More real-time rendering musings with Unreal Engine 4

aki ross final fantasy: spirits within movie

Aki Ross – the CG superstar that sadly never was

Do you remember Final Fantasy: Spirits Within? I sure do. As an occasional fan of the Final Fantasy games I will say that I was very excited to hear about the movie, and to an extent I wasn’t even disappointed. As the on/off fan I wasn’t distressed by the disconnection the film had with the games, and given that all the games are more-or-less unconnected why would the movie have been any different? The CGI, even now, is a stunning piece of work even if the motion capture fell a little short at times, and the movie as a whole was letdown by a plot that bordered on utter rubbish propelled along by a clichéd, and occasionally cringe-worthy band of characters. Despite all this I still love the movie for that CGI feast.

…and then there’s Aki Ross… four-hundred thousand beautifully rendered polygons that were not popping out of her outfit, cutesfied, or eroticised at every opportunity; now that is something that is indeed rare for a leading female anime character (yes I did just say FFSW was anime – deal!). But I’m getting off track.

Spirits Within still stands as one of the most expensive CGI movies ever produced. According to Wikipedia the film was rendered with a “home-made” render farm composed of 960 Pentium III-933 MHz, with each of the 141,964 frames taking an average of 90 minutes to render. If my maths is right that’s over 24 years of rendering! That was all back in 2001. Fast forward 12 years to today with technologies that are capable of rendering characters, animation, and environments in real-time in detail only wide-eyed dreamers dared to ponder on, and it creeps ever onward towards photorealism. Indeed, looking at the latest tech demos you could be forgiven for thinking we are already there.

Once again I’m finding myself very excited by the possibilities of new 3D game engines like Unreal Engine 4. Just a few days ago (29th March 2013) the Infiltrator tech demo went up on the Unreal Engine YouTube channel. Of course, Epic being Epic they had to demonstrate their fancy new technology with adrenaline fuelled pew pew action.

As far as I’m informed (Polygon) everything in the video is a real-time rendering all running on an Nvidia GTX 680, which while coming with at a considerable price, is well within reach for many. When we have the potential for such grand visual immersion coupled with the engine’s amazing editing tools I’m left with a huge thrill for the possibilities, not only for the production of big budget high octane games, but for the modding community, indie developers, animators, and artists. GPU based real-time rendering is making huge leaps and it has been pushed largely by video games. Could we be about to see the technologies and software used to develop games explode into widespread use in many different applications?

This is what can currently be done with UE3. Skip to about 1 min in to see all the neat features.

The engine has also been used to render environments for children’s show LazyTown.

Share your thoughts?