Recognizing the need to develop skilled real-time visual effects artists for the video game industry, Beyond FX (Legends of Runeterra, Obligations) has established a part-time paid apprenticeship program that, for six weeks, provides participants with expert instruction through lectures and lab time on the engine. the centerpiece is project artifacta 10-minute vertical slice of a larger game, filled with VFX opportunities and workflows typical of game projects within the Unreal Engine, used to illustrate actual game development processes, produced in association with Bad Rhino Games .
“If you’re chasing the ‘cutting edge’ of visual effects, we have a rule to guide us: ‘the technique we used yesterday will be obsolete tomorrow,'” says Keith Guerrette, CEO and studio head of Beyond-FX, who originally of his career he worked in the Unexplored franchise and The last of us for Naughty Dog. “At the same time, there are some things that haven’t changed since I started working on games almost 18 years ago. Each new task is a new and exciting challenge or puzzle.” Not keeping up with the ever-increasing demand for content creation is the talent pool of artists with the right skills. “Trade schools are doing everything within their constraints to introduce real-time VFX, but it’s often just an introductory-level class, allowing students to learn more on their own,” Guerrette notes. “We as an industry have tried to create passive resources for those brave enough to go down this path: www.realtimevfx.com and their supportive communities on Facebook, Discord, and Twitter are incredibly inspiring and guiding resources, but it’s hard to know where to start.”
For Guerrette it is not about being a specialist or a generalist, but about understanding the needs of a video game company. “If you’re working in a large studio with multiple people in his department, you probably want someone who specializes in an area where his team is weak, and a generalist probably won’t be as helpful,” he explains. “If you work as one of 12 people trying to make a complete game yourself, I guarantee the generalist will be the most valuable thing you’ve seen all week.” Video game companies are going after veterans instead of newbies, especially during the pandemic. “It is extremely difficult to mentor someone remotely. To make it a little clearer, every tool we have for communication, whether it’s Slack or Zoom calls, requires someone to know they need to ask a question, but when you start your first job, you rarely know what you want. I dont know.”
Beyond-FX is working to correct the situation for artists trying to break into the video game industry. “We’re giving ourselves six weeks, with 24 hours each week, to see if we can transition from trainees in that ‘talented but risky’ category to qualified junior production artists,” says Guerrette. “I love the model that trade industries like plumbing have to take on apprentices and mentor them on the job, pay them for their hard day’s work, and help them get their license to continue working on their own. We also saw the model that Epic Games established with people paying to learn virtual production. Recognizing that this was a fantastic marketing opportunity for people to learn the proper way to use their tools, we also saw a parallel that helped us justify the cost: what better marketing is there for our VFX expertise than to train apprentices and place successfully within development studios around the world?
From more than 50 qualified applicants, five will be chosen. “For this first iteration, we’ve focused on bringing in a small team that we can respond to dynamically, knowing that we’re all going to learn a lot along the way,” says Guerrette. “For each applicant, we request answers to a few basic questions, as well as a portfolio of any available 3D artwork that demonstrates knowledge of a 3D game engine or production line. As we screened these candidates, both through their responses, portfolio submissions, and eventually phone screens, we were able to narrow down more than 50 qualified applicants to five who we are confident were motivated to embark on this fast-paced journey with us.”
The training program begins with an introduction to visual effects, while the following weeks cover the integration of environmental visual effects, game effects and collision events, design effects, cinematic effects, and advanced techniques. “Our hope is to create a curriculum scaffolding for trade schools to use as a guide, but also to create an example for studios interested in creating their own structured mentoring or onboarding experience to better enable young candidates on their teams. ”.
“My wildest dream is that inspired artists around the world can dive into the puzzles of visual effects and start creating, learning and working as part of a development team without years of repeating the same mistakes we’ve all made. as we learned it ourselves”, says Guerrette. “All of our Learning is a bit unique, requiring us to take several unusual steps to get here and seek guidance and lessons from across industries. We spent six months creating project artifact, which is a completely custom first-person narrative adventure game built within the Unreal engine explicitly to learn visual effects. Additionally, we wanted to pay our apprentices to join us and work alongside us on this project, reflecting the Unreal Fellowship, but also more classic apprenticeships from commercial industries. This presented us with the added complication of fully complying with California regulations. [very important] Labor laws.”
As for the future of the video game industry, Epic Games plans to democratize game development through the Unreal Engine. “I can’t wait to see what happens when tools like the Unreal Engine find their way into the hands of people from different backgrounds, different art styles, and with different stories to tell,” shares Guerrette. “I’m excited that our tools are becoming so standardized that our focus can be on the beauty of what we’re doing, rather than the technicalities of making it work in the first place.”
While the full capability of real-time tools has yet to be realized, Guerrette says, “Real-time workflows reduce quality by a percentage, but at the cost of substantially faster iterations and workflows. This means that artists have more time to create art before their deadlines. Or that artists are covering much larger amounts of tasks, allowing the size of production teams to be reduced. I feel like we’re starting to see the potential of what real-time tools and workflows can do in the hands of creators used to other mediums. It’s so joyfully exciting to see the amazing demos that pop up online every day.”
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video writer and editor best known for composing detailed profiles of filmmakers and movies for VFX Voice, animation magazineY British cinematographer.