What does a lead real time artist actually do?

In this feature, we take a look inside the working lives of people whose job titles often warrant the question: 'but what do you actually do?' This week, we speak to Pepin Portingale, lead real-time artist at Spinifex.

When the words “real-time artist” are mentioned, many different images may immediately jump to mind. Does it involve a kind of wizard who alters time and space and then throws it onto a canvas to make art? Or perhaps nothing comes to mind and instead there is the assumption that this title is merely a few industry buzzwords that mean very little.

So what is real-time? Maybe the wizard analogy isn’t that far off. Real-time involves a suite of technologies that have been used in the gaming world for decades. High powered gaming engines allow the creation of experiences and virtual worlds that can be experienced as either interactive or in a passive way. Other programmes like Maya and after-effects may still be part of the pipeline, but they are integrated into a real-time scene. This allows everything from real-time rendering, thus providing quicker and easier ways for a client to review and request changes, to walking around a scene and interacting with elements within the virtual world.

The main difference between being a traditional 2D/3D artist is that a real-time artist also needs to be a programmer to some extent. Everything from animation in engine to making an item interactive requires code. That’s what makes it so exciting at the same time as challenging.

As an all-rounder who works in 3D animation, both real-time and pre-rendered, a typical day could consist of anything from 3D modelling, lighting, rigging, shading, animating, editing, compositing or mastering and integrating audio.

In broader strokes, at the beginning of a job, a lot of time might be spent considering which approach would be the most cost effective whilst providing the best level of quality possible, for example, what program to use, whether it’s 3D, 2D or real-time or a blend of them all. That can involve some rapid prototyping, render tests, or perhaps a quick animatic.

Once everyone is satisfied with the ‘proof of concept’, the process will move on to building the content, refining animations and getting the general look of the project to a level that everyone is happy with.

A good day as a lead real-time artist is when you just nail it! Either by finally solving a problem that has perplexed you for ages, or just getting a scene looking and feeling right straight off the bat. When your colleagues or clients appreciate what you’ve done, and you’re proud of the work you’ve produced, that’s the most rewarding part of the job. It’s always really cool to see people looking at what I have done along the way in a VR headset, tossing there heads around in amazement at what the environment looks like that I created or seeing it within an experience on a large scale.

Pepin with Tracey Taylor, Spinifex’s managing director APAC

On the other side of the coin, like everyone even real-time ‘wizards’ can have challenging days. Sometimes it can just be really hard to “get into” a part of a project. As a creative, you can’t just plug away at the work like in other occupations. If you can’t find inspiration, or get a vision in your head as to what a job should look like it can be really challenging to get back into the flow of things. What else makes for a bad day? Technical difficulties! Sometimes you just want to throw your computer out a window!

A true measure of my success on a project has nothing to do with KPIs. For the most part deadlines are the great dictator. The ability to know how long things will take to do, and whether you’re on target to meet the deadlines just comes with experience. Even through the use of real-time, in my opinion, the best way to ensure you meet deadlines is careful planning in the very earliest stages and flagging any unforeseen challenges that will inevitably arise as early as possible.

Being a real-time artist of course can be stressful at times, I am fortunate in that I work with very understanding people who listen to what I have to say. So, for the most part, it’s a relatively stress free environment. I suppose if pushed I would say that as I am an all-rounder I take on large chunks of jobs. Which means that if other projects come in that I am needed on, I can quickly become overwhelmed with work. Having said that, it can be easily rectified by flagging it early and figuring out if we need to get more resources or adjust timelines. Even with real-time being able to speed the process up and provide more clarity into what the client really wants, a hiccup in a timeline is still something that needs to be factored in.

I love being a real-time artist (amongst other things!), it involves a title and skill-set that enables me to be at the forefront of bleeding-edge projects, and that is pretty cool.

Pepin Portingale, lead real-time artist, Spinifex.


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