THANKS TO THE growing power of video games engines, which are responsible for creating the whole in-game experience - from rendering the physics system and sound architecture to artificial intelligence and networking - the idea that film makers could take advantage of them to improve, speed up or even completely abolish the post-production process is slowly becoming a reality.
Last year, when we reported that LucasFilm, the California production company responsible for the Star Wars franchise, proclaimed that video game engines would be responsible for the decline of the movie post-production process in the next 10 years, our readers scoffed.
"You have to be joking, do you have any idea how many times this has been tried in the past and completely and utterly failed to work?" said one. While another chimed in with, "It'll never happen, directors like to screw with the effects too much."
But despite what the critics say, I think the gap is closing fast, and it's only a matter of time before this will become the norm for animated movies. This is not just because games engines are increasing in power and sophistication and thus are more able to create more realistic visuals, but because movie directors are actually craving this type of technology.
For instance, I spoke to the animation director of the recently released Paddington film just before its release this week, Pablo Grillo of London's Framestore, who said that "the ideal for directors" of animated movies is that the animations can be done in real-time, a feature that games engines could unlock.
Paddington the bear was created and animated using a more simple-looking representation of the character than the one seen in the final film, which is manipulated in near real time. But it then takes hours upon hours of rendering of much higher details, for example Paddington's fur, in post animation before the film's makers can see the end result. And even then, the director might not be happy with the end result when the rendering has taken place, meaning they'd have to start animating the scene again, potentially wasting crucial production time.
"One thing that would really transform the process is to be able to real-time render - yeah I'd like to see more detail, certainly things like hair - but the dream is to be animating real time with what you see at the ‘other end'," explained Grillo.
"You would make your choices based on what you see and know that they have full value but at the moment there's still that distance."
When asked if video games engines could provide that, Grillo replied "absolutely".
"The next challenge is seeing the hair in the scene, seeing the lighting and the shadows [while animating]. That would be a step up. We look at games and how this is happening and want a piece of the action."
However, we aren't quite there yet. While the gap is closing, we are still years away from games engines being able to produce films that are as good as Paddington.
Framestore CTO Steve MacPherson said: "There's a big gap but it's closing - for example UnReal and Cry Engines are getting very good. [But] they don't use them in films as they just aren't good enough for film just yet.
"They're fine for Saturday morning [computer animated] cartoons. It's the level of complexity that they can get to."
But when game engines finally advance to a level where they can provide the detail seen in modern animated movies, and thus allow for the combining of video games with film-making techniques, we will really start to see more creative outcomes in films.
Directors will be liberated from the worries of day-long rendering in post-production and given more flexibility to explore completely new avenues in film that haven't been possible previously. µ
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