Episode 271 — Quixel Megascans
Episode 271 — Quixel Megascans
Quixel Megascans is a massive online scan library of high-resolution, consistent PBR calibrated surface, vegetation and 3D scans, also including desktop applications for managing, mixing and exporting your downloaded scan data. It’s the product of 5 years of scanning and is a collaboration with top game and film studios worldwide.
Quixel was founded in 2011 by Teddy Bergsman and Waqar Azim based on the vision of substantially speeding up how creators build digital environments, by giving them access to a vast and ever-expanding library of 3D building blocks and easy-to-use tools to greatly simplify the creative process.
In this Podcast, Allan interviews Teddy Bergsman about the history of the company, its tools and acquisition by Epic Games; as well as the impact and the future of machine learning.
Quixel Megascans Website: https://quixel.com/about
Teddy Bergsman on LinkedIn: https://se.linkedin.com/in/teddybergsman
Quixel YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNTZFGRsyqNtvI4T2syNkIw
[04:35] Teddy Bergsman Introduces Himself
[04:50] Teddy Talks About His Start in the Arts
[10:28] Teddy Talks About His Early Inspiration
[12:23] Teddy Talks About the Beginning of Megascans
[19:30] How Quixel Gained Traction
[23:59] The Steps of Building an Asset
[27:48] Allan and Teddy Talk About Machine Learning
[34:58] Teddy Talks About Quixel’s History with Epic
[37:52] Epic’s Acquisition by Epic Games
[45:55] Teddy Talks About Quixel’s Tools
[49:35] Additional Resources
EPISODE 271 — QUIXEL MAGASCANS
Welcome to Episode 271! This is Allan McKay. I’m speaking with Teddy Bergsman, the CEO of Quixel Megascans. The first time I saw Megascans, I fell in love with it. It’s such an intuitive way to work. No wonder Epic acquired them. The day that happened, I thought it would be great to reach out and interview Teddy. He’s an awesome guy who is full of knowledge.
I want to thank everyone who signed up for my Branding 10X Bootcamp that I made last month. It was a lot of fun to do that. As of a few days ago, I closed it down. I might reopen it in the future. If you’re interested in joining this Bootcamp, let me know — I will reopen it. I’ve put as much knowledge as I could into it for anyone interested in building their brand and leveraging their brand. The more I help people behind the scenes, the more I realize how everything has to do with branding.
Let’s get into this Episode. Please take a few seconds to share this Podcast and get the word out.
Let’s dive in!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
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INTERVIEW WITH QUIXEL MEGASCANS
[04:35] Allan: Thank you, Teddy, for taking the time to chat! Can you please quickly introduce yourself?
Teddy: Yeah, my name is Teddy Bergsman. I am 33 years old. I love playing the guitar, rock climbing and computer graphics.
[04:50] Allan: That’s awesome! I love it! I was curious: Did you always want to be an artist?
Teddy: Well, I got into computer graphics in ‘96 when I was around 9 years old. I don’t think I ever had any aspiration to become a professional artist, but I really enjoyed the medium. I was very lucky that my stepmom had landed a job as a digital artist at a game studio which was very inspiring to me. I played so many games growing up. When she brought her work computer home, it was filled with all kinds of 2D and 3D software; like Photoshop 4.0, 3DS Max 1.0, Poser. That was a wonderful moment. She kindly taught me the basics, so I spent most of my childhood creating computer graphics and eventually programming games of my own, using Click and Play. The interest in games escalated since the release of Half Life. That’s when I got into creating textures.
[06:28] Allan: The first big job I’ve ever had was on Half Life. I was working with Team Fortress Software. Originally, it was a special announcement. We’re going to make TF2 for Half Life. It’s already been delayed in ‘96. Bit by bit, it bled out in 2006.
Teddy: That’s really interesting to hear! I never worked on anything commercially. When I modeled for Half Life, I contributed to a few projects and that’s when I got into 3D texturing, which got me even more excited to go down that path. When I was around 13-14, seeing Max Paint for the first time, it dawned on me that one day, even realtime games will be photorealistic as high end visual effects. They will have state of the art graphics. I became obsessed with photo realism. That led me down building my own scanning technology and image processing software; and what I ended up spending most of my time on, ever since.
[08:31] Allan: That’s so cool! And such a weird thing: I just randomly watched the rise and fall of Max Paint on YouTube. I know the guys with Remedy. It’s interesting to see the inspiration from video games. I always thought Bryce and Poser were the curses on the internet. You get some newbie guy making a 3D landscape in Bryce after doing it for a week!
Teddy: But that was the beauty of that software. It allowed anyone to create 3D graphics. You didn’t have to be experienced to create something visually pleasing. I think for anyone that has an inherent drive and strives to become better, that instant gratification sets a spark that puts you down the path. I’m certainly grateful for this type of software. I certainly think that Poser was very much ahead of its time in terms of its simplicity from a user’s point of view, but it was a massively complex software. If you look under the hood.
[10:28] Allan: Do you think that inspired you at all? I completely agree that it removes the pain barrier. I’ve been doing 3D for 25 years and I’ll never brag that I know everything. But having tools that allow you to get your hands dirty and to have fun can inspire you. Do you think that left an impression on you? For Houdini, there is such a long ramp-up time, for example!
Teddy: One hundred percent! Simplicity has been at the core of what we do. Da Vinci said it best, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. To take something that’s usually so cumbersome and to turn it into something user friendly, that is what any software company should strive to achieve. Because it opens the door for any user to use that software. I don’t think that it has to be a compromise. You can achieve simplicity and a really high quality bar.
[12:23] Allan: How did you first come across photogrammetry? It’s grown over time and become more accurate. Where was that discovery for you and realization that this is something people need to lean into?
Teddy: I had experimented a great deal with photometric scanning, around 2005. That was limited to surfaces. I started seeing some really promising photogrammetric software. But there was nothing available commercially. I ended extending that photogrammetric scanning system with a poor man’s photogrammetry solution. That was around 2008. But it required manual alignment and a known set of capture angles. But for Megascans, we started leveraging photogrammetry on a much larger scale in 2014. That was after we built our handle 3D scanners. At around this time, the first commercial software has matured into something that was viable for production.
[14:19] Allan: With your business partners, how did you meet?
Teddy: When I was 19, I accepted a position as a graphic artist in the AAA games industry. I helped texture some levels but then I started showing some scanning technology that I’d built and began doing that full-time. And while doing that, we built a small department. The first hire was Waqar Azim who had just moved to Sweden from Pakistan. We applied at our company as part of his school thesis. He ended up being a vital part of our team. He had a really interesting mechatronics background. What I didn’t know was that he’d been running his own outsourcing studio in Pakistan. He opened up my eyes to the world of entrepreneurship. He had such a great knowledge of electronics and 3D graphics as well. We started talking about breaking off and doing our thing — which is what we ended up doing. We ended up meeting the two other partners down the line. They worked at Blur at the time. They’d been building their own library, also in secret. When we first came to Blur, they really wanted to talk. We did and we fell in love with each other. We decided not to waste our time doing the same thing but to join up to make something much bigger.
[17:40] Allan: I was actually chatting with a few of the guys that were [or used to be] at Blur. They were asking me to ask you what the biggest man made object you’d ever scanned. We know you’d done a lot of landscapes.
Teddy: I’d say that would probably be buildings. Like a 10-story building would be the biggest that we’d scanned. Volcanoes or mountain ranges would be the biggest. This is before we had drone technology.
[18:47] Allan: One of my buddies at Blur was doing some climbing. When he discovered the DJI Mavic, he’d climb ridiculous heights then create these 3D models and show them to us on his iPhone. I can imagine it’s dangerous and exciting at the same time!
Teddy: That’s certainly a thrill!
[19:30] Allan: With Quixel, how quickly did it grow and gain traction once you announced it to the world?
Teddy: It was fairly slow in the beginning. We were just 3 people for the first 4 years. It took us 5 years to just release even Megascans. It was a massive project. In order to survive, we ended up writing commercial software. That added a slew of complexity. In 2016, Megascans was finally released and it took about a year to gain traction. By then, a couple of high profile projects had leveraged the library in a public way. I mean The Jungle Book helped put Megascans on the map. At the end of 2016, we were on the verge of bankruptcy. Over the course of the next few years, the company started growing. At around 2018, the company had 60 people. That’s when we raised funds for the company for the first time. That was a huge turning point for the company.
[21:22] Allan: I’m always curious about this with any business. It must’ve been intimidating to grow and company and be responsible for employees. What was that experience like?
Teddy: I would say it was manic. It was a crazy amount of work, especially in the beginning. I lost count of the number of 48 hour shifts we pulled. I remember crashing my bike while on the way to work, breaking both of my arms and then being back at my desk writing code later that night. I felt this immense sense of responsibility to keep the vision alive and to drive a positive impact on the computer graphics industry. At the same time, it was exhilarating. We traveled to studios all over the world for vital feedback, building lasting relationships. I spent months in Pakistan, working with Waqar. We worked with people we really liked, doing what we really loved.
[23:25] Allan: I love that! It’s the passion that pushes you to get through. Again, congratulations! My buddy Daryl works for you. I only see him at Thanksgiving.=
Teddy: That’s great to hear!
[23:59] Allan: From initially choosing what asset you want to scan, what are the steps, at least in broad strokes?
Teddy: The selection process takes a long analysis and talking to customers and gauging trends. What are the major projects coming up and how can we assist those productions? What are the gaps we need to fill in the library and what are the assets that we need to fill the most? And then, leveraging the fact that we have scan teams on 6 different continents, strategically located to be and fairly easily grab some of those specific assets. Then the actual scanning is a proprietary process. We build all of the harbor ourselves to make sure we can scan at any time of day, in any weather with perfectly calibrated material information without shadows. Then it goes through an automated processing that we’d built that does take some manual input. From then, it’s an automatic rendering and uploading of the asset. The same day that scan is up in the library and is downloadable.
[25:11] Allan: How many people are typically involved in doing a shoot? Is it one person with a lot of photos or does it take a team?
Teddy: Typically, our scan teams are about 3 people, at most 10. The sweet spot is 4-5 people. More than one person will be involved in the making of the asset. For instance, for a tree, you’d have 12 people making that same asset. It involves a complex pipeline. These assets aren’t live in the library and the production is slow. With each pipeline, the number of people goes does, so does the time it takes to make the asset. The more times we’ve done it, the easier the process becomes. For most of the assets we have now, you have one person processing and one person scanning. That’s generally the range of complexity.
[27:48] Allan: Obviously, machine learning has played a part. How did that come to be and is there a good example?
Teddy: Machine learning is leveraged through multiple parts of the process. In the creation process, machine learning is becoming more and more used.
- Taking a photograph and understanding what you see, creating those relevant tags — instead of someone adding those tags.
- In the production process, you can cloud textures and surfaces, leveraging those techniques.
Looking forward, machine learning will be helpful for any user in that you should be able to have the environment be automatically generated for you, in understanding of the lighting conditions, the style. That’s what we’re looking at in the future.
[29:47] Allan: How far do you think we are from that? Five, 10 years?
Teddy: I think for the most rudimentary systems, probably 3 years.
[29:59] Allan: That’s amazing! I had to ask: On the Megascans library you have Dusk 2. That’s a scroll stopper. Can you talk about that?
Teddy: Dusk 2 is the most iconic and played maps. I’ve been itching to make an image. I also thought it was an excellent opportunity to get the people outside of the 3D community to get excited about possibilities. That’’s how that came about.
[31:01] Allan: That’s awesome! I remember when the Lightscape renderer came out. I remember one of the sample files was the E1M1 from Doom. I never rendered it. I kept trying for a long time. I would’ve loved to see one rendered frame! The things we grew up! Now that shifted so much. Dusk 2 is a good example. What are your thoughts on how realtime used to image what film would be doing? Where do you think things are going with realtime technology as we move forward?
Teddy: I’m extremely excited to see this convergence of creative paradigms happen! Because it enables previously isolated creative industries to cross pollinate. I think the power of realtime tools allows you to produce photorealistic results. It offers such a fast advantage over any other creative methodology. The creation process is so much smoother. It’s in real time and it opens up new creative opportunities. A lot of industries can learn from each other. One of the projects I’ve been really excited about recently was a virtual production project that Epic Games did at SIGGRAPH. They would have this huge LED set which was connected to a vast range of computers running in realtime showing photorealistic environments on those LED screens, surrounding the characters. It opens up for such a spontaneous creative process. There is no post-production. You can make changes on the fly that translate to the final pixel. Once this technology becomes more common, we’ll start to see a new level of creativity. I’m beyond excited for that!
[34:58] Allan: I love that! What has been your relationship with Epic? Obviously, the acquisition happened; but what has your history of collaboration been like?
Teddy: We’ve always been huge fans of the engine and the games. We had this secret hope that they would appreciate our environments. That happened 5-6 years ago. And slowly, this relationship has been growing. After a few years, we wanted to take a larger risk and devote a large portion of our team to realtime cinematics. We did this without Epic Games knowing that. We wanted to show them a prototype and help promote it. They contacted us randomly about something they had in production for GDC. We found it to be the perfect opportunity to get a glimpse into that vision. Very quickly, they were very supportive and our relationship grew. We worked together on a daily basis for a few months and we had a blast. After a few months, they learned that we were looking for a larger investment. So they called us up and offered to be an investor. We couldn’t imagine a better partner. We ended up joining forces completely.
[37:52] Allan: That’s so great! The passion you have does show through and it makes sense! There are times when you hear of a partnership or an acquisition, you fear the results. This feels more like an acceleration. You can push things a lot further. You look at some video games, they look gamey. When it looks more real, you’re eliminating that line. To have the backing of Epic aligned with your vision, it makes everyone happy to hear. How has the reception been so far?
Teddy: I couldn’t agree more! I’m grateful for the opportunity and their move to make everything free. The technology is made accessible to everyone and it levels the playing field. It’s an interesting time in the industry! We were very nervous for a few reasons. We always imagined being independent. There is this internal worry about how everyone on the team would react. At our company, we talk about everything, but the negotiations were not in the open and I didn’t want to feel like a crook. And then there is the external factor: How would the community react? “They sold out!” It couldn’t have gone any better. The public reaction was so kind and positive overall. There was this report one week after the acquisition that analyzed the public response. It was 96% positive. And the 4% were analyzed as “insane”. So it was really beyond our expectations.
[41:59] Allan: Again, it just makes so much sense! I can’t imagine there being any logical reason for negative response. That’s a good indicator. The negative people are usually the “insane” people. There will be some unstable negativity. They’re on their own agenda. That’s great to know how successful you’d been! Everyone has the support and belief.
Teddy: Thank you for those kind words!
[43:33] Allan: I have a couple more questions to dive into. Of what you can talk about, what are the future plans for Quixel and Megascans, and Epic?
Teddy: First of all, it’s about acceleration. Part of Epic, we get to grow our teams quite significantly with some really talented people. And we get to do so by focusing on what really matters [which is] delivering a great experience. So that obviously involves growing the library. We want to scan the entire world and we’re so far from that. We want to give people the tools that allow them to be fundamentally creative with these assets; defining the style of your own and generating worlds of large scales that are either photoreal or stylized in some way. These are the broad strokes of what we hope to achieve. With Epic technologies of Bridge and Mixer, they will get integrated. So as an artist, you’ll never have to leave the zone. And that’s what I’m passionate about!
[45:55] Allan: For people that aren’t familiar, can you talk about the tools? Do you mind mentioning some of the key features?
Teddy: Of course! First, you have the Megascans library which is a huge database of scans, anything you need to create an environment. Then there is Bridge which allows you to browse the entire Megascans library easily. It’s a pleasant visual experience. You can find what you’re looking for to export the environment into any engine. It comes with such useful tools. And then you have Mixer which is a 3D texturing suite. It takes any 3D asset, either from the library or one you created yourself, and texture that using the Megascans library. You can create anything from photorealistic to stylistic objects.
[48:12] Allan: In terms of the ways you’re seeing customers use your tools, have there been any surprising ways?
Teddy: I think we’re surprised all the time. It’s such a joy to browse the forums, Facebook. It’s how I start everyday, looking at the fantastic new art. I find it interesting when people build environments that are nothing like in the real world. You’ve leveraged the library. The art industry really shines through. Each artist has a different personality so you never know what you’re going to be hit with. And that’s such a fun experience!
[49:35] Allan: Where can people go to find out about Megascans? Where can they go to learn more about it?
Teddy: The Quixel YouTube channel is the best tools: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNTZFGRsyqNtvI4T2syNkIw. There are tutorials, weekly live streams, you can interact with the team. There is our website: https://quixel.com/. The one thing I enjoy is Instagram (@QuixelOfficial) where people showcase the work.
[50:42] Allan: I couldn’t help but follow you on Instagram, as well as the hashtag, because of all the great eye candy that’s being posted. Teddy, thank you for taking the time to share your history and Megascans.
Teddy: Thank you, Allan! It’s been a true pleasure!
I hope you enjoyed this Episode. I want to thank Teddy for doing this interview. Please take a few seconds to share this around!
Next week, I’m doing a Podcast with the VES Society, its Chair Jeff Okun and some major contributors to the 3rd Edition of The VES Handbook. They gave a lot of insight about the future of the VFX industry.
Until next week —
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