Outlook 2018: The future is realtime
Marc Petit
Issue: January 1, 2018

Outlook 2018: The future is realtime

Marc Petit is the General Manager for Unreal Engine Enterprise, Epic Games (www.unrealengine.com). Here, he looks at the use of game engines as realtime production tools.

Epic Games’ Unreal Engine Enterprise business unit saw exponential growth in 2017, with a dedicated focus and development efforts to bring the power of Unreal Engine to markets outside of traditional gaming more seamlessly than ever before. As a result we’re seeing game engines applied across nearly every market sector that embraces computer graphics — from entertainment and visual effects to CG animation, architectural visualization, manufacturing and more.

Throughout the past decade, visual effects and animation providers have been under increased pressure to produce more content within stricter deadlines and budgetary confines. Applying realtime game engine development principles to production and post pipelines enables content creators to merge realtime visual effects with live-action storytelling, allowing studios to push the envelope and deliver the large-scale effects that audiences expect from blockbuster features faster and more efficiently than in the past. 

Though realtime rendering applications have long been used by the games industry, there are efforts across hardware and software vendors, and among communities of early adopters, working to make it easier to apply engine technology to production ecosystems. One of the key pipeline issues that Unreal Engine solves is overcoming rendering bottlenecks. With the typical CG-heavy VFX shots, rendering time can bring a production to a screeching halt. By incorporating engines into production pipelines for realtime rendering, you can dramatically accelerate project turnaround and iteration cycles, providing an efficient, convenient and cost-effective solution for delivering large-scale effects.  

Beyond visual effects and post production, professionals across broadcast and immersive technology industries are implementing realtime rendering for building next-generation interactive experiences across mediums. Unreal Engine is compatible with tracking and compositing tools, and when CG assets, scenes and virtual sets are built in-engine, they can be easily adapted to accommodate these new forms of entertainment.

Epic showcased the full capacity of Unreal Engine for realtime production with the launch of A Hard Day’s Nite, the cinematic trailer for the popular video game Fortnite. The three-minute animated short included over 130 CG shots and was entirely assembled, lit, color corrected and rendered at full resolution in Unreal, revolutionizing the traditional CG workflow and delivering a truly realtime experience. On this project, the team was also able to iterate interactively without render farm delays, allowing for more creative experimentation throughout production. Beyond in-house success, we’ve seen groundbreaking applications of our engine from customers like ILM, Digital Dimension, The Future Group, House of Moves, The Mill and many others.

Having worked in this field for over 20 years, I have witnessed many industry evolutions since the massive transition to desktop digital platforms driving digital content creation. I honestly believe that the introduction of realtime game engine technology represents the next wave of groundbreaking development in computer graphics. The flexibility is a force multiplier for iteration speed and time, and costs are plummeting due to the elimination of expensive render farms in many instances.