What software do real time VFX artists use in AAA game studios?

My understanding is most AAA game studios use their own custom game engines. So do all custom game engines have visual scripting and stuff like Niagara in them for artists to use? Are AAA studio real time VFX artists able to buy any pre-existing effects for use in their games if they are using custom game engines? Does software like Houdini work for real time VFX or just static 3d VFX?

Are all those Unreal Engine and Unity tutorials for various VFX on YouTube all for indie game devs and not for professionals working in AAA studios?

bump. Still looking for a few opinions.

Not 100% sure but I think both Houdini and Embergen by JangaFX are used on AAA productions, the latter mostly for fire, smoke and explosions.
You can use Houdini to create sprite sheets from a simulation, through the Mosaic node, which you can then import in the engine you’re working with.
That’s all I know, but I’m sure there are a lot more things you can do with Houdini.

*Edit: It’s worth mentioning that with the free license of Houdini, you’ll have a watermark on each frame of the mosaic, and will only be allowed to export images in a limited size. also you won’t be allowed to export any mesh.

Not sure what the stats are, but I doubt that’s true anymore. It was true 10 or 15 years ago – a studio’s game engine was part of its “secret sauce” which made their games stand out. But as with most technologies, game engines evolved and commoditized. Now Unreal is as sophisticated as most in-house engines, and it makes much more sense for smaller studios: they don’t need to sink money into developing an engine, and they don’t need to sink money into training new artists – they already know Unreal. (Same applies to Unity)

I think it’s mostly larger, and higher-profile studios which use in-house engines these days. Pretty sure Ubisoft has one. Insomniac probably does – they’ve always had a big engine team. EA probably does. Probably pieces of Activision/Microsoft/whatever.

There are plenty of prominent titles on Unreal and Unity these days. “Returnal,” for example, is Unreal-based.

We do use 3rd party assets at times; but it’s a slippery slope. Effects aren’t engines – they’re not that difficult to develop. You might save a little time using one; but, you open yourself up to bugs. So, does your money go into development or QA? It’s a tradeoff.

My current project has some 3rd party assets, but I’m pretty sure we’ll phase them out/redo them ourselves over time.

We use Houdini for lots of stuff. But Houdini doesn’t have a runtime component – it’s strictly for creating and editing assets. A typical use, for example, is rendering texture flipbooks for things like fluid sims, and then importing those textures into Unreal and using them in Niagara. But there are more sophisticated cases. SideFX has a whole showcase on their website.

Well, there’s a question…

Yes, they’re primarily by and for hobbyists/indie devs. But since they’re ubiquitous, they’ve kinda taken over. So, I, as a professional, have to watch them, too (which I find endlessly frustrating). Epic, for example, has very minimal documentation/training videos given the complexity of their engine . That’s why they support the hobbyist culture – free documentation!

So, they shouldn’t be for professionals; but they are, these days. (By my opinion is a little biased – I’m old. Give me text over video any time. :stuck_out_tongue:)


The majority of the time I’ve spent in the industry (at EA, Avalanche, Blizzard, etc) has been working in proprietary game engines. There are some similarities and some differences from Unreal and Unity, it’s similar to using different 3D softwares. Concepts carry over, even if the interface or approach is different.

My advice is that software is just software, no matter where you end up working there will be a new piece of software that you will have to learn. When hiring artists, I haven’t cared too much about whether they were really knowledgable in Unreal or Unity or Houdini or whatever, I cared about whether they were able to make cool stuff. So pick whatever software you want, focus on your art fundamentals, make cool stuff, and you’ll be good!