VFX Voice
The definitive authority on all things visual effects in the world of film, TV, gaming, virtual reality, commercials, theme parks, and other new media.

Subscribe now to the VFX Voice Quarterly Print Edition.

SUBSCRIPTION & SINGLE ISSUES

Full Access to VFXVoice.com website is available FREE for a limited time only. Exclusive web content will soon be available only to VFXVoice subscribers and VES members.

Register
Close


Subscribe now to the VFX Voice Quarterly Print Edition.

SUBSCRIPTION & SINGLE ISSUES

Full Access to VFXVoice.com website is available FREE for a limited time only. Exclusive web content will soon be available only to VFXVoice subscribers and VES members.


May 04
2017

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

EPIC GAMES’ UNREAL ENGINE MAKING BIG VFX IMPACT

By IAN FAILES

At the Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) in San Francisco earlier this year, the makers of Unreal Engine, Epic Games, offered several presentations that astonished many of the attendees. These developments are sure to impact visual effects workflows. In fact, they already have.

Among Epic’s GDC demos was a CG Chevrolet short called “The Human Race” incorporating The Mill’s Blackbird proxy tracking car, and the VFX studio’s Cyclops virtual production toolkit, along with real-time augmented reality (AR) using Unreal’s real-time rendering tech (dubbed “Project Raven”). Also at the conference, Epic revealed final frame renderings from Rogue One of the droid K-2SO that made use of the Unreal game engine, and the company showed off its Unreal Engine 4 VR editor.

Watch a behind-the-scenes video for “The Human Race.”

VISUAL EFFECTS IN REAL-TIME, ALL THE TIME

If it’s not already obvious from that listing of projects, Unreal Engine is finding significant use in live-action projects for rendering final-quality images in real-time, i.e. where traditional post-production, final-quality rendering and compositing might have previously been used.

That move into final VFX quality is the goal, or at least part of the goal from Epic, which also sees an increased use for its Unreal Engine toolset in visualizing sequences in pre-production and on set (again, in real-time). That doesn’t mean it’s a ‘one-button’ solution; significant tech in tracking, image-based lighting and rendering, and other virtual production advancements were required to make “The Human Race” possible.

   “We want AR to be VFX-grade quality AR, basically. If you want the content to be believable, if you want to relate to the content, whether you are selling a car or telling a story, I think quality matters, and that’s what Unreal Engine stands for. And we had seen so much crap in AR that we had to put our foot down and say this is our version of AR and it looks good.”

—Marc Petit, GM, Unreal Engine Enterprise, Epic Games

Virtual production? Isn’t that already happening in visual effects? Films like Avatar, Real Steel and The Jungle Book have leaned heavily on filming live-action actors on set or in motion-capture volumes, and being able, with simulcam technology, to imagine vast environments behind them or cg characters interacting with the action. Indeed, Epic Games itself has been at the forefront of these efforts as seen in their several Hellblade demos.

The Blackbird car

The Unreal Engine rendered CG car

WHAT THESE DEMOS MEAN FOR VFX

But what’s the step up that “The Human Race” and “Project Raven” offers? The answer is two-fold: improved AR and improved production workflows with near photo-real production quality complete with realistic lighting, shadows and camera effects.

“We want AR to be VFX-grade quality AR, basically,” says Epic’s Marc Petit, General Manager, Unreal Engine Enterprise. “If you want the content to be believable, if you want to relate to the content, whether you are selling a car or telling a story, I think quality matters, and that’s what Unreal Engine stands for. And we had seen so much crap in AR that we had to put our foot down and say, this is our version of AR and it looks good.”

What exactly did Epic’s AR “Project Raven” demo entail? In “The Human Race” project, the Blackbird proxy car stood in for a digital Camaro ZL1. The Blackbird can be configured to perform and drive like any other vehicle and then in post production – thanks to its tracking markers – VFX artists can work out the orientation of the CG car.

The color selector component of “The Human Race” demo, which allowed details of the Camaro to be changed on the fly.

During filming, the viewfinder of course only sees the Blackbird. “Project Raven” sought to use Unreal Engine to visualize the Camaro realistically over the Blackbird – in real-time. It’s been possible to do this with other simulcam techniques previously, but the goal, again, was as much realism as possible. The Blackbird had four RED cameras, which were able to generate a panoramic environment and a way to source information, plus all the various reflections and effects over the car. The idea was that the CG car could be composited in real-time and fit into the live-action background as if it was a final effects shot.

“It’s about the value of cutting down iteration, the value of seeing stuff in the viewfinder when you’ve got your graphics on top of the live action and the kind of time you can save.”

—Marc Petit, GM, Unreal Engine Enterprise, Epic Games

That required a lot of data passing through Unreal Engine – about 1.5 gigabytes streaming per second, thanks to the actual photographed plates and the panoramic lighting environment generated via the RED cameras. In addition, the typical compositing elements of camera noise and subtle flares, blooms and other bits and pieces were also part of the mix. But it’s not post production; it was all done in approximately 41 milliseconds through the engine.

This workflow allowed for the real-time visualization of the car. An extra component was the ‘high-end’ AR. Here, a virtual camera system was developed to suggest that even a consumer might be able to change the color of the car in real-time during filming, while also staging shots. That was made possible via collaboration with Google’s Tango platform, which has been developing in the area of AR and computer vision for smart phones for a few years. The result was the delivery of scenes with physically based car renders and a realistic final shot that matched the live-action background, even with varying lighting conditions.

A final still from The Human Race, which also involved a futuristic CG version of the vehicle.

REAL-TIME IN PRODUCTION

In addition to high-end AR, Epic’s other aim is to improve production workflows. That’s time spent in planning, shooting and posting scenes with CG assets. Epic’s goal is to not only be part of the final rendering where possible, but also help filmmakers and creators make informed decisions on set. Less takes and fewer iterations are aimed at saving time and money.

“The way you frame the car, you need to be able to see the exact geometry of the car, and you need to get a good sense of the reflection and interaction of the environment to make your camera decision. So we were able to give the director in the pursuit car a good view and a sense of comfort that he could get what he wanted and we could support his creative vision by watching what Unreal Engine was showing him in real-time in the pursuit car.”

—Marc Petit, GM, Unreal Engine Enterprise, Epic Games

“One good example (arose) from when we were shooting ‘The Human Race,’” notes Petit. “The way you frame the car, you need to be able to see the exact geometry of the car, and you need to get a good sense of the reflection and interaction of the environment to make your camera decision. So we were able to give the director in the pursuit car a good view and a sense of comfort that he could get what he wanted and we could support his creative vision by watching what Unreal Engine was showing him in real-time in the pursuit car.”

Petit suggests that the toolset would be particularly useful on a project similar to, say, Real Steel, where CG fighting robots had to appear in dynamic live action scenes among live-action actors. “I think the ‘Raven’ demo is a way of saying, if the simulcam virtual production workflows have the right color pipeline and compositing pipeline in the game engine, then we can actually do more projects like Real Steel, which was relatively inexpensive to shoot for an amazing result.”

Epic has already been involved in several demos combining performance and facial capture, real-time cinematography and rendering for Ninja Theory’s upcoming game, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

“It’s about the value of cutting down iteration, the value of seeing stuff in the viewfinder when you’ve got your graphics on top of the live action and the kind of time you can save,” adds Petit, who also notes that the technology developed for Real Steel and Avatar was somewhat bespoke and isn’t necessarily widely available, whereas a solution from Unreal Engine would be.

FROM DEMO TO REAL

What’s next from Epic and the Unreal Engine in this virtual production/VFX cross-over? Asked whether we might see a digital human and real-time cinematography Hellblade demo that uses the “Project Raven” toolset, Petit remained somewhat coy.

“Digital humans are definitely next in line,” he offers. “We had this opportunity with the Blackbird, which was a fun capture device, but it would be a natural progression for us to do a very similar workflow presentation using a digital human.”

Ultimately, it’s clear that these worlds of gaming, VR, AR and VFX will continue to collide, and that’s something effects artists can continue to be part of.

 “Digital humans are definitely next in line. We had this opportunity with the Blackbird, which was a fun capture device, but it would be a natural progression for us to do a very similar workflow presentation using a digital human.”

—Marc Petit, GM, Unreal Engine Enterprise, Epic Games


Share this post with

Get the Latest VFX News

Receive notifications when WEB EXCLUSIVE content is posted on VFX Voice

Most Popular Stories

The Miniature Models of <strong>BLADE RUNNER</strong>
02 October 2017
Exclusives, Games
The Miniature Models of BLADE RUNNER
In 1982, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner set a distinctive tone for the look and feel of many sci-fi future film noirs to come, taking advantage of stylized production design, art direction and visual effects work.
THE PEARL: THE SUPER ALIEN MODELS OF<strong> VALERIAN</strong>
02 August 2017
Exclusives, Games
THE PEARL: THE SUPER ALIEN MODELS OF VALERIAN
Among the many creatures and aliens showcased in Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets are members of the Pearl, a beautiful...
MASTER CREATURE CREATOR <b>JOE LETTERI</b>: 2018 VES GEORGES MÉLIÈS AWARD WINNER
02 January 2018
Exclusives, Games
MASTER CREATURE CREATOR JOE LETTERI: 2018 VES GEORGES MÉLIÈS AWARD WINNER
Recipient of the 2018 VES Georges Méliès Award
CONVERTING A CLASSIC: HOW STEREO D GAVE <strong>TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY</strong> A 3D MAKEOVER
24 August 2017
Exclusives, Games
CONVERTING A CLASSIC: HOW STEREO D GAVE TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY A 3D MAKEOVER
James Cameron loves stereo. He took full advantage of shooting in native 3D on Avatar, and has made his thoughts clear in recent times about the importance of shooting natively in stereo when possible...
<strong>CARS 3:</strong> Pixar Embraces New Renderer with Stunning Detail
01 April 2017
Exclusives, Games
CARS 3: Pixar Embraces New Renderer with Stunning Detail
This summer, the third Cars film from Pixar Animation Studios, featuring race legend Lightning McQueen will be in the spotlight.