Career Advice: Working as an Unreal Engine Real-Time Artist

Career Advice: Working as an Unreal Engine Real-Time Artist

Meet Paula Reboleiro Regalado, a butic The New School graduate who transitioned from traditional architecture to become an Unreal Engine Real Time Artist. Discover her inspiring journey and gain valuable advice for aspiring artists in the field of visualisation.

Interested in a career as an Unreal Engine Real Time Artist? butic The New School Graduate Paula Reboleiro Regalado chats with us about her journey from traditional Architecture to working as an Unreal Engine Real Time Artist, and imparts her advice for other aspiring Artists looking to forge a career in visualisation.

The Journey

What’s your current role and what does it involve?

Currently I am working as an Unreal Engine Real Time Artist. I’m involved in projects of different natures which allows me to keep learning and exploring different fields and workflows.

In addition, for the past year I have been combining my work with teaching, since I have become part of the wonderful team of professionals at the school where I studied myself, butic The New School.

Where do you work and what type of projects are they involved with?

Working as a freelancer I have the chance to collaborate with different companies.

I did my first professional work with BIM2VR, company founded by my former professors at butic The New School. They were the first ones to give me the opportunity to set foot in this industry. The company is focused on creating experiences related to architectural environments and we have developed projects of different types: architectural visualization, video an image, VR, web 3D...

Another company with which I collaborate on a regular basis is Surreal Bytes, focused on real-time content creation for 3D virtual environments for the audiovisual industry. In fact both, with the support of butic The New School, have collaborated in the creation of the short film Silenze, in which I participated as a student last year. It will be one of the participants in The Rookie awards this year so don’t miss it!

And finally, as I mentioned before I’ve been an Unreal Engine Instructor since last year. You can't imagine how much I have learned thanks to this part of my work! As a teacher you have to always be updated, learning and renewing yourself to give your students 100%. And it is so fulfilling to watch them grow and create amazing projects...I can’t even explain it in words.

I also had the opportunity to be one of the mentors selected by Epic Games in Europe during the Summer of Unreal 2022. If you are curious, you can take a look at some of the projects that my students did in this link.

When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?

I started my professional career as an architect, working in different architectural firms in Madrid. I realised that it wasn’t exactly my fit. Do you know that sensation when you are wearing something too tight, or that make you feel unconfortable? Well, something like that. So I decided to keep exploring those parts of the work that attracted me the most. I really love design in all its forms: industrial design, graphic design, I did a master's degree in interior design at the European Institute of Design (IED). It was an amazing experience but I still hadn't figured out what I really wanted to do.

Work by Paula on short film Silenze

It was then when I decided to study for a master's degree in real-time visualisation at butic The New School. At first to add another skill as a professional more than as a new career path. But I discovered Unreal Engine and I have been working as a Real Time Artist since then.

I remember clearly my first big project as a student, a shortfilm called A bug in my fruit, where I build an environment I had designed in the Interior Design master, and that feeling of seeing an idea come to life in that way is unforgettable.

How did you get your first big break?

My teachers were the first to give me a chance. The first step into the industry was thanks to them and I will always be thankful for that.

My first big break...if I’m honest I don’t know if that has happened already. I am just working on projects I am interested in, figuring out every step of the way and learning, and evolving...I have to say that I’m not one of those that has their professional path crystal clear.

I am just finding my way, discovering strengths and overcoming obstacles, building skills and trying to do everything I can to became a better professional every day.

Describe the journey you took into your current role.

As I mentioned before, I studied architecture and started my professional career as an architect. Everything learned since then influences the way I work (I’m super methodical and organised) and the vision for each project. More than one reading these lines knows what I am talking about.

Studying and working as an Interior Designer gave me another perspective on the spaces I would create later on.

Finally the journey as an Unreal Engine Real Time Artist has just begun not that long ago and I’m still discovering where do I belong. You start with a first job and give your best every time so more projects and growth come after it. I am at that point where I don’t say no to anything. I keep doors open to every amazing project to come.

Why did you choose to study at butic The New School?

Well, you know that there is no better publicity than word of mouth. A friend of mine had studied there and she was so happy with the school that I decided to ask them for more information. When I discovered that it was the first school authorised in Spain by Epic Games and other leading companies in the industry I finally made up my mind and went for it!

Who would have thought that after a few years I would be part of their team as a teacher! Thanks to them I also had the opportunity to participate in the Summer of Unreal 2022 as a mentor, one of those experiences that made me believe that I could be a good teacher.

It’s been one of those apparently little decisions in your life that change the course of the years to come.

How does your education complement your work?

I am convinced that one can’t go without the other. To be in this industry implies that your education has to keep going. You have to keep learning and evolving. You know you’re going to find things you don’t know how to do every day and you have to be fine with that. Your education gives you the necessary tools to figure it out every time and is that strong foundation that allows you to keep growing.

Day in the life

Describe a typical day for you and your team.

I have to say that for me there is not a typical work day right now. As a Real Time Artist some days start with a meeting with the team, or if you have a project on your own, it depends on where you are in the process: maybe you’re looking for inspiration and modeling, or maybe you’re creating some new props or materials with Substance 3D, or maybe you’re working with the scene in Unreal...everyday is different.

Student work by Paula

As a teacher some days you’re preparing some project for your classes or mentoring your students to prepare their projects for The Rookies! (Good luck to them, your projects are amazing!) Other times you’re learning some new skills or a new tool to teach them...It is awesome when you learn something new and the first think that comes to your mind is: oh they’re going to love this!

I haven’t run into anything typical about this job just yet.

What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?

My essential tool is Unreal Engine and all the amazing resources that Epic Games offers us and when I have to model or texture or create new materials I use softwares from Autodesk, Adobe and other applications.

What does your workflow look like?

Everything starts with a PureRef panel to create an inspirational board. Before starting anything it’s better to look for as many references as posible so the idea of what you have to create is more clear on your mind.

After that I break down all the work into little tasks. That way you realize the magnitude of the work and you can distinguish between what is done and what remains to be done.

And then I put on my headphones (Italian radio, Radio Deejay rules!) and start to model based on my board references. Trying to export everything into Unreal as soon as possible helps you to understand where you have to put your efforts - what parts of the scene are going to be close to the camera for example (if it is a video or an image, this doesn’t apply to VR), and to start making final decisions about the scene.

When all that part is a little more clear you can start to work on the atmosphere you want to create, light, materials, main assets...

Which departments and key people do you work closely with?

It depends on the project. Usually the whole team works side by side and depending on the client you work more closely with the construction department, or with the design department, maybe with developers... there is no fixed rule.

Well, if you talk about industry trends you have to talk about AI, right? I am researching on the topic to see how to include it in my workflow as a tool that can improve my results and help me to be more creative.

One thing you’d never change about your job.

The freedom that real time gives us. If you love experimenting and be able to see all the changes instantly it’s great to work with Unreal.

But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is?

Friendly message to Epic Games: guys, would you consider evolving a little bit slower? I struggle to keep up with you! Obviously I’am half joking, everybody knows they are doing an amazing job developing Unreal. It is just that sometimes it’s a little overwhelming.

Career Advice

Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?

I don’t think formal education is essential, especially in this industry. As I mentioned before I’m an architect so I know both formal and not formal education since I later specialised in this sector by means of a Master's Degree in a non formal school. I am more than convinced that the important thing is not the title but acquiring the specific knowledge and skills to develop your work.

And now that I’m on the other side, teaching in the same non-formal school where I was a student once, I am also aware of the effort it takes to prepare classes, to think about the best way to explain something and to keep your students interested, to make them discover their abilities and to make them want to continue creating. I can only be thankful to butic The New School to give me the chance to discover that I also love this part of my job.

What tasks would you be typically asked to do as an artist?

I  have been lucky enough to be involved in a large part of the development process of the projects in which I have collaborated.

For example, with the short film Silenze in which I participated when I was still a student, I was part of the team from the very very first brainstorming sessions where we were shaping the ideas, to the last days when we were shooting the live scenes. And I have to say that it is amazing to be part of the whole process.

Work by Paula on short film Silenze

Right now I'm working on tasks in the modeling and mapping phase, preparing the scenes in Unreal, lighting, texturing, creating new materials, working with have to have a lot of skills and gradually acquire new ones. Never stop learning!

What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?

I haven’t had to hire anyone so far but if I had to, I guess sensitivity and a great artistic vision are important. It is also essential to find someone willing to take on challenges and willing to not know everything. We are working in an industry that is evolving super fast and it is important not to fall behind. We have to be very proactive and resourceful.

It is also important to feel a connection in terms of way of working. Empathy, maturity and of course a strong set of skills are always welcome.

What skills seem to be missing all too often?

Learning to listen to others. I know it sounds silly but it is very common to meet people who try to impose their point of view to the team. This work is very collaborative, it is part of its magic.

There are many people involved in each project and learning to listen and create the best with everyone's opinions is a fundamental skill.

Of course at the end someone has to be responsible for taking the final decisions and artistic direction but learning how to make the entire team feel involved and a part of the project is essential.

Describe your attitude towards your job.

My attitude is similar to the one described in the previous answer. I find essential to be open to things you don’t know and to new challenges. I have to admit that I’m still new in this industry and I panic from time to time when I see something that I don’t really know how to do. In those moments it helps me a lot to analyse the situation, to break down the project into small manageable tasks and to have a plan. That way little by little you can start facing the biggest challenges one step at a time.

Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you implement it into your work?

My inspiration comes from many different sources: a great film, a new book, an awesome exhibition, returning home by a different route...Try to challenge your mind to see different streets, to see your surroundings in a different way...

I can tell you that facing your screen 14 hours a day is not the most effective way to get inspired (nor the healthiest either). I know sometimes is not easy taking some distance from our computers but if you don’t expose yourself to feel new things and to discover new places, new artists and, in the end, new experiences, it is pretty hard to create something new that can also inspire others.

Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio.

Mmm, this is a tough one...I don’t think there is a secret project that you must have on your portfolio (if I am wrong and there’s one, please contact me and tell me right away!) I honestly think that those years as a student you should experiment with those crazy ideas that allow you to let go and discover your voice and your style, because that will be what makes you unique.

Student work by Paula

What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for Jobs?

If I have to name one is undervaluing your work. I know it might seem like the logical first step to get more jobs but the truth is that it can undervalue your talent and makes more challenging to increase your rates in the future.

It is not easy to figure out how much your work is worth so my advice is, the more data you have the easier it is to get it right. Start by writing down how long it takes you to do each job. Research the market and your competitors and little by little you will begin to see what is a fair price and what is not.

If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?

I guess I would tell them that this is a really long process, be patient if the results don’t come right away. Enjoy every step of the way, celebrate those small things that make you grow: when you manage to create that atmosphere that you had in your mind, when you create a new material that looks exactly the way you wanted, when you get a blueprint to do what you want it to do (oh yeah)...those are our everyday victories, don’t take them for granted!

If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?

Please, trust yourself and have fun! Sometimes we get caught in the moment taking our jobs way too seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that our jobs are not important or that we don’t have to be professionals, I am saying that if you don’t enjoy the process, what’s the point?

So, in a nutshell. You are capable of much more than you think you can do and being afraid to fail will get you nowhere. Have fun, try to do your best and everything that comes from there will be a plus.

Paula Reboleiro Regalado is a Spanish former architect and interior designer currently working as an Unreal Engine Real Time Artist and teacher.