An Unreal Engine guru and CG Spectrum Realtime Mentor William Faucher talked about the advantages of Unreal, explained what worldbuilding is, and talked about being a mentor at CG Spectrum.
I was born in the small city of Sherbrooke, in Québec, Canada. My first experience in 3D goes back to 2004 when I begged my mom to buy me a copy of the “Introduction to Maya 4.5” book I saw at the store. That was where I learned about vertices, polygons, and modeling in general. A few years went by before I attended a for-profit art school specializing in 3D art in my hometown. To this day I prefer to say that I am, for the most part, self-taught, because quite frankly the education at that school was abysmal, and it went bankrupt a few years ago. That schooling experience is part of the reason I’ve been passionate about teaching and giving back to the community.
My learning experience can be attributed to a bit of self-discipline, the Polycount forums when they were at their prime in 2010, and hands-on production experience. Over the years I’ve worked at a smaller archviz firm, an indie studio in Montreal, Rogue Factor, and eventually moved to Norway. I made my way into the film industry, working in VFX at Storm Studios, which is one of Norway’s most prominent VFX shops.
Most notably, I’ve worked with Marvel, and HBO, on Black Panther and Watchmen respectively. I have a few other larger, well-known projects under my belt but cannot say which due to NDA’s, which are the bane of my existence.
The Career Path
With the first 5 years of my career being in the game industry, it was a great way to learn the ropes and flesh out my skillset as a 3D Generalist. From modeling, to texturing, animation, look development, lighting, rendering, compositing, I can do a bit of everything. Due to the nature of smaller studios, there comes a point where you often need to fill in a role and pick up new skills for a multitude of reasons. Someone could be sick, or quit, or is on maternity/paternity leave, or a new task comes up. I was always up for the challenge, and I’m thankful for it.
Making the jump to the film industry in VFX was quite possibly the biggest contribution to my growth as an artist. In film, there is a not-so-insignificant amount of supervisors pixel-peeping and nitpicking every part of every single frame you render, shadows, subsurface scattering samples, the lighting, I could go on and on. At Storm Studios in Oslo, I had the immense fortune to work alongside unbelievably skilled, intelligent artists, and industry veterans. It was humbling to suddenly feel like you have a lot to learn from those around you. It was such a valuable learning experience to sit in dailies every morning and get some constructive feedback from my VFX supervisor, Espen Nordahl. I genuinely would not be writing to you today were it not for my experience there.
To this day, I’m still working as a Generalist, but with a focus on look development, lighting, and rendering. I also teach courses at University on occasion and will be mentoring students in the Realtime 3D Technical Art & Virtual Production Diploma at CG Spectrum College of Digital Art & Animation.
What is Worldbuilding
Worldbuilding is a term that changes a bit from industry to industry, but in our case, it is essentially environment art. Establishing a layout, building a world in a way that tells a story. Making a storyboard and setting up the camera in a way that feels as cinematic as possible. It is the process of creating a sequence that evokes emotions.
Teaching at CG Spectrum
I’ve planned the worldbuilding term of the Realtime 3D Technical Art & Virtual Production Diploma the same way I teach in person. I believe it’s important to teach the fundamentals before jumping head first into environment art. At CG Spectrum we cover everything you need to know to create your own cinematic sequence. From the fundamentals of lighting, composition, and color, to blocking out, fleshing out your scene, setting up cameras, and eventually, rendering out a gorgeous shot you can be proud of.
Mastering Unreal Engine
My first experience with Unreal goes back to 2007, wheт Unreal Engine 3 was the big deal, and the rivalry between Unity and UE3 was fierce. I picked up Unreal mostly because that is what most artists online were using. It was much more artist-friendly at the time and being well-documented, it was easy to get into. At the time, I was aiming for a career in games, not film, so learning Unreal made sense.
Eventually, the UDK (Unreal Development Kit) was released, and with Lightmass (baked indirect lighting), it was a groundbreaking new feature. I was hooked.
To this day, one of the things I love about teaching and making educational content is the fact that the community keeps me on my toes. Students and subscribers of my YouTube channel often come up with solutions I had no idea about, despite having been using Unreal for 14 years. It is a humbling experience, and I love it.
Using the Engine in the Course
One of Unreal’s biggest perks is unlimited access to the Megascans library. The fact that we can bring in anything with the Quixel Bridge, and from there, put together entire worlds within minutes and get amazing results in real time, is what really sets Unreal apart from other DCC’s. There’s not much else out there that can do what Unreal does.
Thoughts About Unreal Engine 5
With Lumen and Nanite being the defining new features, UE5 is a gamechanger. I can see more and more concept artists begin using UE5 for blocking out concepts with the help of Megascans and Lumen’s gorgeous lighting, and painting over this.
Lumen and Nanite also indirectly make the learning curve in Unreal a lot less steep and easier for new users to get into. No longer do we need to rely on optimizing models, reducing polycounts, baking Normal Maps, making lightmap UV’s, baking lighting. This was a big barrier of entry for lots of people, there are a LOT of things you need to learn about. Now? Anyone with limited 3D experience can jump in and create something. This is unheard of. I predict this will allow way more people to dabble in Unreal than before.
Fortunately for those of us using UE4 already, our workflow doesn’t really change all that much with UE5, the toolset is more or less the same, although not needing to bake lights for indirect lighting is a welcome change!
In today’s day and age, there is a wealth of tutorials, guides, courses, everything a beginner could possibly need to stay up to date and learn the latest tools and plugins. I’ve seen my fair share of students who were very apt from a technical perspective, they knew all about the newest plugins, the latest patch updates, and tools. But, their biggest drawback was a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of art; lighting, composition, color theory. While these topics are not exactly as sexy and exciting as Unreal Engine 5, they are, arguably, more important to understand. If you don’t know how to apply the fundamentals of art to the latest and greatest tools, your work is going to fall short.
As a beginner in a fiercely competitive field, of course, you will need to focus on being better, learning these new tools, and staying up to date. You’re going to have to work hard. But don’t underestimate the importance of the fundamentals. Because one day, Unreal Engine 5 will be obsolete when Unreal Engine 6 and Unity 2030 are released, while the rules of composition, lighting, anatomy, and color theory will always be important. They’ve survived the test of time, and are unlikely to change any time soon. If you build a beautiful skyscraper on crumbling foundations, it won’t survive the generations to come.
You can check out my YouTube channel, or learn worldbuilding with me as your mentor in CG Spectrum’s online Realtime 3D Technical Art & Virtual Production course.