Seems I’m not alone in my assessment that game engines are now viable rendering engines for CG filmmaking. I’ve been seeing this discussion pop up a lot lately. While working at triple-A games studios during the advent of the eighth console gen, I routinely heard rumblings then that this was the big objective, to achieve ‘hollywood level CG in realtime’. With a focus on game engines at this year’s GDC, it seems it’s been truly brought into the forefront of people’s minds.
Now FastCompany is echoing these thoughts as well, with their article ‘The Future of Video Games is the Future of Animation‘.
I particularly liked the stat that a single frame from Pixar’s Monsters University took them 29 hours to render using “what’s considered one of the fastest supercomputer rigs in the world: 2,000 computers with 24,000 processing cores”. In my analysis from my own testing, a 4K frame was taking me about 4 hours in Maya Mentalray, but it wasn’t as complex as a frame set up by Pixar. Meanwhile, to capture a 4K frame out of Unity, it takes only 0.91 seconds, on my five-year-old iMac. So 29 hours or 104,400 seconds on a state-of-the-art super-computer versus 0.91 seconds on a half-decade-old prosumer desktop. As this provides literally millions of dollars in cost-savings and time-savings value to individual creators, it’s not even a question of which route an indie should take for CG filmmaking.
I haven’t tested Unreal Engine 4 yet myself, as it barely runs smoothly on my five-year-old iMac. I’m going to need to get a new computer anyway (it’s time), and I’m aiming for the 5K iMac as my primary machine with Windows on Bootcamp. If that’s not enough, then I’m also considering getting a super-beefy Windows box with the Nvidia Titan X as basically my render machine only.
But the new computer(s) will be a bit down the road. I’m content to finish the virtual set for VFM02 first in Unity 5 for now while I train myself up on CG modeling and texturing. I’ve also just finished figuring out cinematic cameras, lighting and rendering modes, and the full capture pipeline from Unity, and am thrilled to have got all of that working. I’m actually not that limited with my old iMac, primarily because uRecord can get animation out of Unity at any res in perfect lossless frame-by-frame PNGs without runtime even being a factor. Then there’s having to decide between Unity’s royalty free offering and Unreal Engine’s 5% cut. Unity’s results aren’t bad at all, but Unreal Engine’s seem pretty obviously amazing– for a price.
Going through VFM02, I’m already beginning to appreciate the value in a stylized approach on an indie-scale. It really comes down to how easy it is to implement these features in the engine editor, and whether that scales throughout an entire production. Meanwhile, you can actually see low-fidelity texturing on background assets of Star Wars: Rebels produced and aired by Disney (high res example 1, example 2), so there’s a level of efficiency possible through stylization that works. People tend to focus on the characters in the frame, especially the eyes, anyway. It really just depends on your production parameters and goals, so there’s huge value in custom-tailoring a style to fit those. The Kite demo certainly wasn’t made by one person in spare time, but it nevertheless does demonstrate an enormous leap forward in efficiency at smaller production scales.
Either way, it does seem that using game engines now for filmmaking is a trending idea. Go experiment and create something awesome! There’s never been a better time.