Unreal Engine’s New Virtual Production Tool Is Reshaping Cinematography
Is real-time VR technology the future of filmmaking?
Unreal Engine is changing how filmmakers and advertisers are making movies and commercials with a new virtual production tool that allows them to add special effects in real-time. The new technology replaces conventional methods, such as using a greenscreen or adding special effects in post-production, with LED walls that can create immersive virtual environments on and active film set in real-time.
When you move the camera around the scene, the Unreal Engine camera moves with it, creating a parallax effect that makes it appear as though you’re staring into a 3D world. The technology even adds realistic lighting to real-world objects and talent that occupy the scene; everything is captured simultaneously in a single shot, bypassing the need for lengthy post-production.
The technology has already been used in films such as First Man and Solo: A Star Wars Story. Jon Favreau revealed to a crowd at SIGGRAPH that he used Unreal’s VR LED walls in his upcoming Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, which is set to debut on Disney+ in the coming months.
Epic Games, along with Magnopus, Lux Machina, Quixel, Profile Studios, ARRI, and Matt Workman of Cinematography Database, demonstrated the technology during SIGGRAPH, giving attendees a glimpse of the VR software in action by creating a seamless environment that immerses the actors and props through the camera lens; every element is integrated into a single scene in real-time.
In an official Unreal Engine blog post, Workman talked about Unreal Engine’s VR production tool, saying how when he first walked on to the LED-filled set and looked through the camera, to him, it really felt like he was filming on location.
Kris Murray, VP of Technology at Lux Machina said, “We can track a camera’s position in space in real-time and render it’s perspective,” adding, “we can compellingly convince a camera that something else is happening in front of it that really isn’t there.”
With Unreal Engine’s new production tool, the entire scene, including all the special fx, can be changed live on set in real-time. In one example provided by Unreal Engine, a rock in a scene needs to be moved to help with the camera shot. To do that, the filmmakers simply just pick up the rock and move it, virtually, through a device such as an iPad.
Creators also have the power to change things such as lighting with a simple fingertip gesture. Slide your finger up, down, left, or right and the lighting angles change in a way that will impact the CG environment as well as the actors and props; with just a few simple gestures you can instantly change the time of day from sunrise to nighttime.
“This opens up kind of like a virtual playground to shoot in,” said Workman.
Virtual production streamlines the collaboration process by allowing all departments, from director of photography to cinematographer, can enter a scene and make changes together instantly vs having to wait many months between production and post-production.
“It’s been my dream to get computer graphics to the point that they’re totally photoreal,” said Kim Libreri, Chief Technology Officer at Epic Games. “I’ve loved video games and movies all of my life, and this is bringing the best of them together.”
If you happen to share Libreri’s enthusiasm for VR filmmaking, check out Unreal Engine’s virtual production tool for by downloading the latest preview version of UE4.
Of course, Epic Games aren’t the only ones playing around with VRfilmmaking technology. LA-based technology company ARwall has been working with production companies on its own version of large-scale ARFX displays. Much like the new Unreal Engine VR production tool, ARwall combines large LED video walls and tracking technology to create realistic “virtual windows” designed to be used on film sets.
Regardless of which service offers the best experience, it’s clear that VR technology is quickly becoming a viable option for major studios and production companies. Earlier this summer we learned that director John Favreau made heavy use of VR technology during the production of the recent live-action The Lion King remake, essentially creating an entire VR world in which to shoot the film.
Featured Image Credit: Epic Games