In recent months, the film and TV industry has been enthralled with virtual production, recognizing the many benefits of techniques such as virtual location scouting, realtime character animation, and in-camera visual effects. Along with the growing adoption of realtime technology such as Unreal Engine, and the proliferation of LED production stages, one of the most exciting — and timely — trends in the industry right now is the rise of remote multi-user workflows. With COVID impacting productions around the globe, the technology advancements that make remote multi-user collaboration possible at a high level of quality could not have come at a better time.
The virtual production features in Unreal Engine were originally designed for on-set use to facilitate greater simultaneous collaboration between departments, as we’ve seen with projects such as Disney’s The Mandalorian and HBO’s Westworld. However, the COVID production shutdown and travel restrictions prompted us to extend our capabilities, providing similar benefits even with each department head or crew member working from home. Studios such as Netflix and Bron Digital are leveraging Unreal Engine features like multi-user editing and virtual scouting so that their teams can collaboratively develop scenes in realtime, from the safety of home. These new realtime, remote, interactive, multi-user workflows mark a new step forward for the industry that was not previously attainable with traditional digital content creation tools.
Whether teams are working on an animated or live action project, they can now visually establish and prep as much as possible ahead of time, making key decisions on sets, art direction, lighting, camera angles and more without having to enter a studio or a sound stage. For example, in a recent project with Netflix, a team of eight (including two motion-capture performers at home in Xsens suits) used multi-user editing to enable all participants to work on the same scene simultaneously and to make any changes as a group; and virtual scouting for art direction, scene layout, blocking, directing and lighting. They used live link to stream motion-capture data live into the multi-user session, and take recorder to record the live motion capture performance. Sequencer was also used for editing and playing back the recorded performance capture, and to keyframe some of the camera animation. Virtual cameras were also created inside Unreal Engine using an iPad and Epic’s Live Link Face app.
All of this marks a revolutionary new era for filmmakers, where they can create and iterate content from home, or anywhere they choose. It’s also helping to democratize the industry, as opportunities are no longer siloed by geographic location — artists and other crew members can collaborate from wherever they are. At Epic, we are not only constantly innovating on Unreal Engine in order to provide new features and benefits, but we’re also working hard to develop new virtual production training and educational resources for the community, such as our Unreal Fellowship intensive for industry professionals. We believe in the power of realtime to unlock new methods of creativity and collaboration, and we’re inspired by the many ways in which creators around the world are using Unreal Engine.
As production uncertainties linger into 2021, remote multi-user workflows will continue to benefit the industry while keeping crews safe. With Unreal Engine 5 on the horizon in 2021, powerful new virtual production features are just around the corner.
Connie Kennedy is Head of LA Lab at Epic Games (www.epicgames.com) in Los Angeles.