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Epic Games Shares ‘Blue Dot’ Short Production Effort

Look behind-the-scenes of how the Serbia-based 3Lateral team harnessed MetaHuman Animator to make the high-fidelity cinematic short.

This week, Epic Games’ blog went behind-the-scenes on Blue Dot, the animated short that debuted earlier this year alongside the launch of MetaHuman Animator, showcasing how a small team of artists from 3Lateral was able to bring their traditional filmmaking backgrounds to this innovative digital production using MetaHuman Animator and Unreal Engine. You can read about it in detail here.

The MetaHuman Animator allows users to capture an actor’s performance and quickly turn it into high-fidelity facial animation for a MetaHuman using a stereo head-mounted camera or an iPhone – it recreates every nuance of the actor’s performance on a digital character.

To test the limits of MetaHuman Animator, Serbia-based 3Lateral team collaborated with local artists and filmmakers to produce Blue Dot, a short film featuring actor Radivoje Bukvić, with cinematographer Ivan Šijak acting as director of photography. The entire sequence, including hair, is rendered in Unreal Engine and can run in real-time.

The film demonstrates how MetaHuman Animator facilitates the creation of high-fidelity cinematics using an on-set process typical of traditional filmmaking to direct and capture a performance. The high-quality output needed only a small team of animators for final polish.

Bukvić started the project by capturing his likeness at 3Lateral, using the company’s custom 4D scanning techniques, with the team using the data to create a MetaHuman rig. Even though the piece was to be entirely digital, Šijak and his team drew on their traditional filmmaking experience throughout the process.

To design the lighting as if for a live-action shoot, the team brought in physical lights and adjusted them to get the look they wanted on Bukvić. With the chosen lighting setup recreated digitally in Unreal Engine, they could quickly preview how the lighting worked with Bukvić’s animated MetaHuman while the actor was still on the motion-capture set in case another take was required. Then, lighting - unlike physical lighting - could be tweaked after the fact.

“To see the results of the light on the actor - even when light was not present on set - and to change the light later on, you want to work in this kind of environment,” said Šijak. “It felt natural, and the workflow was really, really amazing.”

Real-world movie cameras, complete with dolly tracks, were brought into the mocap studio to add realism. They were tracked, along with Bukvić’s body and face, enabling the team to precisely recreate the camera motions in Unreal Engine, with Bukvić’s MetaHuman acting directly to the camera. The team focused the action almost entirely on his face.

“The human face is tremendously complex,” added Šijaks. “We needed a tool powerful enough to be able to analyze all of that information instead of trying manually to recreate each individual muscle movement on a human face.”

3Lateral art director Aleksandar Popov noted, “One of the most important aspects is obviously eyes. That is what makes or breaks the whole impression. And so, we put in a lot of effort to actually design from that kind of artistic standpoint and allow the technology to do the rest.”

Bukvić’s facial performance recording used a pair of stereo head-mounted cameras. The video and calculated depth data were then processed in MetaHuman Animator using a 4D solver, capturing every detail and nuance of the performance and reconstructing the eye gaze movements.

With MetaHuman Animator, the results are available to review in minutes and tweaked in Unreal Engine for refinement or dramatic effect. However, the Blue Dot team found minimal manual polish required.

Watch: Behind the Scenes on MetaHuman Animator Showcase ‘Blue Dot’

Source: Epic Games

Debbie Diamond Sarto's picture

Debbie Diamond Sarto is news editor at Animation World Network.