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Becoming a Shader Artist & Making Volumetric Fog in Unreal Engine

Andrea Giampietro explained why he started a YouTube channel, talked about the Volumetric Fog tutorial, and gave advice on how to become a Shader Artist.


Hi, I'm Andrea Giampietro, a Technical Artist that mainly works with shaders, currently employed at Splash Damage.

After completing the first 3 years at the Academy of Fine Arts of Urbino (yes, I have a 100% artistic background), I was looking for a 3D Modeling/Animation course that was not academic (tired of studying theory and psychology), and I found one in Milan, which, as a bonus, had Video Game Development in it.

80% of my skills are self-taught, to be honest. The course I followed was horrible and didn't give me much besides the initial inputs. The rest was made with tons and tons of trials, errors, and interactions with friends that were in the same situation as me.

I have an infinite list of incomplete personal projects, my channel is the first one that I'm following diligently and is part of a longer-term plan.

Becoming a Shader Artist

It happened randomly. I always have been a "techy" artist. Always passionate about generative art, procedural stuff, etc. When I was trying to join the AAA games industry for the first time, I was applying as Environment Artist, I didn't even know the term "Technical Artist". Luckily, I had some friends already working there that pushed me for that other role. I'll never thank them enough for that!

My first approach to coding was essentially driven by Daniel Shiffman's amazing books "Learning Processing" and "The Nature of Code", back when I was still studying in Urbino. After that, there were essentially all blogs, videos, sweat, and tears.

Being able to find rules to model a piece of art and making the computer handle all the boring parts, that's what I love and what inspired me. I like trying to understand how beautiful natural things work and how they could be reproduced in a smart way.

I have quite a lot of projects I'm proud of, they mainly represent me overcoming a challenge that was very hard for me at that point in time. They're not necessarily something to be objectively proud of.

Joining Splash Damage

How I got into the company? Well, I did the interview and I passed it!

I'm developing and supporting the shader library for the project I'm on, helping with the visual development of the game, and also writing some tools from time to time.

I don't know which skills helped me get the job, it was mainly the fact that I was very strong on the shader side and relatively knowledgeable regarding the graphics pipeline, which was what the project needed.

Never did a harder job interview, to be honest! They asked me many things I didn't know at all.

The YouTube Channel

I always loved teaching. At some point, I realized that I actually had enough knowledge and experience that was worth sharing with people. This channel is a test project for me, it's a good way to get feedback and see how people feel about my "style".

I mostly use Unreal Engine material editor, but just because I'm already proficient there. I try to build my tutorials so that everything is based on pure math and concepts.

I find video making a bit tedious, depending on which stage I'm in. There are lots of steps added to the simple experimentation that you can do on your own. Plus, I don't always have the energy to work at the PC extra time, I already have a full-time job!

The Volumetric Fog Tutorial

This video approaches the problem of building realistic fog from the simplest solution you could adopt to the one that I personally found, which is quite complex but illustrates many concepts that may or may not be directly related to the fog itself but are definitely useful for a shader artist.

This video is a bit different from the other ones I made since I just decided to show a solution that I developed to that problem.

The fog doesn't support ray tracing in the way we're now used to. It uses ray tracing to achieve the result, it's a bit different. Like, it doesn't require your project to enable it or your GPU to support it, it's just the math inside that does it. That's what I was referring to earlier when speaking about making tutorials about concepts and pure math.

In my case, I don't have to do anything special in Unreal Engine, as I was saying, math is just math, it works wherever you put it!

Advice to Shader Artists

The internet is full of resources, explore it and don't give up. In my opinion, a practical thing that will make you better in the long term is to not use ready-made functions. Just work with basic operations: add, mult, dot, etc. You can do everything with them and you'll get a deeper understanding of how stuff works. Oh, and let's not forget about following my channel, of course, you're not going anywhere otherwise!

If we're talking about someone looking for the first job, you need basic technical skills to get the job, show that you can get stuff done. Then, most importantly, show your attitude to research and solve problems, proposing potential solutions and using logic. Studios look for the potential more than solid skills when hiring a junior!

Andrea Giampietro, Shader Artist

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

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