Pawel Margacz did a breakdown of his recent VFX made in Unity and talked about his path from a 3D generalist to a VFX artist.
Hi, my name is Pawel Margacz, I’m originally from Poland and I’ve been living in the UK for about 10 years. I studied Game design at the University and I got my first job at Climax Studio. Initially, I was a 3D artist and quickly transitioned to being a 3D generalist but then I discovered that I really liked to problem solve. This led me to move into a technical role and learning visual effects. Currently, I’m working for 505 Games / DR Studios, I also do some freelance and I have got a few assets on Unity Asset Store.
I worked on Robocraft, Dead Nation (PS4), Legacy of Kain (AAA that was never released), a few mobile/console titles like Battle islands, Battle Islands Commanders, Battle Ages. Now I’m working on something I can’t talk about.
From Generalist to VFX Artist
Many people might say that starting as a generalist is not good for your career and I agree. However, I really had no idea what I liked and I naturally transitioned to other aspects of game development. I wanted to try different areas of game dev and as a result explored the technical aspect of it (a bit of programming and VFX), which in my opinion helped me understand overall game dev pipeline and communication with other departments.
I started as a 3D environment artist and I still make some environments, however, nowadays I tend to do more technical art and trying to support the environment team with the technical side of environment creation. I think I started to be interested in VFX when my lead asked me to make some small FX for a game we’ve been working on and I found the technical aspect of it very interesting. I especially like the shader creation in Unity/Unreal Engine using its node-based system. After a few weeks, I started working a bit more with VFX team in the studio.
Character Selection VFX: Breakdown
Not that long ago I finally decided I want to focus on VFX and make a bunch of simple effects. I started with some projectiles, portals, impacts etc. Recently I decided I wanted to make something a bit bigger and explore a bit more shader creation aspect in Unity to see what I could achieve with procedural textures which I’ve created in Substance Designer.
I’m overlaying/blending 2 noise textures to get the results. I rely heavily on tiling, contrast and intensity values in the shader to get the desired effect. I’m also trying to implement more 3D meshes into my workflow as I think bringing my 3D modeling experience will only help me to make those effects better. Currently, I’m using very simple 3D geometry but in future, I want to use a lot of Houdini destruction rigid bodies and a bit more complex geometry.
In this project, I wanted to make 3 types of bases (hexagonal, circle and square) with 3 types of effects (poison, tech and fire/flames) and probably release it on Unity Asset Store for people who make tactical, turn-based games to use it in their projects. The idea is to use a small number of textures and essentially make a similar effect to be used across 3 bases.
There are 2 meshes on the ground. First one has a simple scrolling texture with the sharp line that gives a bit of glow. Second mesh has a tileable noise texture that is being scrolled over time. The combination of shader functionalities I’ve mentioned before (tiling, contrast, and intensity of the textures) allow me to create a variety of shapes quicker.
As for the animation of the base, it’s a mesh with noise texture being scrolled (panned) overtime on top of other noise texture. Whenever I’m using a mesh for VFX I do a little bit of planning beforehand, for example, I make UVs with tileable noise texture in mind.
I usually add particles emitters to meshes as it helps to break the silhouette. Getting timing right in VFX is crucial and after looking at the same VFX for a couple of hours I don’t always get it right. I think it comes with experience and I think I’m getting better at it. Many VFX artists struggle with timing in my opinion that’s why it’s so important to seek feedback because fresh eyes always can bring something new to the table. I’d suggest for new VFX artists to seek feedback on forums like RealtimeVFX.
VFX for Fun
It’s different working on VFX in production and making them just for fun in your own time. To be honest, many times, when I don’t have a concept I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just trying to have some fun with the shaders and procedural textures. I’m trying to make certain look I have in mind or from reference but once I add those procedural textures and use shader functionality I have so many results I struggle to pick one. I think it’s a personal taste and preference in the end and I’m trying to design a look/pattern that looks unpredictable. I think it’s the beauty of procedural techniques, the key is to make many variations in a short amount of time and pick the one that looks best.
Rendering & Optimization
Most of the time when working on a personal project I use Unity for rendering but again, it’s a personal preference. I use Unreal Engine often as well. I tend to stick with game engines and I’m trying to avoid off-line rendering.
Optimization comes with experience. As an artist, I tend to go over the top only to be told we need to trim it down in production and that’s the correct way of doing things in my opinion. I strongly believe as an artist you should aim for the best visuals and cut it down later when and IF it’s needed.
VFX in production can be optimized by limiting numbers of the texture being used. A very common method is combining 3 black and white textures into RBG channels of 1 texture. From my experience shaders usually need to be optimized as those tend to be quite heavy in terms of performance.
Advice for Learners
First of all, I’d recommend RealtimeVFX forum. It may be a bit depressing for new artists in the beginning to see a lot of great artists and all their work, but it exposes you to a great amount of inspiration and hard work which will only push you forward. Other great sources of education are CGMA courses and 1-on-1 courses. Of course, YouTube is also a great source. Personally, I watch channels like Mirza, Sirhaian’Arts, and ErbGameArt.
For new VFX artists, I’d recommend learning the basics of shaders, how they’re made and how to achieve the desired look/effect, because once you understand it, you can watch and break down other VFX on your own. It will allow you to understand how it’s made so you can try to re-create or even make it better.
I tend to post my stuff on regular basis on my twitter, RealtimeVFX forum and ArtStation. A few people asked me already to come up with tutorials so they can learn and understand how certain VFX are made from scratch. I decided to make some tutorials or breakdowns as my knowledge might be quite unique as a generalist and it might bring something new to the table. I will probably announce it by the end of this year on my Twitter and ArtStation, so keep an eye on it!
If you found this article interesting, below we are listing a couple of related Unity Store Assets that may be useful for you.