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Creative Assembly’s Ellie Koorlander-Lester: ‘Game VFX is a spectacle, but it is more than just decorative and illustrative’

This month, Ellie Koorlander-Lester, lead VFX artist, clarifies the changing role of VFX for us

Game VFX is a spectacle, but it is more than just decorative and illustrative. It represents key ways to communicate to the player, to build anticipation and create moments of wonder that keep players engaged and intrigued.

VFX should support the narrative and enhance the atmosphere of the game world. For a VFX artist, key considerations for creating ‘good’ effects are composition, timing and how to integrate seamlessly with the artistic and design direction of the game.

Across all disciplines, the introduction of game models that are on-demand, with regular updates, have led us to rethink how we approach production and planning. We are now preparing for not only the art work we need to create in production, but the development and advancement of tools to support artists and designers throughout the team.

Creative Assembly’s Ellie Koorlander-Lester

We have always done this on a small scale, however the emphasis has shifted. Making our tools more intuitive to enable an artist to create more variety in their artwork in the same amount of time is empowering artists to refocus on creativity.

In VFX, and technical art specifically, we are designing tools to make simple yet time consuming processes automated in a smart way. Technical artists are looking at procedurally placing assets through tools to optimise workflows.

We are also introducing shaders that drive vertex animation for models in VFX and the environment. This opens a world of possibilities for the detail we can add to enhance the gameplay experience. It’s an exciting challenge.

Player expectations are also constantly evolving, and in turn, we constantly look at creating the most visually appealing and engaging experience while still working within the confines of technology. In a game, we will have hundreds of particle effects on screen at any one time and we need to manage this effectively to not reduce the overall quality of the gaming experience.

Over the last few years we are seeing more VFX artists from the film industry looking to move into games. Creating VFX for games is more focused on the illusion of simulating reality rather than the finer details. We have to think of the key elements that, for example, read as an explosion with limited particles and texture resolution. These techniques are easy to adapt for experienced VFX artists. Those who do successfully transition are able to demonstrate their skills in a package like Unreal or Unity.

There are various reasons for this shift from film to game, but as games evolve and there are more and more possibilities for what we can achieve, game VFX is creatively a very exciting place to be.

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