VFX and Procedural Artist Pierre Villette’s main task is to develop special effects to enhance the player experience.
Explosions. Gunfire. Smoke. And even dust under foot. After having developed special effects for film, Pierre Villette decided to do this for video games. And add yet another skill to the mix: the procedural aspect. Stories went to meet with him.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE WORK YOU DO AS VFX ARTIST AND EXPLAIN WHAT A TYPICAL DAY IN THE PARIS STUDIO LOOKS LIKE?
Pierre Villette VFX are special effects such as smoke and explosions, but it’s also much more than that. It could be the fine dust under players’ feet, or that floating in the air when you enter a room. It could also be a flock of birds in the distance. We try to breathe as much life into the image as possible to fuel the narration, and ensure that there is always something in motion. My first role every morning is checking the status of the tasks in progress, taking care of any possible bugs, and meeting special effects needs as the day progresses. What makes this profession so rich is the work that’s involved with colleagues across the various trades: Sound Designers, Gameplay Programmers, Game Designers and Level Artists, amongst others. After all, an explosion can be beautiful, but if it's misplaced or has a poor sound effect, the full effect will be lost.
BUT HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO CREATE AN EXPLOSION, AN ELEMENT WHICH IS, BY DEFINITION, SOMETHING INTANGIBLE AND THAT YOU CANNOT FORESEE?
P.V. You start off by picking up references. As I can't blow up everything in my basement, I gravitate towards the internet and films, which have a significant impact on video games, especially on the surreal side of certain effects. For example, the fire of an explosion is sometimes filmed in slow motion in order to be more visible and have more impact. The same thing is done in video games. But sometimes we work with the Game Designer to boost certain effects like explosions of the barrels on which we shoot, as a means to provide the best possible response to the gameplay. We manifest an expression of reality, but we have more in common with animated films. And for the creation of certain effects such as explosions, we use 3D software such as Houdini, which offers in particular simulations encompassing above all the pyrotechnic properties of the fluids with which we play. As I like to put it, it’s the whole art of “controlling chaos”.
YOU ALSO WEAR THE HAT OF PROCEDURAL ARTIST. HOW WOULD YOU EXPLAIN THIS ASPECT OF YOUR WORK, A KEY PROCESS IN GAMES DEVELOPMENT?
P.V. Procedural means establishing relevant rules allowing for the areas in which the player evolves to be populated or analyzed. For example, if you want to create a forest, you first need to define what constitutes one according to the laws of nature, its ecosystem, so as to create procedural tools that allow for its development in a logical and realistic way. I always try to find the best solution for the requests I get from my colleagues - Game Designers and Level Artists for example. And the best solution isn’t always the most complicated one. For example, in order to place grass in front of house and show the way in which Mother Nature naturally asserts her rights, I ask for an area type to start iterating and defining the rules that will allow me to respond to this request. Procedural has changed my way of working in the sense that before we worked on micro scales. New tools today allow us to work on very wide scales: currently on land tracts 16km² wide for example, and in future across entire planets. As long as tools are developed to allow this to happen and that they are made accessible. It’s a bit too easy to borrow this phrase from the Spider-Man film, but you could say: “Great power involves great responsibility”.
More to discover on: https://stories.ubisoft.com/article/vfx-procedural-artist/ (French)
CREDITS Author: Vincent Manilève - Graphic Designer: Elie Sitbon - Photographs: Maud Espié - Content Director: Coline Molina