GDC 2018: Sessions for Artists

GDC 2018: Sessions for Artists

We pick up some of the interesting talks, which would be useful for game artists. Check them out during GDC 2018!

We pick up some of the interesting talks, which would be useful for game artists.

GDC 2018 is just around the corner and we’re going there! We’ve taken some time to have a look at some of the most interesting sessions you’d be able to see. In this post, we’re concentrating on some of the talks for artists, who work in games.

Art Director Bootcamp

As always Art Director Bootcamp is one of the best things to happen with GDC! Keith Self Ballard and Andrew Maximov are at it again, inviting some of the best talents in the industry to talk about their artistic experiments and share their expertise. Here are some of the most interesting talks.


Monday, March 19 (1:20pm – 2:20pm)

It’s a great way to check out how studios like Riot are building games and experiment with different ideas. One of the ways Riot does is through game jams. Attendees will learn more about the crazy chaos of an AAA developer doing game jams. They will gain some new perspective and insight into the importance of finding small windows for letting teams and individuals create whatever they want. Peet Cooper, Art Director at Riot Games, will host the talk.


Monday, March 19 (2:40pm – 3:40pm)

Jan-Bart Van Beek from Guerrilla Games is the guy who connected and delivered the whole idea of Horizon Zero Dawn. So obviously, you’re not allowed to miss his talk on building mechanical dinosaurs.

In this talk, Jan-Bart van Beek, the studio art director at Guerrilla Games, will take you through the journey the studio had to take in order to design the majestic post-post-apocalyptic world of ‘Horizon Zero Dawn’. As the originator of the concept, Jan-Bart is able to give a unique insight into what it is like to take a small, almost silly, idea and see it slowly developed into one of the most successful new gaming franchises of the year. You will see the game, it’s world, it’s characters and it’s iconic robot dinosaurs, developed from just a couple of sketches, through prototypes and ultimately to a fully-fledged game.

On Cultures of Shared Creative Ownership

Monday, March 19 (5:30pm – 6:30pm)

It’s always a pleasure to listen to Andrew Maximov from Naughty Dog. This year he’s discussing self-organization in big game studios. You will learn how to build large and small art teams that can run with little to no dedicated management and still produce consistently superior results.

What if someone told you that dedicated management could be optional for creative production teams of all kinds of sizes? Can developers self-organize and ship products without absolute and utter chaos destroying the production? The answer is “sometimes”. It is very hard. It requires some very fundamental cultural shifts. But it has been proven to work, bringing you some of the most celebrated video game titles and earning hundreds of millions of dollars at the same time. All while encouraging every individual on the team to take a more active role in realizing their potential. Having your creative teams organized in a way that allows everyone to be most fulfilled is nothing short of a herculean effort, but come by this talk and engage in this dialogue on what you can do today to inspire shared creative ownership on your team.

Technical Artist Bootcamp

Matt Oztalay invited some of the talented technical masterminds in the world to show you how to make your games pretty, procedural and scalable. Here are some of the interesting sessions to check out.

Shaders 301

Tuesday, March 20 (10:00am – 11:00am)

Ben Cloward, CG Supervisor at BioWare, goes beyond the basics and presents several more advanced shader techniques.

As this session continues to explore the exciting world of shader creation, tech artists will learn basic concepts and functions, and then put them together to create beautiful pixels. No previous shader or programming experience is required, but basic math understanding will be helpful.

Production Values: Improving Quality, Longevity and Scalability

Tuesday, March 20 (11:20am – 12:20pm)

Jodie Azhar, the Lead Technical Artist at Creative Assembly, gives some insights into different methods of formalizing technical art and tool development workflows in order to improve both individual and team output. Basically, you will learn how to make things even look better, and do these things faster.

As technical art matures as a discipline it’s important for the industry to develop a vocabulary for discussing solutions, be self-critical and make informed decisions based on the needs of the project and team. This talk will look at how formalizing processes and decision making, and standardizing workflows lead to improved pipelines and tools regardless of the size of the team. It will cover processes already used in other areas of development and how these can be tailored to the technical art roles. This will include problem-solving techniques, testing methods, and review processes. The talk will also look at how to apply these processes if you are an individual working alone or on a large team handling multiple projects and how getting into those good habits and being self-critical can save you time in the long run.

Learning an Established Content Creation Pipeline, Workflow and Codebase

Tuesday, March 20 (3:50pm – 4:20pm)

Sr. Technical Artist Ross Patel from BioWare gives you methods to evaluate new systems quickly. Intended for tech artists and tools developers. We know there are some in our audience here at

Intended for tech artists and tools developers joining a new team or learning an established pipeline/content tools code base that is in development. This is not a talk about establishing a pipeline from scratch, it’s about learning an existing one as thoroughly and efficiently as possible, and setting everyone up for success now and in the future while you learn. This session will help you gauge the scope of on-boarding, explore common entry points and debug principles to solve problems efficiently. It will share some helpful hints on speeding up the learning process and directing your efforts towards low friction/high reward tasks. Ross Patel will explore the value of content validation, using flow-charts to visualize and organize, as they pertain to learning and contributing to the pipeline and workflow code base.

Procedural Islands of ‘Dauntless

Tuesday, March 20 (5:30pm – 6:00pm)

Phoenix Labs technical artists Mykola Konyk and Michael Trottier want to give an overview of the how the company uses Houdini procedural pipeline to design amazing stuff for Dauntless. If you want to learn more about Houdini, you’ll definitely need to give this a chance.

In this session, Phoenix Labs’ Mykola Konyk and Michael Trottier will present the procedural island pipeline they created in order to build the shattered islands of ‘Dauntless’. They will do a high-level overview and cover successful strategies for setting up a Houdini procedural pipeline. They will also talk about their experiences in decomposing the complex requirements of world art into manageable procedural components.

Unity’s Progressive Lightmapper and Shader Graph

Tuesday, March 20 (11:20am – 12:20pm)

Unity Technologies developers are going to talk about baked lighting and the benefits of using progressive lightmapper. They’ll cover debugging issues that impact your visuals and performance, and show how to improve baking times. Plus you’ll learn more about Unity’s new Shader Graph.

A two-part talk about some of Unity’s latest graphics features. First, attendees will learn about baked lighting and the benefits of using progressive lightmapper. Presenters will cover debugging issues that impact attendees’ visuals and performance, and improve baking times. Then, presenters will show attendees how to use the Shader Graph to create solutions to real production problems faced by artists, including using the sub-graph system for a better user experience and extending the system through writing nodes in C#. Finally, presenters will also show attendees how to combine these two new tools to make their game beautiful and performant.

The Art of ‘Monument Valley 2’

Thursday, March 22 (4:00pm – 5:00pm)

With David Fernandez Huerta hosting The Art of ‘Monument Valley 2’ you will explore the process of making the sequel to the critically acclaimed ‘Monument Valley’, taking the learnings of the first game and expanding them in unexpected directions. This lecture will discuss the ways in which the Monument Valley team solidified a vision for the game and all the challenges that came with making that vision a reality. It will also focus on the real-life inspirations for the art and themes of the game and the process of bringing them to life in the ever-changing journey of making a game that is both personal and for everyone.

Attendees will learn techniques for creative decision-making that encourage experimentation and risk-taking mindsets in environments with strict time and team size limitations. This session will cover how to better embrace and nurture change as a creative driving force and how to make games that are personal for both developers and players.

The Visual Effects Technology of ‘Destiny’

Wednesday, March 21 (2:00pm – 3:00pm)

Get a broad overview of the visual effects technology, tools, tips and tricks used for the ‘Destiny’ franchise with a lecture by Ali Mayyasi (Technical Art Lead, Bungie) and Brandon Whitley (Graphics Engineer, Bungie). Walk away with specific techniques to implement in your projects.

This session will cover the technology, tools, and techniques behind the visual effects of the ‘Destiny’ franchise. It will provide a broad overview of Bungie’s VFX pipeline, demonstrating how they armed artists with flexible and powerful authoring tools, managed huge volumes of content while maintaining a consistent visual look, and kept it all performant. This session will also discuss how the Bungie art team created some of the more interesting effects from ‘Destiny 2’. Finally, this lecture will present a variety of techniques and tricks that could be applied to any real-time VFX system.

Machine Learning Roundtable Day 1: Neural Networks in Content Generation

Wednesday, March 21 (3:30pm – 4:30pm)

Join Andrew Maximov to discuss latest trends, ideas as well as open problems of using deep learning when applied to video game development. Not to mention invaluable connections to the people solving the same deep-learning issues as you are.

Come by this roundtable to engage or listen in on the lively discussion about how deep learning based artificial intelligence is going to affect video game production in the years to come. You will discuss all kinds of applications, bring up interesting adoption cases as well as theoretical research to try to see which ones are ready for wider adoption and if not, when might they be. Furthermore, you will discuss what it will take to have this technology serve as many of the very diverse game development purposes as possible.

Spline-Based Procedural Modeling in ‘Agents of Mayhem’

Wednesday, March 21 (3:30pm – 4:30pm)

Attendees of this talk by Chris Helvig (Studio Architect, Deep Silver Volition) and Chris Dubois (Content Creator, Deep Silver Volition) will learn about Volition’s new in-editor spline-based modeling system created most of the environmental geometry for ‘Agents of Mayhem’, and how it allows for both rapid prototyping and iteration of final quality art late into production. It also generates organic geometry that would be difficult to create in any other system.

Volition has created a new and powerful spline-based modeling system. This system has enabled their developers to build a city with unprecedented speed. The vast majority of environment geometry of the futuristic Seoul in ‘Agents of Mayhem’ was built not in third party art packages, but directly in Volition’s own proprietary editor. This led to huge increases in productivity for their environment artists and designers. Volition’s developers were able to rapidly prototype the environment. At the same time, it allowed them to iterate on final quality art for their playable spaces, late in the development cycle. It enabled them to generate organic geometry that would otherwise be time-consuming and cost-prohibitive to create. Finally, it dramatically reduced their reliance on outsourcing.

Visual Adventures on ‘Sea of Thieves’

Wednesday, March 21 (3:30pm – 4:30pm)

Join to Ryan Stevenson learn how a few simple rules can permeate through an entire project, and how to set guidelines that allow a large group of artists to create a unified visual look.

This session will cover the visual development of ‘Sea of Thieves’ from inception to release. Art director Ryan Stevenson will share “behind the scenes” of visual development from Rare’s shared-world pirate adventure game. He will outline the challenges the team set themselves when they journeyed into the unknown, and how a few simple rules can permeate through all aspects of a game’s visuals to create a unique stylized look. Raise the anchor, brace the main sails, fill your tankard with grog and get ready for a visual adventure on the ‘Sea of Thieves’! 

Developing the Art of ‘Fortnite’

Wednesday, March 21 (5:00pm – 6:00pm)

Attendees will get to see how the ‘Fortnite’ art team took many ideas over many years and produced a successful, cohesive result.

This session by Peter Ellis will cover the evolution of art style used in ‘Fornite’ and best practices used to create an AAA quality free-to-play game with a small art team.

‘World of Warships’: Technical Aspects of Rendering High-Quality Sea ‘Till Horizon

Thursday, March 22 (11:30am – 12:30pm)

This presentation by Yury Kryachko will demonstrate to the audience why the important conditions for a realistic visualization of “the sea” are having a high quality and correct calculation of optical phenomena in the visualization at a far-distance view, and why it should be given more attention in future developments.

This talk will cover methods for solving common problems of creating high-quality real-time sea visualization in the face of strict performance limitations on mass-user configurations. Particular attention will be paid to the quality of the distant planes, as well as efficient mathematical and hardware-dependent optimizations. The lecture will describe the aspects of wave synthesis, the way to get rid of tiling patterns, the creation of water geometry and stabilization by per-pixel correction, the transition from a legacy lighting model to PBR and finally, describe the improvements in optical effects and anti-aliasing.

Procedural World Generation of ‘Far Cry 5’

Thursday, March 22 (11:30am – 12:30pm)

Attendees of this session by Etienne Carrier will get an overview of the various procedural tools Ubisoft developed to generate the ‘Far Cry 5’ world. They will see how those systems are interconnected and the logic behind each of them. It will also be demonstrated how they can be used to mimic natural phenomena.

How do you fill up 100 square km of wilderness with a terrain changing every day? One of the challenges with a modern open world is its sheer size. Not every square meter of the world will receive the attention of a level artist or a level designer. Technical artists need to be able to fill up this world beautifully, quickly and with the flexibility to support numerous iterations to keep the production cost low. They need tools that can automatically fill up a large space, as well as allow fine tuning of smaller locations. Yet while filling up empty space is easy, filling it up so it looks natural is a bigger challenge. Ubisoft’s solution on ‘Far Cry 5’ was to develop a set of procedural tools to generate biomes, texture the terrain, setup freshwater networks, generate cliff rocks and more.

Making ‘MEETMIKE’: Photoreal Virtual Human in UE4

Thursday, March 22 (12:45pm – 1:10pm)

This is an educational research project to push the boundaries of believable humans but with the objective or giving away all the assets and details to allow others to use these advanced techniques and assets. Join Mike Seymour to learn the start of the art with real assets you can explore later.

‘MEETMIKE’ uses the latest techniques in advanced motion capture to drive complex facial rigs, and allow detailed interaction in real-time. This talk explains how a team of researchers and developers built a system that allowed participants to meet and talk interactively to the avatar in VR, where they experienced new levels of photorealistic interaction. The installation used new advances in real time rigs, skin shaders, facial capture, deep learning and real-time rendering in UE4. ‘MEETMIKE’ was first shown at SIGGRAPH 2017.

PlayStation Visual Arts Service Group: YES! We Did That! 

Thursday, March 22 (2:00pm – 2:30pm)

Don’t miss this awesome Sony session by Mike Mumbauer, Sarah Farmer and Daujenae Harps to learn about PlayStation’s Visual Arts Service Group, the roles they hire for and what they look for in prospective talent!

Would you be interested in working with AAA studios like Naughty Dog, Santa Monica Studio (God of War franchise) or Insomniac, just to name a few? The Visual Arts Service Group is a division of PlayStation’s Product Development team, located in San Diego and Los Angeles that specializes in Animation, Motion Capture, Cinematics, Art, and Scanning. Learn more about this forward-thinking, creative group who is constantly pushing the boundaries of art and technology!

Art Leadership Roundtable Day 2

Thursday, March 22 (4:00pm – 5:00pm)

Attendees of this event by Keith Self-Ballard will have the opportunity to interact with industry peers and listen to accounts of how different studios have dealt with similar problems. The purpose of this roundtable is the sharing of experience and the contrasting of ideas. Those with an eye towards future management or direction positions will have an opportunity to pose questions to the roundtable. Ultimately, one of the primary goals of this roundtable is the growth of art culture and leadership across the game industry.

The purpose of the Art Leadership Roundtable is to afford attendees the opportunity to discuss pressing issues which face artists and art culture in the game industry. This session is intended to be an open forum on topics pertaining to art leadership, management, direction, and development. In addition, this session is also dedicated to collecting advice for future art leads/directors as well as those who regularly collaborate with their own studio’s art department.

Realistic Foliage Imposter and Forest Rendering in UE4

Friday, March 23 (12:15pm – 12:40pm)

Learn how to create cheap foliage impostors in UE4 with Ryan Brucks. Impostor artifacts will be broken down and solved one at a time, showing how adding each correction converges towards a result. Attendees will also be exposed to methods for vertex optimization and shadowing tricks.

Come learn how efficient and accurate imposters can be used to render vast forest scenes in UE4. A hybrid combination of techniques will be employed to get high quality with high performance. An iterative method is used to add parallax for optical flow between frame captures. Advanced features such as pixel depth offset will be shown to match shadowing and geometry intersections. Additional methods such as converting masks to distance field will be employed to further smooth silhouette transitions and to optimize shadowing passes. In addition, this lecture will be looking at a higher quality control version that uses a more expensive ray marching approach.

Machine Learning Roundtable Day 3: Artificial Intelligence as a Creative Partner

Friday, March 23 (1:30pm – 2:30pm)

Join Andrew Maximov to discuss latest trends, ideas as well as open problems of using deep learning when applied to video game development. Not to mention invaluable connections to the people solving the same deep-learning issues as you are.

Come by this roundtable to engage or listen in on the lively discussion about how deep learning based artificial intelligence is going to affect video game production in the years to come. You will discuss all kinds of applications, bring up interesting adoption cases as well as theoretical research to try to see which ones are ready for wider adoption and if not, when might they be. Furthermore, you will discuss what it will take to have this technology serve as many of the very diverse game development purposes as possible.

Between Tech and Art: The Vegetation of ‘Horizon Zero Dawn’

Friday, March 23 (3:00pm – 4:00pm)

Attendees of this session by Gilbert Sanders will learn about Guerrilla Games’ approach to creating, simulating, rendering and optimizing vegetation in a large open world.

After more than ten years making the grim, sci-fi world of ‘Killzone’, Guerrilla Games decided, that one of the pillars for their next IP would be the beauty of nature. In this talk, Gilbert Sanders, Principal Artist at Guerrilla Games, will present what the studio has learned in order to bring the lush and vibrant nature of ‘Horizon Zero Dawn’ to your console while keeping an eye on performance in this open-world action-RPG. This talk will cover technical implementation details of Guerrilla’s shaders, meshes, render passes, and various optimizations and workflow approaches.

Substance Days

Tuesday, March 20th, (Whole Day)

Substance Day at GDC is a full day of talks and presentations from industry veterans on all things Substance!  The event runs all day on Tuesday, March 20th in Room 3014 Moscone West and is open to all attendees with an Expo Plus pass and above. No need to RSVP but try to show up early, seats are limited. And don’t miss the Substance Day after-party, with food, drinks, and special prizes! More information and tickets will be available on site, but you can mark your attendance here. Don’t forget to visit the Keynote from Sebastien Deguy (10 am), listen to Josh Lynch talking about texturing Shadow War (1:20 pm), Ben Wilson showing some Wolfenstein 2 goodness (4:00 pm), and, of course,  Daniel Thiger, sharing his methodology (5:30 pm)

Next Level Render in ‘World of Tanks’ PC 2018

Friday, March 23 (3:00pm – 4:00pm)

This talk by Branislau Svihla will teach how to improve the quality of the various render sub-systems like terrain, water, vegetation, etc. Improve the environment interactivity by adding deformation for these features, and understand Wargaming’s way of achieving nice next level picture while still being able to play on the previous decade hardware.

This talk is about Wargaming’s recent and significant changes made to their graphics engine powering the very popular online game ‘World of Tanks’ (Available early 2018). This lecture will cover lots of different sub-systems with the distinct details and techniques they are based on, including but not limited to terrain, water, vegetation, particles, shadow system, shading and lighting, anti-aliasing, and more. Since ‘World of Tanks’ is a seasoned and widespread game, Wargaming’s team has had to support a huge range of hardware from 2004 to 2017 (about a 13-year time-frame). As a result, they’ve developed solutions that are scalable across hardware generations and heavily optimized, support both DX9DX11 APIs as well as completely different forward and deferred pipelines. This talk will give an overview of Wargaming’s render pipeline, share architectural decisions and share the optimization tricks they’ve used. 

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    GDC 2018: Sessions for Artists