Game Execs on Real-Time Engines for Film & TV Production

Over 150 million people are playing video games in the U.S., according to the Entertainment Software Association, and by mid-2018, games brought in more revenue than movies and music combined. So it’s no surprise that there is an increasing amount of cross-pollination between games and movies. At NAB 2019, 30 Ninjas partner Lewis Smithingham moderated a conversation among a group of game executives on the evolution of game engines and how they are becoming a more common tool for today’s film and television production.

At Unity Technologies, head of cinematics Adam Myhill described how “Avatar” broke the new ground for virtual productions. “It wasn’t done with game engines, but was the beginning of using real-time systems to try out ideas in movies,” he said. “The risk was near nil. For directors, it’s like having a finger in every department, from lighting to animation and editing.”

House of Moves senior creature director/senior producer Peter Krygowski noted how his company started its work in motion capture with “Titanic.”  In 2011, he recounted, a client wanted 250 visual effects to be delivered in a year.  “House of Moves is not a visual effects house, but I came up with an idea of introducing game capture into the pipeline,” he said. “And it became a visualization tool for us.”

Eight years later, said Krygowski, the company now works in an environment where the game engine is used from pre-vis through final-vis, from start to finish. House of Moves most recently, for Mattel, produced three-to-six minute animated episodes of a kids’ show — entirely in the game engine. “That’s our evolution,” he said.

Epic Games technical product manager, mixed media Andy Blondin noted that the Unreal Engine is over 20 years old, and on its fourth generation. “It’s a super-powerful collaborative and filmmaking tool,” he said, describing the company’s campaign for “Visual Disruptors,” to build next-gen filmmaking tools. “We hope to compress pre-vis, tech-vis, post-vis into one engine, so everyone can visualize in real time.”

At The Molecule, chief executive/visual effects supervisor Chris Healer reported that his company started off with mocap and real-time work in 2001, but that the tools simply weren’t ready. Because Molecule works mainly in episodic TV, he said, game engines are used to help the artists do better work and to get the work done faster, with such tools as real-time shaders.

Smithingham asked if work being created in pre-vis has started to make it in the final cut. Myhill described creating three shorts for a Disney animated children series. “It was all game engine,” he said. “We rendered it out at 4K without compositing or post, and the final pixels on YouTube came out of Unity. That’s the dream.”

Blondin added that, “you can definitely get final quality results.” Healer reported that, “the tools are farther along than the community of artists available to use them.”  “I hope to see education become part of it,” he said.