Image courtesy of Chris Suddaby

Turbocharging Virtual Production Careers with the Unreal Fellowship

Could you change your whole career in 30 days?

That’s what happened when Diana Diriwaechter and Chris Suddaby started the Unreal Fellowship—an intensive 30-day program designed to help industry professionals build marketable virtual production skills as they learn Unreal Engine.

Let’s take a look at how learning to work in real time put their careers on fast forward.

Diana Diriwaechter

Unreal Engine Fellowship Program Diana Diriwaechterproifle Pic Bw

Diana Diriwaechter applied for the Unreal Fellowship at a crossroads in her life. She’d been a CG Artist for 25 years—18 of which had been spent as a Lead Material Artist making animated feature films at Blue Sky Studios. Then, after the pandemic, Blue Sky shut its doors. 

“I had to make a decision,” Diana explains. “I could continue doing what I was doing at another big animation company or take this opportunity to grow, learn something new, and steer my career path in a new direction.”

After speaking to other industry veterans, Diana discovered the Unreal Fellowship. “There was a lot of buzz about the Fellowship,” she remembers. “It didn’t sound like any other program I had ever heard of. I’d been a lighting artist and had specialized in textures and materials for many years, but the idea that I could get back to my roots and work on all aspects of a production was very attractive. The Fellowship seemed like the perfect way to start learning Unreal Engine and create my own project.”
Since then, the Fellowship has transformed Diana’s career. Though she had never used Unreal Engine before, the intensive 30-day training fast-tracked her knowledge with personalized education and support. “I learned what Unreal Engine was, what was possible to create in it, and how to use it effectively,” Diana says. “The Fellowship team was available almost around the clock. If you had a technical question or even just needed reassurance that you would succeed, someone was always there to help.” 

Following the course, Diana became an Unreal Engine Technical Artist, Teaching Assistant for the Fellowship, and just recently, an Education Lead at Epic Games. She also had a chance to be a part of Writing in Unreal, a program created in collaboration with The Tribeca Film Festival. 

“The idea was to take scripts from ten up-and-coming writers/directors and translate them into pitchvis shorts using Unreal Engine, all in less than four weeks,” Diana reveals. “It was fantastic as the directors were working side-by-side with an Unreal artist, so they got to experience how Unreal Engine can be used to visualize and plan a project without needing a whole crew or a big budget. Since you can work in real time, it's a perfect tool for experimenting. You can get a real sense of the space, the mood, the timing, how the characters look and how they interact with their surroundings.”
Image courtesy of Diana Diriwaechter
Diana teaches Thesis Research students at The School Of Visual Arts in New York, where she introduces her students to the same methods she learned at the Fellowship. “Unreal Engine is a powerful free tool for education, and I want to see it used by as many people as possible,” she continues. “I plan to keep making my own projects to test and play with the latest and greatest technology, but I'm on a mission to share my knowledge with as many people as I can as well.”

Chris Suddaby

Unreal Engine Fellowship Program Chris Suddaby Proifle Pic Bw

From 3D Generalist to Senior Environment Artist, Chris Suddaby had done it all. But it wasn’t until after a few years being a Lead Previs/Postvis Artist that he developed an interest in Unreal Engine. “I’d been looking for roles that wouldn’t pigeonhole me as an artist,” he explains. “Previs and postvis fit the bill fantastically as I could work shots from beginning to end, while still having a degree of creative freedom—even on big-budget films. This way of working is what initially piqued my interest in using Unreal Engine.”

After reading about the virtual production on The Mandalorian, Chris decided to learn more. “I heard about the Unreal Fellowship and decided to put my name down. It sounded too good to be true! I not only had the chance to learn Unreal Engine—I also had the opportunity to be taught cutting-edge virtual production techniques by the people inventing the methods behind them. It sounded like an opportunity that couldn’t be missed.”
On his wedding day, Chris discovered he’d made it on to the Fellowship program. It was the start of a month that changed his career. “Thanks to the Fellowship, I’m now the Lead Virtual Art Department Artist at Eyeline Studios. I have literally been using Unreal Engine every day since I started the program,” he reveals.

“The Fellowship reawakened my passion for filmmaking, both personally and professionally. Using a virtual camera for the first time, for example, was an amazing moment. Being able to walk around my room, filming my animated short in real time like I was a director on set, honestly blew my mind.”
Image courtesy of Chris Suddaby
As well as technical skills, Chris also credits the Fellowship with teaching him a new way of thinking: erasing the linear path of pre-production, production, and post-production by using virtual production techniques. “I believe we’re now entering a new age of iterative storytelling,” he explains. “We can try ideas out in real-time, which will give us more time and freedom to create, experiment, and refine way beyond expectations. Artists, directors, DOPs, and producers will have more opportunities to share their creative vision and work together in sync. After my experience in Unreal Engine, I have the tools to both develop my career to new standards, and also the freedom to get back to my roots as a filmmaker and to simply create films with almost no limitation.”

    Want Fellowship updates?

    We’ll have exciting news to share soon! 
    Sign up for our education newsletter to see it first.