgical simulators and online learning resources.

“The Unreal Dev Grants program has a simple goal: to help talented developers succeed by letting them focus more on their project and less on their bills,” said Chance Ivey, Partnership Manager at Epic Games. “We’re continually amazed by the range of applications built with UE4 and the potential of so many of these projects; this round includes standouts such as Sojourn by Tierceron, Crab Rave by Noisestorm, and VR Cataract Training Solution by Surgical Mind. Congrats to all of these folks for their vision and persistence!”

The latest round of Unreal Dev Grants recipients includes:

FILM / CINEMA: 100 Flowers of God (working title) by 3rd World StudiosWebsite 
3rd World Studios is the Pakistan-based creator of the first animated feature-length film rendered entirely in UE4, Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor, which was released in February to critical acclaim. This Unreal Dev Grant is meant to accelerate 3rd World’s future film projects.

TOOL / PLUGIN: Anomotion Motion Composer and Anomotion BIKWebsite
Anomotion maintains two animation solutions for UE4: Motion Composer, a task-based motion planner which automatically generates precise motion sequences from unstructured animation data; and BIK, an inverse-kinematics system that can model various joint types and define custom constraints for VR avatars, virtual humans and creatures. Anomotion’s solutions have practical applications, from film previs to architectural visualizations. For industrial simulation and shared virtual environments, for example, Anomotion’s technology can be used to populate interactive, adaptive training environments with task-directed virtual characters.

FILM / CINEMA / VR: Awake: Episode One by Start VRTrailer 
Created by Start VR, Awake: Episode One is an interactive cinematic virtual reality experience for HTC Vive and Vive Pro. Awake: Episode One, which uses the latest volumetric capture techniques to bring real-life human performances into VR, officially premiered at SXSW and has been touring the festival circuit ever since. It’s coming soon to Steam.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Black Iris by Hexa Game Studio Website
From Brazilian indie team Hexa Game Studio, Black Iris is an action RPG that takes inspiration from the Dark Souls series of games and Bloodborne. Black Iris in development for PC and console. 

INDEPENDENT GAME / AR: BOT-NET by Calvin LabsWebsite
BOT-NET is a game that turns physical space into a first-person battlefield using a mobile device’s AR features. Massive robots fight while the player engages in ground combat with smaller robots. BOT-NET is available in the App Store.

FILM / CINEMA: Cine Tracer by Matt WorkmanSteam
Developed by Matt Workman of Cinematography Database, Cine Tracer is a realistic cinematography simulator in which the player operates real world-based cameras, sets up lights, and directs talent within UE4 environments. Matt frequently livestreams Cine Tracer development at https://www.twitch.tv/cinegamedev. Creatives can use Cine Tracer to communicate lighting, cameras and storyboarding, and it’s available in Early Access on Steam.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Close to the Sun by Storm in a TeacupWebsite
Developed by Rome-based Storm in a Teacup, Close to the Sun is a first-person horror game that takes place in an alternate version of history in the 1890s aboard a mysterious ship complex created by Nikola Tesla where things are not as they seem. With numerous indie game accolades already under its belt, Close to the Sun is coming to PC and console in 2019.

TOOL / PLUGIN: coreDS Unreal by ds.toolsWebsite 
coreDS Unreal facilitates integration of both High-Level Architecture (HLA) and Distributed Interactive Simulation (DIS) in UE4 games and applications. Users can integrate once and support HLA and DIS without any other modifications to their UE4 application. coreDS Unreal provides an extensive feature set that eases the integration process, allowing for reduced implementation time, flexibility and highly customizable simulation behavior.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Farm Folks by OvergrownTrailer
Farm Folks is a successfully crowdfunded farming simulator game with a nod to the classic Harvest Moon series. Players can explore Softshoal Island, grow crops, raise livestock, build relationships and more – all the while uncovering the island’s mysteries. Farm Folks, coming to PC, is available for pre-order on Crytivo.

INDEPENDENT GAME / VR: Jupiter & Mars by Tigertron Website
Jupiter & Mars is an underwater adventure game for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR with a powerful message around climate change set in a shocking, future world inspired by ecological events happening now. The player controls Jupiter, a dolphin with enhanced echolocation powers, traveling around the world with AI companion Mars to disable the man-made machinery disrupting marine life, while solving puzzles and encountering magnificent creatures along the way. 

INDEPENDENT GAME / VR: Kaisuo by USC GamesTrailer
Kaisuo is a VR puzzle game in which players use fine motor dexterity to solve enigmatic Chinese puzzle boxes and unlock surreal, extraordinary spaces. Originally founded as an undergraduate student project named Lantern (now the name of the development team) at the University of Southern California, Kaisuo has been showcased at events such as the USC Games Expo and Indiecade @ E3, and is in development through the USC Bridge incubator program for full release on the Oculus and Steam stores.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Koral by Pantumaca BarcelonaSteam 
Developed by Carlos Coronado, one of Barcelona’s leading UE4 experts, this beautiful PC game takes players on a dive through the underwater world where they play as the current on a mission to revive coral reefs. Solving puzzles heals the reefs and replenishes the ocean’s magic. In addition, Carlos’ new training materials on going from zero to expert in UE4 have marked Udemy’s most successful launch of a Spanish game development course in the site’s history.

FINE ARTS / VR: Lemieux Pilon 4D ArtWebsite
The renowned duo of Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon (4D Art) are creating an immersive museum art piece for virtual reality using UE4. 

INDEPENDENT GAME / VR: Mini World VR by Scaena StudiosWebsite
From Korea’s award-winning Chung Ang University 3D VR Lab, Scaena Studios’ Mini World VR is an immersive storytelling experience featuring elaborate hand-animated characters, game-based elements and intuitive interactivity. A cross between a game and a film, Mini World VR can be experienced from the perspective of both player and audience.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Mowin’ & Throwin’ by House Pixel GamesSteam
Available via Steam Early Access, Mowin’ & Throwin’ is a local multiplayer mashup of Bomberman meets Splatoon with a dash of Overcooked. Players control lawn gnomes in a race to wreck their opponent’s yard while keeping their own pristine. Victory goes to the best looking lawn! Mowin’ & Throwin’ is coming to party game collections for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2019.

FILM / CINEMA: Music Videos by Noisestorm – SoundCloud
Irish music producer and artist Noisestorm uses UE4 to create incredibly striking videos to accompany his musical tracks, which are often associated with trap, drum and bass, electro and dubstep. Now with nearly 10 million views, Crab Rave features thousands of CG crabs gathering after a tropical storm to dance it out. Noisestorm’s latest release, Breakout (feat. Foreign Beggars), depicts a tactical prison break with intense firefights, massive explosions, a high-energy helicopter chase and an amazing sniper shot. 

TOOL / PLUGIN: Optim by Theia InteractiveWebsite
Currently in alpha, the Optim plugin applies an accelerated workflow methodology to Unreal Engine’s Datasmith suite of tools and services for enterprise markets. Leveraging the efficiency of Datasmith and the power of Python, artists and designers can use Optim to visualize and customize their Datasmith import process for further optimization.

INDEPENDENT GAME / VR: Planetrism VR by Planetrism TeamGameplay
The future of humankind leads to the distant stars in this VR and PC adventure developed by Finnish duo Kimmo Kaunela and Mike Laaksonen. In Planetrism, players follow the opportunity of a lifetime to lead colonization on an uncharted planet, encountering untold mysteries while building a future for generations to come.

ARCHITECTURE / VR: Real Estate in Virtual Reality by REinVRWebsite
The real estate technology team at REinVR is focused on using UE4 to build advanced immersive consumer buying experiences using digital humans, AI and VR.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Risk One’s Neck by Royce GamesWebsite
Developed by Korean indie team Royce Games for PC and consoles, Risk One’s Neck is a vintage arcade-style beat ’em up game set in a brutal, realistic urban environment. An homage to the Capcom arcade fighters of the 1980s, Risk One’s Neck channels thrilling gameplay for players of all skill levels.

FILM / CINEMA: Robots’ Design Academy by Eric Liu Blog
A student film by Eric Liu, this 12-minute cinematic highlights the art of the possible when a single person sets out to do something wonderful. Powered by the drive and passion to create something spectacular, Eric created a wordless tale about creativity and daring to be different. It follows a robot student learning to design after most of humanity has become extinct from some unknown apocalypse. Dismayed by the institution’s insistence on strictly copying human creations perfectly, the droid protagonist sets out to design something bold and unique with the help of a newfound human pal.

LEARNING RESOURCE: Russian UE4 Lessons and CommunityWebsite YouTube 
This incredible volunteer-driven resource for the Russian development community has been in operation since the public launch of UE4 in 2014. Featuring translations of exhaustive release notes for dozens of major engine updates, along with hundreds of localized tutorials — all created independently, and freely shared online — the group has well over 50,000 members across their networks, which also include popular Unreal Engine Discord and VK channels.

INDEPENDENT GAME: S.O.N by RedG StudiosWebsite 
S.O.N is a modern-day psychological survival horror game in which a father searches for his son who has gone missing deep in the Pennsylvania forest, better known as South Of Nowhere. In a world where fear takes control and the past is never erased, questions linger around what demons will be faced to get back a loved ones. S.O.N is coming to PlayStation 4.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Spellbreak by Proletariat Inc. –  Website
With talent from game studios such as Harmonix, Turbine and Insomniac, Proletariat is bringing a magical twist to battle royale. Currently in pre-alpha on PC, Spellbreak puts a new spin on the genre with its fantasy art style and powerful magic spells that can be explosive when used in combat.

FILM / CINEMA: The Abyss by Kemal GünelVideo
This real-time short film depicts an ominous scenario aboard a desolate spaceship. Built using Kemal’s assets that are available on the Unreal Engine Marketplace, the project is also the basis for his popular UE4 Lighting tutorial series, which has 35 videos and counting.

INDEPENDENT GAME: The Cycle by YAGERWebsite
Currently in Closed Alpha, The Cycle is the latest FPS game from Berlin-based YAGER. Up to 20 players go head to head to fulfill contracts during matches about 20 minutes in length. The Cycle is planned for PC release in early 2019 with support for consoles to follow.

AR / VR: The Hydrous presents: ImmerseWebsite
Jason McGuigan and his team at Horizon Productions have been on the bleeding edge of XR for several years, with a library of AR and VR projects built with UE4 under their belt. A pre-release version of Immerse took the stage at the recent Trojan Horse Was a Unicorn gathering in Malta presented by Dr. Erika Woolsey, CEO of the Hydrous. The Hydrous’ mission is to create open access oceans by bringing conservation education to the masses. Horizon also presented a high-fidelity VR art gallery created in Unreal Engine that featured almost 100 paintings by some of the world’s leading digital artists.

FINE ARTS / VR: The Kremer Collection Virtual MuseumWebsite
Designed by architect Johan van Lierop, Founder of Architales and Principal at Studio Libeskind, the Kremer Museum features 17th Century Dutch and Flemish Old Master paintings from the Kremer Collection and is accessible through Viveport, Steam and Oculus. 

TOOL / PLUGIN: Tools and Plugins by VR ProfessionalsVideoWebsite
Russia-based VR Professionals are on a mission to create more affordable and accessible “out of the box” solutions for VR training and education using UE4. Having identified a desire for UE4 apps to be more deeply integrated into enterprise ecosystems, e.g., SQL databases, analytics, reports, LMS and CRM systems, VR Professionals are developing UE4 tools and plugins to help organizations streamline their use of B2B apps faster and with lower costs. 
 

FILM / CINEMA: Unannounced project by Kite & LightningWebsite
The recipient of the 2018 SIGGRAPH Best Real-Time Graphics and Interactivity Award at the recent Real-Time Live! showcase, Kite & Lightning wowed audiences with the presentation “Democratizing Mocap: Real-Time Full Performance Motion Capture with an iPhone X, Xsens, IKINEMA and Unreal Engine.” This Unreal Dev Grant is given in support of new breakthroughs in live performance-driven entertainment.

INDEPENDENT GAME: Unbound: Worlds Apart by Alien Pixel StudiosSteam
Unbound: Worlds Apart is an atmospheric 2D puzzle platformer in which the player can conjure magic portals to travel between different realities and learn more about a catastrophe that has ravaged his world. Inside certain portals, the physical properties of the character or world elements can change, offering new gameplay possibilities. A dark fairy tale with a cartoonish style, Unbound: Worlds Apart is planned for release on PC and consoles in 2020.

TOOL / PLUGIN:  VR Cataract Training Solution by Surgical MindVideo 
Surgical Mind, a branch of Korea-based Mania Mind, is developing a cutting-edge VR simulator for cataract surgery to enable medical residents to better hone their skills before getting near an eye. Their team maintains that VR simulation training improves performance, minimizes risk and provides greater detail around potential scenarios more efficiently than expensive physical simulators.  

To learn more about Unreal Dev Grants and to apply, visit: http://unrealengine.com/unrealdevgrants