Hey there, go ahead and introduce yourself.
I’m Selina, final year games art student at Teesside University and VFX/Tech artist here at Frontwire Studios.
How did you find yourself working with Frontwire Studios?
I was contacted by them, someone saw my portfolio and asked if I’d be interested in joining. I’d heard of Frontwire Studios before and knew they were making a Sci-Fi game so I was immediately excited by the potential to create some interesting effects.
For the benefit of those here who are unfamiliar with the role of a VFX artist in game development, walk me through an average day as a VFX artist.
I make the icing on the cake. I take the weapons or environment and give it that extra little bit of life. My process usually starts with a briefing from the 3D team which can be anything from something as exciting as explosions to as mundane as dust. I then head into UE4 and usually play around a bit until I have a base that I like. I’ll start by using simple textures and materials then I move on to refining it using custom assets.
How did you find yourself in the position of VFX artist?
I originally thought I wanted to be a character artist, so I signed up for it at my university. I then realised it wasn’t really for me. So, I started looking into other areas and VFX was one of the things that jumped out at me. I love problem solving and a lot of the VFX process is trial and error as you spend a lot of time tweaking values and getting timings. That was something that just clicked with me.
If you had to pick one thing, what would you say really makes or breaks a piece of VFX?
Timing, 100%. This morning, I was working on an explosion for another project and I think it had 5 different elements to it. The object that’s going to explode, the build up, the blast, the debris and the aftermath. Making sure they all fire at the correct time is key and often the biggest headache. It can absolutely make or break the entire effect.
To what extent do you have a say in what gets added? Does the 3D department very specifically say “it needs fire coming from X, Y and Z” or do you get to play around a bit and pitch ideas?
I pretty much just get told what to do. By the time the asset gets to me, the concept art team, programmers, 3D modellers and level designers all have an idea of how it works and what it looks like. They just need me to add the final piece. However, if someone asks for something I know isn’t going to look as cool as they think it will, or is going to take more time than it’s worth, I’ll try and steer them in another direction.
Sometimes, if someone asked for something I know is going to take too much time, it can be slightly altered without too much upset… or anyone noticing!
I’ve found that those who work on the creative side of things often have their own unique flair or style that tends to show in their work. Sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle. What would you say yours is?
I wouldn’t say I have a style that can be seen in the final product, I don’t think someone could look at a line-up of work and pick mine out based on the style. But, when it comes to the behind the scenes workflow, I say my style is efficient. Not in a bad way, it’s just that I always look for the shortest route. My tutor once told me that if it takes more than 5 minutes, there is probably a faster way. It’s kind of on my mantra. Often, when I create something, and say, it takes me 40 minutes to finish it, I start over and try to find a faster, more efficient way to do it. Sometimes, it works, other times, there is no shortcut. I sometimes recoil when someone shows me their process and I just want to cut the time it takes in half!
Do you prefer going over the top with some effects like explosions, blasts, or bleeding or do you like to stay realistic?
I prefer over the top! Though I also love working on realistic things because it gives me a good challenge to make sure that my effects mimic what we are used to seeing in real life. Although, anytime I get a chance to work on something where I can just go crazy, it’s always a lot of fun!
What game would you cite as having VFX that you consider to be well done, and otherwise inspiring?
Any Blizzard game. I’m a Blizzard fangirl anyway, so I might be a little biased. I always find that playing their games inspires me to go and create my own VFX. I was playing through Diablo 3 last night, and I suddenly stopped because something inspired me to have a go at recreating it.
To any readers intrigued by VFX, what would you say is a good starting point. Any tips? And what software do you prefer to use when working on VFX?
I started by watching the Unreal Engine cascade tutorial on YouTube. It’s a good starting point for VFX in games and teaches almost everything you need to know to start creating your own. My main tools would be Adobe Photoshop, Unreal Engine 4 and 3DS Max, although they can be changed to whatever software people are comfortable with. I’ve recently started learning how to make VFX in Unity and the process isn’t all that different. I sometimes use Adobe After Effects to create spritesheets, but only on rare occasions.
What would you say is the most memorable thing you’ve made for Frontwire Studios thus far?
I’ve made some weapons effects that I really enjoyed creating and can’t wait to see how they look when everything comes together!
I think we’ve covered your job as a VFX artist in sufficient detail. So, let’s now take the opportunity to learn more about the person behind the effects. Selina, tell me more about yourself.
So, as you already know, I’m a final year art student at Teesside university. Most of my days consist of me playing games, finishing whatever projects I’m working on and trying to invent a machine to add more hours into the day. If by chance I do have some spare time, I love to sit somewhere quiet and take some time to just read.
What’s your favorite food and how do you feel about spaghetti on toast?
Lasagna, hands down. Not a fan of spaghetti (too much spaghetti hoops as a child) but beans on toast with cheese is a gift from the gods.
What is the most disgusting thing you’ve ever had in your mouth?
My mum once put vinegar on my fingers to try and stop me from biting my nails. I forgot about it and was instantly filled with regret! I still can’t bare the smell of vinegar to this day. Brussels sprouts are a close second. Luckily, for me, my brother once threw up after eating them so we don’t have them anymore!
And on that rather foul tasting bombshell, our interview draws to an end. Thank you very much for your time, Selina.
Thanks for reading! Be sure to keep an eye on the Frontwire blog for our next developer interview!
-The Frontwire Community Team