The TECH TRACK series sheds light on the developers of projects currently under development by NC. Take a look at the various jobs and the career path that has been built to become an expert.
The third person we will be introducing is Lighting Artist Kim Chae Hyun from the Project <LLL> Lighting Team.
LLL | Open World MMORPG Shooter. A game that combines captivating storytelling and shooting gameplay in a science fiction universe where the 10th-century Byzantium, 21st-century Seoul, and a 23rd-century futuristic society coexist.
TRACK 1 | my CAREER
The Creator of Lights in Games
Designing the Color, Intensity, and Direction of Lights in a Scene
Lighting is the task of creating and presenting all types of light within a game's visuals. Light is a crucial element that determines the overall ambiance and realism of a game. Lighting artists design the colors, intensity, and direction of lights in the visuals of a game so that the players can better immerse themselves into the game and its story.
Forcefully creating flashy visuals is never the best approach when it comes to game lighting. At times, they need to be presented subtly. In fact, it is more challenging to achieve a stylish lighting effect while maintaining a sense of subtlety. I believe that good game lighting ultimately provides players with a special and memorable gameplay experience, allowing them to immerse themselves in the game without any sense of disharmony and feeling connected to the characters. It is just as similar to witnessing a piece of art. We are going through various simulations and research to create a single visual that could elicit feedback like "The game's atmosphere is phenomenal" or "The immersion is incredible."
(Lighting tests in train station scene. The atmosphere changes completely depending on how light is used.)
Minute Differences in Light Can Create Dramatic Effects
Project <LLL> focuses on creating a creepy atmosphere as its main concept. When the amount of light available in a dark scene is limited, even a small light can significantly impact the overall atmosphere, making the task more challenging. Because of this, our main focus is to work out how to design with limited light in order to achieve the most realistic, yet dramatic, visuals.
One of the places where we had to go through the most trials and errors was the Bongeunsa Station scene that was first showcased in the trailer. Bongeunsa Station was designed with the concept of no electricity available, which limited the use of extensive lighting in that scene. If we worked with limited lighting, the characters wouldn't be visible, and if we increased indirect lighting to brighten everything, it would lead to a loss of depth in the scene. After multiple rounds of feedback and testing, we were able to create the current look in the game.
(Scene inside Bongeunsa Station)
Currently, we are expanding the COEX area in the video, and as the size of the location has grown, its significance has also increased. Once level work is complete, we create a lighting plan to determine which atmosphere would be more suitable among the key concepts within a weekly timeframe for the lighting setup.This work consists of collecting references, sharing directionality with the team, and then visualizing concepts.We are currently testing within the gloomy keywords for Project LLL, exploring variations without deviating significantly from the overall theme.
(Expanded floor plan of Bongeunsa Station)
CAREER PATH | Becoming a "Game Lighting Artist"
After graduating with a degree in animation, I started my career as a freelance 2D animator. I handled everything from character design to directing, animating, editing, and any other tasks that came my way. Afterward, I joined an advertising company that mainly focused on 3D game cinematics. One year later, when the team was being divided, I chose to specialize in lighting. Even though it wasn't related to drawing, I found it fascinating that I could use lighting to create stories and set moods.
Around 2019, game trailers started to reveal game footage with graphics quality equivalent to offline renders using Unreal Engine 4 (UE4). I saw the potential to achieve movie-like quality using game engines and felt inspired to create something myself. I decided to move to the gaming industry and started working as a game lighting artist at NC, my current position.
Developing Games With an Artist's Eye
We, lighting artists, make images captivating. That's why having a good discerning eye is crucial. I believe that analyzing why good artwork is excellent and progressively accumulating experience in creating art yourself are essential aspects of growth for a lighting artist. Paintings, films, AAA games, photographs, and all other visual sources become vital reference materials in my line of work.
At the same time, a fundamental knowledge of the development engine is essential. Ultimately, games are meant to be played and not just watched; hence, optimization is mandatory for lighting as well. However, having a separate lighting team also signifies the project's commitment to the visual aspects. Our task is to research how to achieve the desired quality in the most lightweight and optimized way possible, while staying true to the production's intent. To achieve this, one must possess an artistic vision and a good discerning eye, along with a fundamental understanding and knowledge in game development.
TRACK 2 | my PROJECT
Diving Deep With Dedication in R&D
Creating Evidence for Persuasion in Order To Bring About Change
Project <LLL> Lighting Team recently transitioned from using UE4 engine to UE5. The Lighting Team is currently in the process of transitioning from UE4's lighting plugin, Enlighten1, to UE5's Lumen. Switching engines when the lighting setup is already in place is a significant undertaking that demands considerable time and effort. Nevertheless, our team embraced the transition because we firmly believed that it was essential to achieve the ultimate goal of creating an optimized, high-quality game. And to convince others on this, our team conducted a series of meticulous experiments to build up evidence.
The following are some tests conducted to demonstrate how UE5's Lumen outperforms UE4's Enlighten under the same conditions and environments.
1An external UE4 plugin that does lightweight real-time G.I. calculations. It has been modified to be used for Project LLL systems.
Global Illumination (G.I.) Issue
The most significant achievement was the R&D work that demonstrated the quality difference between UE4's Enlighten and UE5's Lumen in simulating global illumination (G.I.), a diffuse reflection algorithm, which is crucial for realistic lighting in 3D graphics. Until the release of UE5, real-time global illumination processing in games was considered one of the most computationally expensive systems. In UE4, Enlighten served as an alternative to represent Dynamic Global Illumination (Dynamic G.I.) at a relatively lower cost. However, depending on the surrounding environment and the state of assets, it often resulted in incorrect shadows and G.I.
Ultimately, UE5's Lumen showed significant visual superiority over Enlighten. The indirect lighting achieved by Enlighten was very inaccurate and failed to properly render shadows compared to UE5's Lumen or path tracing.
(Indirect lighting comparison between Enlighten, Lumen, and Path Tracing)
Furthermore, we conducted additional R&D to showcase the actual differences in visuals when Project <LLL> assets were directly transferred to UE5's Lumen without any modifications. It was clear that even with the same assets applied, Enlighten's results were much less accurate than Lumen's. It is evident that Enlighten's representation of the front building's wall texture is significantly rougher in comparison.
Reflection Capture Error Issue
When using Enlighten in UE4, we used a volume actor called Reflection Capture. It's an actor that is placed in a scene to enable Enlighten to accurately reflect within the space where the volume is installed. However, the actor sometimes produced inconsistent results depending on Enlighten's quality settings. Under proper lighting conditions, as shown in the image on the right, the colors of the space should blend to achieve proper light reflection. However, in our previous setup, as shown in the image on the left, the reflection occurred without considering the influence of light in the space.
In addition, we have conducted a series of lighting comparison experiments using various locations and assets. The entire team was involved throughout this process, to conduct multi-faceted R&D. Through this R&D effort, we confirmed that UE5's Lumen outperforms UE4's Enlighten, and with concrete evidence of it, we were able to transition to UE5.
The source of motivation behind such meticulous R&D efforts stems from the pride of those working on Project <LLL>, who aim to create a visually stunning and polished AAA game. Our team is fully prepared to dive into even more meticulous research and experiments, striving to achieve even higher quality and further optimized results.
TRACK 3 | my ENVIRONMENT
Broadening Spectrum of Experience To Grow Even Further
People With a Discerning Eye
The Lighting Team consists of 4 people. Our team leader has 11 years of experience in the gaming industry as a modeler and lighting artist. The other two team members and myself come from advertising companies specializing in game cinematics. Everyone is a professional with a lot of experience. And they have an "eye" for things as artists and technicians. Our team leader readily provides answers to any questions we have while working. Almost like a dictionary. I'm also often amazed by the references my team members bring. I truly feel that those with a keen eye are excellent at selecting references as well. I learn a lot by observing the results alongside my team.
We basically work autonomously. Unless there are scheduled meetings, we have a high degree of flexibility in terms of work hours. I believe this is only possible due to the high level of trust between the team leader and our members. We share a lot in common since we all come from the advertising industry, and we find support in each other when the work becomes challenging or difficult.
Gaining Experience Through Hands-on Work
After transitioning from a non-gaming field, I often felt that I lacked understanding and knowledge of the gaming industry and its content. In such situations, I tend to learn by observing, listening, and gaining hands-on experience as much as possible.
NC provides a favorable environment for testing games and accessing resources without any restraint, so during the early days of my employment, I made an effort to fully utilize the internal resources available. Even now I still have a PlayStation and CDs at my desk that I purchased with the department budget. I was planning on experiencing the endings of AAA games one by one. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time playing games like <The Last of Us Part II>, <The Callisto Protocol>, <The Division 2>, and more. I was able to develop an eye and sense for similar game genres by collecting video references while playing the games myself.
I also pay attention to the careers and stories of various people, even outside of my job. I believe that listening to the experiences of those different from mine ultimately enriches my personal growth. My favorite content is materials covering the production process of NC's R&D projects, as well as interview articles and video content like Dev Talks. As I work, I try to accumulate experiences by delving into the thoughts and experiences of my coworkers that have not occurred to me. From their challenges, achievements, work philosophies, the path they have taken so far, and to their future plans; I collect their experiences to gain valuable knowledge.