Growing up with a love of the arts, Celine de Wijs followed her instinct to pursue a career in games. She creates stunning visuals for the effects you see in Horizon Forbidden West, while learning something new every day!
Visual Effects Artist Celine de Wijs talks to us about the games that inspired her, the studies that led her to her career, and all about visual effects in games.
Hi Celine! Thank you for chatting with us today. Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Hi, I’m Celine! I grew up here in the Netherlands, in a small village called Ophemert, located in Gelderland.
What kinds of things did you enjoy doing while growing up?
I’ve always been very creative, but usually on the more analytical side of things. I loved drawing and painting, but preferred coloring inside the lines instead of outside of them. I enjoyed making jewelry and making things with Perler beads, but I enjoyed organizing everything by color once I had to tidy up even more. I also enjoyed reading books, singing, dancing, playing guitar and knitting – and I still do.
Did you like playing games growing up as well?
Of course – as a game developer, I can’t leave out how I loved playing games! For me, it started out with a GameBoy Advance SP and the first game that I was allowed to pick for my birthday, Hamtaro Ham-Ham Heartbreak. I loved this game to the moon and back.
Later, I got a Nintendo DS Lite and fell in love with the Professor Layton games. These are still my favorite games to this date.
Aside from that, I also remember fighting a lot with my sister over who could play The Sims on the PC. Sometimes my parents would get so fed up with our fighting, so neither of us was allowed to play which put us both in the depths of despair.
Did you have an “aha” moment that maybe, you could do something with video games in your life?
Yes! The moment I knew I was truly sold to games as something important in my life was when my dad got my uncle’s PS3. He bought the first two Assassin’s Creed games, as well as Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood and Revelations. I watched my dad play them and then I played them myself. I even watched my sister play them as well, because I couldn’t get enough of them. This was around the time I was in my last couple of years of high school.
Where did this realization take you after high school?
After high school, I went to Fontys in Tilburg to study Communication (International, Event, Music & Entertainment Studies), but during the first half of the year I realized instead of managing and talking about creative things, I wanted to make things myself – so I left the program.
It’s great you followed your instinct rather than seeing how this played out! What did you decide to do after leaving the program?
I spent months working on a portfolio with drawings, paintings, and a bit of 3D modeling, which I had never done before! I wanted to study Game Art at the HKU (Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht). Unfortunately I was not immediately accepted, but put on a waiting list. After a few stressful weeks, I got a message that I got a place and was invited for the introduction the next week!
What did you learn in the Game Art program? Did it kickstart your inspiration to pursue your current field of interest?
In my first year, I learned about game engines and programming for the first time, and I enjoyed working with these things so much I decided to switch my study from Game Art to Game Development in my second year, which was more focused on the technical aspects of making games and contained lots of programming classes.
At the end of that year I started to miss making art and even considered switching back, but then we fortunately learned about programming shaders. For me, this was the “aha!” moment everyone is desperately searching for during their studies, and I found something I wanted to pursue. By doing lots of shader tutorials and research on the internet, I discovered Visual Effects as a discipline and was immediately sold.
That must’ve been a great moment. Once you discovered Visual Effects, how did this bring you to Guerrilla?
I came to Guerrilla as an intern in my third year of my Game Development study. Since my first year at the school, I have been a big fan of Horizon Zero Dawn. Aside from the fact that everyone wanted to land an internship at the biggest AAA studio in the country, I also had a deep desire to learn about how every aspect of one of my favorite games were made.
What is Visual Effects in games?
Visual Effects (VFX) contain a very broad area of things you see in games, but simply put it’s the visual things that are not objects or characters.
In Horizon, these are holograms, fires, explosions, lasers, dust clouds, electricity, smoke, lava, water splashes, waterfalls, and many more. These are usually used to emphasize important information in the design or story of a game.
How does your work cross over with other teams?
Early on in a project, it’s very important to create a library of elements we can use later to create more bespoke effects from. This library contains looping footage of fire, smoke, splashes, etc.
On the VFX team, we all work together to create this library. During the creation of this and the creation of the effects that make it into the game, we give each other a lot of feedback and buddy check each other’s work to make sure it’s of the right quality and style.
We get a lot of input from Art Direction, who determine what our effects should look like to make sure it fits the style of our games. Once we implement our effects into the game, we work together with the Game Design and Tech Design teams so everything behaves as expected.
With so many moving parts in making visual effects, what are some challenges you often face?
Something that’s challenging about making visual effects is to keep everything nice and organized.
Once we create an effect, there will be lots of feedback rounds and requests to change things. It’s very tempting to just make quick changes and “glue everything together”, instead of making something that’s easy to read for other VFX artists so they could iterate on it as well if need be.
We must also always keep an eye on how our effects affect the performance of the game.
What do you like the most about making visual effects?
I love how it requires a lot of different kinds of skills and software. Being a good visual effects artist means being good at learning new things.
Aside from being able to navigate our game engine which contains the Particle and Shader Editors, we also use different kinds of 3D software to create models, and different kinds of 2D software to create textures with. Other skills include but are not limited to knowing about animation timing, values and color theory, math, and of course communication with other teams as well as knowing a bit of how other disciplines in game development work.
In game development you are never done learning, but I think in visual effects this is especially the case.
Can you share your most favorite thing you’ve worked on at Guerrilla?
It was an effect I did on Horizon Forbidden West, which we call the Gaia Dome or HUB Dome. It’s the huge dome in the HUB used for showing different locations around the game world. The moment the player selects a location there is this “loading sequence”, which I made based on concept art by Ryan Cashman.
When I saw this concept art my first thought was “how the … am I ever going to be able to make this?”—?all my favorite effects started out this way—but I just started somewhere and after lots of time, experimentation, and feedback I managed to create what we have in the game now.
Visual Effects is such a creative and technical discipline of game development. What’s your advice for those who would like to follow your path?
Start learning and do not stop! Follow tutorials on how to make effects in Unreal Engine or Unity, learn how to work with Houdini, learn how to make shaders, learn how to make particle effects and then—most importantly—create your own effects!
Start experimenting, find references from real life or from movies and try to recreate them, ask for feedback on forums and apply it to your work. A great place to start is https://realtimevfx.com/.
Best of luck!