Imagine teaching a history lesson in which students take a virtual field trip to the pyramids in Egypt and really experience the scale and detail—walk around and explore the site firsthand. What if the homework from this lesson had students create their own virtual history museum of Egyptian artifacts and share it with the class?
As technology advances, interactive 3D experiences like these are becoming the norm. Transcending what we are able to convey with text, images and video alone, this content is more accessible and easier to create than ever before. And this shift is already impacting the job market and the skills that will be required in this immersive future.
While interactive 3D was once solely the domain of video games, today the same tool that’s used to make “Fortnite” is used to create immersive experiences that can train surgeons, plan urban infrastructure, sell unbuilt real estate and even configure luxury cars. It’s also being used to craft award-winning films and television and to drive home the danger of impending weather events like floods and tornadoes.
Interactive 3D comes to life with real-time technology
We’ve seen computer-generated 3D characters for years. Consider Gollum in Peter Jackson’s version of “The Lord of the Rings,” or the digital cast of Pixar’s “Toy Story.” Those characters were created in a 3D authoring program, materials and lighting were added, the characters were animated, and then the sequence was rendered frame by frame. It takes 24 frames, or still images, for every second of film that you see, and each frame can take anything from several minutes to several hours to produce. Then the frames are played back sequentially. The story is fixed; you can’t change it.
When you take that 3D content into a real-time engine such as Unreal Engine, those frames can be rendered in the same time it takes to play them back, or even faster—that’s the definition of real time. That means that you can interact with the scene in a way that’s not possible with prerecorded frames. You can walk around, look anywhere you choose. You can flip a switch and turn a light on or off. You can change the color of a car’s exterior or switch the cloth seats for leather ones, and everything will update instantaneously. You can experience a virtual world at human scale, whether it’s a new condominium, a factory floor or an operating theater.
Real-time engines also let you add intelligent behaviors. Doors can open as you approach them; characters can avoid each other, or deliberately flock together. You can even simulate physical behaviors in real time. Throw a projectile at a wall, and its bricks can tumble down; drive a boat through water, and it will produce a wake.
Real-time technology is having a massive impact on creative processes from making movies to designing cars and buildings. The ability to try out multiple versions of a concept and to iterate on an idea as fast as you can think lets you find the best possible outcome. Also, multiple stakeholders can collaborate on a concept throughout the process, bringing their collective experience to bear on solving problems. All of this leads to greater productivity and cost efficiencies. In a real-time engine, you can explore options and make mistakes that could be catastrophic in the real world, whether landing space shuttles or performing brain surgery.
New and emerging careers are being created
Given all these benefits, it’s no wonder that real-time technology and interactive 3D are rapidly being adopted across a wide range of industries. The growing demand for a workforce with the skills to facilitate this transformation is outstripping supply. When thinking about the skills required to leverage real-time technology to its utmost potential, it’s important to understand that we are not just talking about specialized technical skills. To solve complex problems, technical jobs will require more creativity, while creative jobs need to embrace technology. Educators need to consider the entire spectrum—from soft skills to specialized digital skills.
A recent report by Burning Glass Technologies, a labor market analytics firm, confirmed robust demand for real-time 3D skills, with 30,000 job postings in the US between October 2017 and October 2018 and a 601 percent higher growth rate than the market overall. What’s more, jobs demanding these skills offered an average starting salary of $86,533, some 57 percent above the average advertised salary, and 18 percent above the average advertised salary for jobs requesting general 3D graphics skills.
The increasing use of interactive 3D is creating entirely new job roles. Postings for jobs with titles like visualization specialist, virtual production supervisor, simulation specialist, experiential designer and previs generalist are now cropping up with increasing regularity. For some, these unfamiliar terms can feel intimidating. So, Epic Games has put together a Creator’s Field Guide to Emerging Careers in Interactive 3D to help demystify the topic and clarify the actual skills and competencies needed across a range of roles.
Students must be prepared for a future in this immersive world
The sooner we introduce students to these types of careers, the more comfortable they will become with the associated technology. Fortunately, many students already have some experience with real-time interactive 3D technology: it’s what powers the games they play. This makes games a great starting point for learning, as players transition from consuming interactive 3D content to creating it. In Fortnite Creative mode, for example, players can create mini games, environments, buildings, even animated videos and stories. Imagine teaching your history or physics class in Fortnite Creative instead of Powerpoint; teachers are already doing this, and students are loving it.
From there, it’s an easy step up to Twinmotion—an intuitive, easy-to-use, real-time architectural visualization tool that’s free for students and educators. Twinmotion lets you populate your scene by dragging and dropping props, animated characters, trees and plants, and much more from its extensive library. You can change the weather with a slider, go from summer to winter with the click of a button, or redesign your own neighborhood. It’s immensely fun for both students and teachers, and it functions as an excellent teaching aid. At the same time, it’s a professional tool that architects use to create high-quality images, movies and VR walkthroughs of their designs.
The underlying technology that powers both Fortnite and Twinmotion is Unreal Engine. This powerful, open, real-time 3D creation tool is behind some of the world’s most popular triple-A games and blockbuster movies, as well as advanced visualizations and simulations in architecture, automotive, medical training and many more industries.
Get started with free resources
To learn how to leverage these tools in your classroom, check out the free lesson plans that other educators have been kind enough to share.
There are also over 100 hours of free online courses available on Unreal Online Learning, including Introduction to Twinmotion and Your First Hour with Unreal Engine.
And don’t forget to download your free copy of the Creator’s Field Guide to Emerging Careers in Interactive 3D.