Epic Games is using the game Fortnite to make a name for itself and show the capabilities of its Unreal Engine 4 (UE4).
The game company is currently at SIGGRAPH (Special Interest Group on Computer GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques) in Los Angeles to show its latest UE4 tools using the three-minute cinematic trailer for Fortnite.
The internally built trailer was made in two months as an example to show their 3D real-time storytelling. Epic is positioning its technology to be at the forefront of a shift from rendered content to real-time 3D, which can possibly create a ripple for animation producers, brands and enterprise companies.
Marc Petit, enterprise general manager at Epic Games, told AListDaily that Epic has created a new hybrid pipeline for UE4 so that companies can continue to create content using existing software and infrastructure, but now it can be done in real-time.
“The benefits of moving to real-time [are] that it’s cheaper because you can let go of the render farms,” Petit said, referencing a 30 percent savings that clients in TV production are reporting. “It’s also a faster way to produce content. We’ve reached critical mass with real-time technology.”
Petit added that using Unreal also creates assets that can be used across multiple media including animation, video games, augmented reality and virtual reality. Another gaming angle that is now being explored by Hollywood is “modding,” which can be applied to storytelling for the first time. This opens up unique opportunities for brands that previously didn’t exist.
“In the Fortnite trailer, you can add logos to the T-shirts and product placement,” Petit said. “There are also more interesting uses like adding different story arcs where the content could behave differently each time you rewatch the trailer. There’s also the opportunity to introduce microtransactions to this type of content, where you could (in theory) trade the weapons the characters use in the trailer for a paid Star Wars lightsaber takeover.
Netflix is already creating interactive content for its Puss in Book and Buddy Thunderstruck kids’ shows, although it’s not using UE4 for those projects. But it’s a sign that these early choose-your-own-adventure-style shows are something Hollywood storytellers are already exploring. Disney Junior is also playing with interactive storytelling with its Amigo to the Rescue app.
“Modding will drive a lot of viewer engagement for TV, or the fusion of TV and film and this new world of media that’s evolving,” Petit explained.
Montreal-based Digital Dimension debuted Zafari at Epic’s SIGGRAPH press conference on July 31. The former visual effects house has created over 50 11-minute episodes of the kids’ TV show using UE4 technology. The series will debut in October in France with a global rollout with NBCUniversal afterward.
At GDC earlier this year, Epic Games partnered with Chevrolet to showcase how real-time tools could be used across commercial shoots, Google Tango AR and interactive customizable 4K displays with The Human Race featuring Camaro.
“People are fed up with interstitial video,” Petit said. “Having the brand inside the content is of value. Personalized branded content will be the future.”
Based on the current technology landscape’s advances, Petit believes that within five years, technology like UE4 will allow for real-time product placement. Advances in AR will also change the entertainment landscape. Peter Jackson’s studio showcased a UE4 demo at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, and ILM also showed off UE4 in VR with a Darth Vader demo.
Disney Imagineering is working with Lucasfilm to use Unreal to expand their Star Wars-themed parks at Disneyland and Disney World for 2019. In addition to the Galaxy’s Edge parks, Disney is also introducing a Vacation 360 experience in a new Star Wars-themed hotel in Orlando.
“Real-time content is going to be required for these types of projects, and if they can share assets across the company it can save a lot of money,” Petit added.