The Unreal Engine is no longer only for video game developers.
From VFX to virtual production, the gaming engine has outgrown its initial use case. We take a look at how this tool can also help you speed up pre-production, no matter your budget.
We recently took a look at the partnership between Sony and Epic Games on evolving virtual production workflows. From dedicated hardware developed by Sony, along with the Unreal Engine, we saw how technology is making green screen a thing of the past.
But Unreal Engine has more versatility than we first mentioned, specifically when doing pre-visualization for stunt work and action scenes. But the benefit of this amazing tool from Epic Games isn’t limited to big production. Let’s dive in deeper and see what filmmakers are able to do with this software.
The best thing of all? It’s free to use.
Action Design for The Suicide Squad
First, we’ll take a look at how Unreal Engine is being used in developing stunt and action scenes in big-budget movies.
PROXi was founded by Guy Norris, one of the film industry’s most renowned stunt coordinators, and his son Harrison Norris. PROXi creates stunning virtual production sets in Unreal Engine to pre-vis complex scenes that require a myriad of VFX and/or stunt performers.
Both Guy and Harrison Norris are credited in Mad Max: Fury Road, Ghost in the Shell, and The Suicide Squad. In each production, they used Unreal Engine and their own custom tools to fully create the action scenes before production even starts.
Not only is the PROXi team creating fully lit environments with Unreal Engine, but they can also motion capture stunt performers, create models of each character and actor, fully dress them in their costumes, and film the entire action scene within the gaming engine.
The cameras can then be repositioned, the wardrobe can be altered, and lighting can be locked in depending on the creative vision of the director or creative team. Even James Gunn, director of The Suicide Squad, got in on the action.
While the team at PROXi does have a few custom tools to better help pre-vis action scenes with cars, most of their work is done with an out-of-the-box version of Unreal Engine.
While it’s amazing to see what big-budget productions can achieve in Epic Games’ engine, any filmmaker with access to a computer can use Unreal to create pre-vis elements for their projects. No matter the budget.
Unreal Engine for Budget Filmmakers
Unreal Engine does have a steep learning curve if you’ve never touched a gaming engine, so we can’t talk about how filmmakers can use this tool for pre-vis without mentioning the other software packages available.
Previs Pro is a Mac-only software package that functions on iPhones and iPads. While is a well-developed tool with some interesting features, since it’s focused on storyboarding, your pre-vis workflow might be limited when compared to Unreal Engine.
There is also CineTracer, which piggybacks off Unreal Engine and is essentially a real-time cinematography simulator.
While both of these tools offer some unique features, Unreal Engine on its own is more than capable of creating anything you need for your pre-vis workflow. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting a small short film or your first indie feature. Unreal is also free. Which is a boon for creatives that are putting every dollar into their production.
Here's a deeper look into what creatives can achieve with Unreal Engine, which goes beyond our initial conversion on pre-visualization.
With Unreal, you can fabricate your entire set in a virtual space, block your scenes with actors, set up your cameras, and finesse your lighting. This output can then be modified into storyboards and help plan complex shots with multiple variables.
Creatives can even make their entire films within Unreal.
As we keep mentioning, the foundation of any production is efficiency. Film and TV shows live and die based on their schedule. With Unreal Engine, creatives at all budget levels can show up on set ready to shoot. At the very least, it's an invaluable tool to learn VFX, composition, lighting, and storytelling.