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Blowing shit up

Making games used to be simple. You only needed a dozen people and twelve months – or in our case, maybe a bit longer, but you get the point. These days game development teams are huge and have many specialists. One these specialists is Elmeri Raitanen, who works as a Lead Visual Effects Artist.

Originally Elmeri joined Remedy to do post-processing work for Alan Wake’s cinematics, and later on, he became the main VFX Artist for Quantum Break. The entire studio’s and VFX team’s work in Quantum Break was recently nominated at the Visual Effects Society awards in the real-time category. While we lost out on the award, our VFX team attended the event.

Elmeri Raitanen, Lead VFX Artist at Remedy

Before we get into that, let’s talk about a VFX artist actually does…

Elmeri, as one of our VFX people, do you just blow shit up in our games? Can you explain what VFX artists actually do?

Mainly blow shit up.

No, but seriously, the title Visual Effects Artist in a video game seems to be quite a broad term, and depending on what you bring to the table and what the projects need, the tasks can vary tremendously. For example even with the same title here at Remedy, VFX Artists specialize in very different areas: one is a monster with detailed destruction simulations, the other can take care of all things interactive in a gunfight / action segment, and one takes care of compositing and polishing the final image with atmospherics, post-processing and even color correction.

What specific things did you work on Quantum Break?

I was there right from the jump, so I have to say probably the biggest thing was coming up with the visual language of broken time with the Art Director of the game.

How did you tasks and processes change throughout the development of Quantum Break?

In the beginning of the project, I was the only VFX Artist in the project – and to be precise, the only one in the whole company, too.

Naturally, at the start of any game project, there’s a lot of prototyping and brainstorming. From the story perspective, we had a rather unique case in our hands, after all. Not every day someone asks you to visualize something being in an “indefinite state of quantum superposition”. We desperately wanted to keep any traditional sci-fi and fantasy elements out of the equation, and make all the effects resemble actual scientific phenomena.

Later in the project, we were able to get a couple of super-talented VFX Artists to join the project, and since I had most knowledge of the project and tools, I ended up in more of a lead position towards the end.

Currently you are working on CROSSFIRE 2, which is the first time Remedy is creating a first person shooter. What kind of a challenge has that been so far when it comes to VFX?

From the visual effects point of view, it’s actually surprisingly different. For example, the weapon you use and all the effects related to the weapon happen a lot closer to the camera, so you have to find a balance between quality, size and duration of those effects more carefully.

We also keep running into some technical accuracy issues that we didn’t need to worry about in previous projects when the player camera was further away.

For those who want to get into working on VFX in video games, what advice would you give them?

Pet projects.

I went to a great school myself, but I feel I learned even more from some stupid, ridiculous pet projects we did with friends on the weekends or after school. When you work on something not so serious, but something you really want to finish, you learn a lot. Don’t be afraid to try new things and fail gloriously.

In addition, it’s important to remember you don’t have to be perfect in everything. Master one thing you really love working with, and know enough about other disciplines and techniques so you can “speak the same language” and collaborate more efficiently with your colleagues.

You recently went to the prestigious Visual Effects Society awards in Los Angeles, where your team’s work on Quantum Break was nominated for best real-time effort. How was the event?

That trip felt surreal.

And only partly because of jetlag.

I sincerely hope it wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it easily could be. Winning the category would have been even better, but hearing from peers and colleagues at the gala that they were really impressed by our work, and that they were absolutely sure we were going to win, was an intense motivational booster.

Also, you got to wear a tux. Rarely do you get to wear a tux 😉

Your meme game is pretty strong here at the studio. Where do you come up with your video ideas?

I just wanted to share some awesome news with my friends, and thought short videos would be the perfect way to deliver them. Apparently, they were funny enough for people outside the office as well.

Maybe if I ever stop working with video games, I will earn a living making funny videos on YouTube 😉