From Autodesk Maya to Unreal Engine, a Closer Look at the Tools Game Art Students Use
Published on Jul 25, 2023 by Greg Lindberg
Game Art students get plenty of hands-on experience using industry-standard software tools in the game art and design space.
In the Game Art bachelor’s degree program at Full Sail University, students gain hands-on experience with several industry-standard design tools that provide a wide range of opportunities for practical application.
Chad Kendall is the program director of Full Sail’s Game Art program, and he says the software the students get to use gives them the building blocks they need to make their creations come to life.
“One of the big things we focus on is pipelines,” Chad explains. “When putting together a game or interactive experience, there is a series of steps you have to go through to get there. We want to make sure we’re taking students through that whole process. We do this through independent and portfolio projects.”
In addition, giving students free reign to create, mess up, and revise is key.
“Conceptually, the way we teach the software is to teach students how to use it like they would a pencil, paper, and eraser,” he says.
Here, Chad discusses some of the software tools utilized in the Game Art program.
Developed by Epic Games, Unreal Engine is a real-time, 3D computer graphics game engine. It uses the C++ programming language.
“The Unreal Engine is the industry’s leading tool for the creation of real-time applications,” Chad says. “It has a robust toolset for artists that includes a visual editor for creating environments, a built-in animation system, a marketplace with many pre-made assets, and ‘Blueprint,’ a visual scripting system to create complex mechanics and interactions without programming knowledge.”
Video games across multiple platforms, visualizations, and cinematic experiences are just a few of the projects users can develop with Unreal Engine, and Chad adds that Full Sail is a current Academic Partner of the software.
Autodesk Maya – or Maya for short – is a leading entertainment 3D DCC (Digital Content Creation) tool that lets artists model, rig, animate, light, and create visual effects. Originally developed by Alias, it is used to create assets for interactive 3D applications across video games, film, and television.
“We have been teaching the latest versions of this software for over 20 years,” Chad says.
Adobe Substance 3D Painter
Adobe Substance 3D Painter offers an asset panel with the tools needed to add texture to 3D objects. These include parametric brushes and smart materials. Users can then view their creations in real time using lighting and shadows through the viewport.
“There has been a lot of 3D software out there, but the others haven’t lasted while this one has,” Chad explains. “If you’re looking to get a job in real-time [art creation], you definitely need to know Painter.”
Adobe Substance 3D Designer
Another Adobe product, Substance 3D Designer, gives users the ability to create materials, patterns, image filters, environment lights, and 3D models. This is done by designing graphs and nodes. These elements allow users to assemble the building blocks of their 3D creations.
“This software is great for crafting textures and materials,” says Chad.
He adds that mastering Substance 3D Designer can help students gain an advantage. “It has a procedural backbone when creating anything with it. If you know [this software] well enough, you can be successful in several realms.”
Additionally, some other software tools students use in the Game Art program are:
- Adobe Photoshop
- Maxon ZBrush
- Motion Analysis Cortex
Along with learning this software, students get to apply their skills to practical projects. For example, Game Art students recently had the opportunity to collaborate with students in the Film program in Full Sail’s recently built virtual production studio, Studio V1. This included several Game Art students who developed virtual scenes for 9 Windows, a feature film shot on campus.
According to Chad, the way in which Full Sail classes are structured allows course directors to offer students the most relevant software skills.
“We can be pretty flexible with what tools we want to introduce in each class as time goes on,” he says. “We can look at the industry and make changes as needed.”
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