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Department of Engineering

Art and engineering

Art and engineering

Yi Chen Hock drawing in the Virtual Reality drawing application she developed using hand gesture recognition with an OptiTracked Pen

4th year engineering student Yi Chen Hock shares her journey developing her creative and technical skills and offers insights that might help others who are also interested in art and engineering.

I really enjoy making things and got into electronics and programming during high school, which is why I wanted to study engineering. Art was just something I did on the side and for a long time until quite recently, it has been quite separate from the engineering I study.

4th year student Yi Chen Hock

I am a self-taught artist and I have been drawing for over 10 years. I started teaching myself seriously using online resources just over 3 years ago.

I really enjoy making things and got into electronics and programming during high school, which is why I wanted to study engineering. Art was just something I did on the side and for a long time until quite recently, it has been quite separate from the engineering I study.

Before university, I often had several random creative projects I liked doing. For one of them, I collected 2,088 drink can tabs over the course of two years and made a recycled chain-mail school bag out of them.

I did a gap year before university started and worked for a year. My commute to work was 4 hours in total every day, so I decided a good use of my travel time was to crochet Cambridge college scarves and sell them to students at Cambridge. I ended up branching out to other items like gloves and hats and overall sold over 70+ items over the next two years. I learned a lot about how to communicate with customers, manage assets and set my own prices and rules, something that carried over to my future work experience and also when I deal with art commissioners.

Summer 2020 - my internship was cancelled because of COVID, so instead I taught myself how to use the Godot game engine and how to write shaders, (a computer program that calculates the appropriate levels of light, darkness, and color during the rendering of a 3D scene—a process known as shading). I found that I really enjoyed game development because it combined art and programming, both of which I really enjoyed.

Summer 2021 – I had an internship at Adobe Research as a research engineer on the Breakthrough Interactions and Graphics team. The game projects I had worked on the previous year and my personal drawing hobby was what got me the job! I worked on creating a web application that helps artists learn from other artists. This was my first time working professionally on something that involved a project where the target audience were artists, and I found it really cool because I was engineering solutions and solving problems for users that I had an in depth understanding of because I am an artist myself.

A painting by Yi Chen Hock

A painting by Yi Chen Hock

Hack Cambridge 2022 – At this Hackathon, I wanted to solve challenges related to accessibility in art, so I proposed to my team that we develop a voice drawing application, a hands-free application where you draw with only your voice. I created the user interface of the application, inspired by the other existing drawing programs I was already familiar with, and extended the front-end software engineering skills I picked up during my internship at Adobe Deepgram really liked our project and wrote an article about us

Summer 2022 – I interned as a software engineer at Meta. I did mostly front-end engineering too, because I found that my art skills happened to complement my intuitiveness for good user interface design. This internship was less on the arty side though, however it was still really enjoyable. In several of Meta’s offices, they actually have something called the ‘Open Arts Lab’, where it was basically like a mini Dyson Centre, but everything was completely free to use for employees! They also had employee arts sessions, and I organised for my whole team to have a session where they learnt how to 3D print.

It was during this internship that I discovered two job roles I have never heard of before: Technical Artists and Graphics Engineers! I took the opportunity while I was at Meta to reach out to several technical artists and art directors to have 1:1 chats with them to ask them about what kind of work they do, and how they got to that point in their careers.

That summer, I also attended SIGGRAPH 2022, the biggest annual computer graphics and interaction conference in the world. It was incredible, and while I was there, Clip Studio Paint paid me to deliver an online webinar and I met a researcher who commissioned me for two days of work to make assets for his research project. I really recommend that students sign up as a student volunteer to this conference, this is what I will be doing for summer 2023. SIGGRAPH can subsidise travel costs and they hold exclusive networking events and portfolio reviews just for the student volunteers with big companies such as Disney, Netflix, Unity and Unreal.

I proposed my own 4th year engineering project this year. I wanted to do something to do with art and engineering, so my project is about drawing using context-sensitive hand gestures with a real pen in Virtual Reality. Essentially, I am using a machine learning model that detects custom hand gestures, OptiTrack to track the position of a passive real pen and using the combination of the two to develop a drawing application and investigate a novel interaction paradigm. Here, I got to learn how to develop in Unity 3D for the first time.

Fourth-year engineering is my favourite year by far, and I really feel like the modules I picked this year are very suitable for what I am interested in, specifically Computer Systems, Computer Vision, Software Engineering and Design, and Design Case Studies.

Recently, I attended a Gaming careers panel event organised by Handshake. Game developers, 3D artists, technical artists and software engineers in the gaming industry talked about their experiences in the game industry. I thought this was awesome because it makes more people aware that these creative, yet technical roles exist as careers in the industry.

I recently received an internship offer for Summer 2023 for a technical artist role at King! They are one of the biggest mobile gaming companies, making games like Candy Crush and Bubble Witch Saga. They offer a range of both creative and technical internships and I really recommend checking it out as an internship opportunity. What I’ve learned from speaking to the technical artists at Meta is that it is uncommon for people to get a technical artist as a newbie entering the industry. Usually, they are people who have several years of prior experience working either as a game developer or 3D artist, which is why I think that it is great that King has the opportunity to allow interns to try technical art.

I will be undertaking a research project in Cambridge for a couple months after the internship. I met a researcher in the Engineering Department one day while working on my fourth-year project, who asked if I could incorporate a 3D Virtual Reality experience using Unreal into their research project about real-time analysis of visual stress in hospital interiors.

I have been accepted on a 12-month diploma program at 3Dsense Media School in Singapore for 3D Animation and VFX where I will learn how to use Houdini, Maya, Z Brush and Nuke. I’m really excited for this, and I am hoping that this will further increase my art and engineering skills.

As for my future plans after art school, I am not sure yet, but I am considering full time work as a technical artist or a PhD to further my research in the creative and engineering domain.

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