Next level VJing with game software – masterclass Unreal

For extra awesome VJ shows, 3D visuals are a popular approach: beauties and beasts,  fairytale forests and space trips: everything is possible! For series, movies and games the impact of 3D animation is even bigger and these three worlds seem to be converging. So, not a surprise that Vjs are experimenting intensively with game software such as Unreal. A prominent upcoming specialist is our own 3D maverick and VJ Henk Nijman aka Shurly. Recently, he shared his knowledge in a masterclass Unreal for all members.

A game engine, what is it?

Unreal by Epic Games is one of the world’s most widely used so-called game engines. It’s used for major games such as Fortnite, Robo Recall and Battle Breakers, but also smaller indie games. A game engine is a cloud-based programming environment for creating game characters, game worlds and interactive games, and then publishing it in all major platforms (PC, iOS, Android, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, OSX, and Switch) Unreal Engine 4 is free for download, you contribute a part of your profit if your product is released and successful.

What does a VJ do with Unreal?

Henk uses Unreal to create 3D sequences when making promotional teasers, video clips, and to design the building blocks (loops) of his live shows.

Why use a game engine?

Like many other Vjs, until Recently Henk made his 3D video designs mainly with programs like Cinema 4D or 3DS max. But bigger screens and wilder ideas have been leading to a more and more time consuming calculation process (‘ rendering ‘). This can amount to days of computing time for only a few minutes of video. Games are by definition fantastic at realtime visual fireworks. Running through a forest with 10,000 trees? Not a problem. Game technology makes rendering largely a thing of the past – in theory. Saving a lot of time and making even more advanced visuals possible.

Time for a Demonstration!

In his workshop, Henk guided us through the extensive interface (good news: each feature has built-in tutorials). He prefers to prepare the 3D models for his objects in Cinema 4D, adding the textures in Unreal. Transforming, multiplying, grouping: also Unreal. You can play endlessly with camera positions and lighting settings and you can play out all kinds of scenarios with the objects in the video.  Much is managed using a ‘node-based’ system, defining the logical relations between and within events and effects. It’s also used to generate detailed complex landscapes using simpler building blocks.

Speaking of building blocks, a multitude of landscapes, objects and materials as well as movements are available at free or paid websites including Unreal Engine Marketplace, Turbosquid, CGTrader and Quixel. The finishing

touch for a project often is done in After Effects. During the demonstration by Henk, he plays around with a kind of King Kong thundering through a hellscape, creates flamingos chilling between giant pineapples and takes us on a flight through a world filled with 40,000 bright coloured doughnuts. Pretty unreal huh?

Which engine to choose?

There are two main alternatives for Unreal for VJs: the game engine Unity and the video programme Notch. Notch is specifically developed for live video productions and therefore in some ways closer to the VJ workflow. But as far as we know has fewer possibilities for content creation. An advantage of using true game engines is the great wealth of ready-to-use material from the game world. Unreal needs pretty heavy hardware and excels in i.a. landscapes. Unity, on the other hand, is more oriented towards coding and smart plugin use. Recently we organized with VJ Fader a 3 day master class Unity. He’s a good starting point if you want to know more about this engine.

The future

Gaming, cinema and live shows are converging in intersting ways, giving rise to exciting new interactive experiences. In the slipstream of the booming gaming industry, makers such as Vjs, gain access to a great wealth of libraries full of landscapes, characters, ‘ textures ‘ etc etc. Another exciting development: projecting the visuals directly via the game platform:  so no prerendered videos, but free live improvisation with digital characters and objects. This gives much more flexibility, and allows for working at ever higher resolutions. A nice recent example is the dome project by Childish Gambino. This concept could also be made interactive: e.g., one can put on a ‘motion capture’ suit that lets the DJ, dancers or audience directly control the visuals. Last but not least: game engines are already ideally suited for creating VR and AR experiences. So one day we may visit concerts or festivals wearing special glasses or contact lenses and party in a magic mixed reality. That’s about as unreal as it gets!

Video: Unreal project from Henk

Henk Nijman, (stage name Shurly), has been working for years as a 3D artist, graphic designer and VJ. His focus: abstract art and 3D visuals, preferably for live concerts (Drum and Bass!). He works as a tour VJ for Killerhertz, also often performing together with well-known Vjs as Ank1 and Bikkel, for example, Strafwerk and Klub Kompass in Ghent and is resident VJ at Korsakov and WTF. Join his almost thirty thousand Instagram followers to further discover his work.

Text: Florien Kalac /

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone