When designer Linus Ekenstam took to Twitter and wrote "3D modelling is dead" and it grabbed my attention. He shared a video of 1:1 recreation of New York made in a new AI procedural tool, by one person, inside Unreal Engine 5, and it's undeniably impressive.
The tool is CityBLD for Unreal Engine 5, which is designed to enable artists to create game-ready cities with handcrafted details, and the results look incredible. It makes use of Unreal Engine 5's Nanite technology, the same as I've seen used in Lords of the Fallen, and CityBLD really could change how game world's are built, and save time.
Will it 'kill 3D modelling', probably not. And Ekenstam actually states this further down his Twitter thread, as he writes, "Look 3D modelling is not dead, but the current way of spending insane amounts of time on some things are".
3D modelling is dead1 artist, 100x your workflow with CityBLDHere is New York City recreated in Unreal. A totally playable 1:1 representation of the city made by one person 🤯The tools that creatives will have at their disposals are pure wild fire A thread🧵 pic.twitter.com/NCyJHuM3bWAugust 9, 2023
It's hard not to disagree with the proposition. While the fear AI tools will take away jobs, in the 3D sector the tools will likely enable artists to do more in the time they have. CityBLD’s workflow is based on a kit of presets that are generated in combination to build realistic and interactive cities. It's a new take in procedural generation, which has been around for years.
CityBLD’s website details the process: "The workflow begins with the generation of a Streetmap, which sets the scene for the building process. From there, users can then generate city blocks within the Streetmap, followed by Lots (plots of land allocated for a specific purpose), Building Shapes on the Lots, and finally modular buildings based on the Building Shapes. This four-step process is all that you need to master to create your first city."
After a year where we've seen AI launched for 2D art creation, the second half of this year is when all eyes will be on AI for 3D creatives. When Unity announced its bringing Weta's VFX tools to the game engine it also shared how an AI will be used to ensure everyone can make use of these advanced features. Likewise, Shutterstock has announced its generative AI for creating photorealistic 360 HDRi environment maps for lighting scenes (and it has more to come). Autodesk has also revealed AI for Maya that could speed up and transform modelling and animation.
The difference between the 3D AI tools we're seeing and the big problems that surround 2D generative AI is the issue of what is being solved? 3D art, world building, rendering and animation can be repetitive and time-consuming, and if AI tools can speed up this process without removing the creativity and the creator, reducing the need for long days, crunch deadlines and overworked artists, then maybe it's a win?
CityBLD's approach uses procedural generation, something that's been around in 3D for many years and aims to place high-end tools in the hands of everyone, opening up Unreal Engine 5 use to even more people. How tools like this evolve with AI could be interesting, but as ever, we need an ethical base behind everything.