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ArtEngine: The Future of Material Creation

Tudor Bodeanu discussed the future of ArtEngine by Unity, talked about the program, and demonstrated the workflow.


My name is Tudor Bodeanu and I recently began working as a Senior Technical Artist in the Content business unit (BU) at Unity. The Content BU is the part of Unity responsible for developing products that provide access to or accelerate the authoring of, raw content. Raw content, such as materials, environments, props, and characters, are the building blocks of any 3D creation, be it a game, film, or product concept mock-up. By developing such products, the thought is that more people will be able to create—and create faster. Indeed, Unity believes that the world is a better place with more creators in it, so my team is working to achieve that mission.

Before Unity, I worked for Dassault Systemes as a Content Portfolio Technical Specialist for CATIA, a computer-aided design (CAD) software suite. My work involved creating an asset library called the Content Collection. The goal of the Content Collection was to provide designers and engineers with access to high-quality assets to accelerate their ideation and creative process. 

At Unity, much of my role involves providing feedback to the Content BU’s development team on new features and workflows to ensure we create products with the artist’s needs in mind. One of my current projects is focused on improving ArtEngine’s ability to serve scanning workflows, such as photogrammetry and photometric stereo. Below are a few examples of materials I’ve created using ArtEngine.

What is ArtEngine?

ArtEngine is a material authoring tool that leverages an example-based workflow to create high-quality PBR materials. Its powerful nodes use AI to help artists create content very quickly.

ArtEngine differs from other material authoring tools in its learning curve. It allows creators with little to no visualization experience to output high-quality PBR materials in a few steps.

It was a demo back in 2018 showcasing ArtEngine tiling capabilities that initially drew my attention to the tool. Visible seams and visible tiling are two common problems that artists face when creating materials. When I saw how ArtEngine used AI for seam removal and texture mutation to address these issues in a fast and effective manner, I was blown away.  Since then, the team has made exceptional progress in expanding feature scope and enabling a true example-based workflow for material creation.

The Future of ArtEngine and Unity

I am excited to see how things unfold as Unity continues its work to expand the number of creators in the world. Access to raw content and the tools to create it are key inputs to achieving this mission, and so the Content BU has been hard at work not only improving ArtEngine but developing new, innovative products that are aligned with this goal. For example, I think being able to capture and create PBR materials and 3D models right on your smartphone and export them straight to Unity will be an important workflow in the future, so I’m closely following how Unity unlocks this use case.

I’m also excited about the future of AI and what it means for content creation and Unity’s products. When I think of the evolution of AI-assisted artistry and ArtEngine's role in this space, I’m reminded of the introduction of the Super8 film camera back in the ’60s. It was this camera that spurred a whole new generation of creators by making filming so much easier than before. I am feeling inspired about the future and believe good things lie ahead!

Favorite Features and Workflow

Material Generation and Seam Removal are my favorite features right now. Being able to take a single photo with your DSLR or phone and transform that easily into a full seamless material is an incredible time-saver and one workflow that I definitely use a lot. 

I mentioned that as part of Unity’s Content team, my mission is to serve the next generation of creators. At the moment, I’m focused on digitizing material samples from our content partners using photogrammetry and photometric stereo workflows. I rely heavily on Unity ArtEngine for the last part of the workflow, when I need to clean up the scans and convert them into full PBR materials.

Here’s a short guide that shows you how I use ArtEngine to generate a PBR material using the powerful Material Generation node and a few other nodes.  My goal here is to create a tileable material with no obvious repeating features. 

First, I start with a single flat image. Here, I’ve selected a photo of some Swiss oak flooring. This image was part of a library and already made seamless through ArtEngine’s batch processing capabilities.

After importing the image into ArtEngine, my first step is to use the Content-Aware Fill node and the Mask Paint node to remove any undesirable artifacts on the image. Here, I’ve painted out some of the harsh horizontal lines in the wood grain.

I then use the Gradient Removal node to subtly balance the color distribution.

Finally, I add a Material Generation node and tweak its parameters to get all the PBR maps.

As easy as this!

There are many ways to create and manipulate materials with ArtEngine. My colleagues Victor Kam and Alix Coleno have explained their workflows in detail on how they achieve great results in no time, so I’d recommend you check their guides out if you want to dive deeper.

The Future of Visualization and Content

I believe visualization and content creation will become easier and harder at the same time. Harder because end-user expectations for realism continue to increase, but easier because smart tools will take some of the hard work away. But overall, I think artists in the near future will look back on today and be surprised at how time-consuming and complex content creation used to be.

Creators love telling stories — whether through the medium of an animated movie or the design of the next electric car — and humans love experiencing them. With improved access and the flattening of learning curves for 3D tools, new storytellers will emerge in all domains, from history classrooms to medical training simulations. Indeed, I’m optimistic about the future of AI-assisted workflows and the democratization of visualization. I can’t wait to see these stories of all kinds emerge.

If you want to check out ArtEngine, we’re offering a free 30-day trial as well as a GDC promotion to get ArtEngine for $19/mo (vs. the regular price of $95/mo) if you purchase before May 17. Happy creating!

Tudor Bodeanu, Senior Technical Artist at Unity

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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