Mill Artists Graduate ‘Class of Fall 2020’ Unreal Fellowship

Epic Games' Unreal Fellowship is a 5 week blended learning experience designed for experienced industry professionals in film, animation, and VFX to learn what goes into creating world-class virtual production pipelines and how to deploy them. A few of our artists across various disciplines and experience levels participated in the Fall 2020 Intensive Course which culminated in animated shorts they each created using UE4's real-time production methodology. Check out their films below!
Community January 26, 2021

Arsen Arzumanyan, Previs Artist | Baby Yaga

“Baba Yaga is a mythological slavic character who is essentially the trickster archetype in mythology, similar to Loki for the Norse, Mauie for the Polynesians, and so on and so on. The thing with these characters is they don’t outright hurt innocent people, they essentially entrap good people to do bad deeds and then punish them for it. That’s pretty much what I was thinking of when creating this specific scenario. I am a giant history and mythology nerd, so that stuff usually inspires everything I make. Though my first introduction to Baba Yaga was my grandmother telling me she would kidnap me if I didn’t finish my soup, and oh boy did I believe her; I was convinced that she lived in the woods across the street.

Using Unreal was the only way it could have been visualized so quickly. Having the ability to flip back and forth to any one of the numerous shots and make adjustments on the fly was a gigantic time saver, compared to the more traditional shot based approaches. Of course there are many technical challenges as well, especially with learning a new program and trying to think of and invent little workflows and methods for yourself. I find that to be a lot of fun – there’s a big exploratory part to it – since its all so early, you could be inventing new workflows without realizing it, which is always exciting. Once you get used to operating within it and can essentially do a quick version of anything you can think of, then you are only limited by the creative.”

Boo Wong, Group Director of Emerging Technolgy | Disconisqatsi

Disconisqatsi is a disco, out of balance, a mad, graphic, 4-on-the-floor-fueled escape from 2020!

I started with a few key principles – only use free assets on Epic’s Marketplace. Never go into Maya. No compositing or editing outside of UE4. Go for a deliberate, punchy, graphic slice of a music video that you might not expect out of a game engine and Virtual Production.

I’m not an on the box artist on a normal day, but I had a clear visual idea of what I was going for. I found solves like using UE4 animation clip Hit_React, which is typically used in first person shooters, to create a “dance” loop, selectively replaced Megascans materials (heresy!) with emissive and metallic shaders to create weird hybrid trees, pumped post processing effects into music cues to drive the beat home (juicy!), and rode a fine ray-traced line just this side of crashing GPUs all the way home.

To be able to learn new software from the ground up, and use it to complete a film on my own in a handful of weeks, speaks to how empowering UE4 has to be for the creators in all of us. It removes so much of the weight of traditional production that you can just free yourself to dream up crazy things and watch it come to life in front of you in real time. Cool to the max!

Damian Kwiatkowski, Technical Artist | Nomad

The film was strongly motivated by the idea of isolation.. There were many times where I imagined my little studio apartment as a Capsule with all the necessities, but only a small monitor space to see the rest of the world through.

During the process I was able to utilize many new Unreal features which are making their way out of development stages and onto full fledged production solutions as they are continuously improved upon. A particularly fun experience was the iPhone facial motion capture “LiveLink” for the face animations, aswell as hearing my graphics card purr with the sounds of realtime raytracing. I think the ways in which you can control your scene in these systems, will be found familiar by the new generations of artists. Being able to see the final rendered image is very important to me as a visual person and while realtime rendering has it drawbacks, Interactivity is where it’s at!”

Hannah Schilsky, Technical Artist | A Case of Consumption

During the first week at the Unreal Fellowship for Virtual Production, were given the word “Exploration” as a prompt and tasked with creating a story. Later that night as I was cutting open my go to dinner of square synthetic meat substitute the words popped into my mind:  “The memory is in the meat, all you ever will be is all you will ever eat.”

I loved the idea that all the exploration we do transcends simultaneously into experiences and memories that then shape who we are as much if not more than our physical bodies. What if along with the proteins and carbohydrates, the experiences of what we consumed were too broken down, processed, and reassembled into our own memory banks.

This idea developed into a possible future or parallel universe in which an intergalactic manufacturing facility has abducted all the cows off Earth and are now cloning, processing, and reselling them back to the humans in the form of a cubular nutrient packed breakfast cereal called “Steerios”. From this idea my short film “A Case in Consumption” was born, and later evolved to also embody themes of media consumption.

During the making of this project, I leveraged the strengths of working inside of a game engine to generate animation procedurally by using gameplay logic and real-time physics simulations inside of Unreal. By building out the scenarios in which my AI cattle herds would interact with the environment within sets of defined parameters, and then capturing these performances as they played out live, I was able to save an enormous amount of time animating as well as leave room for the “happy accidents” that added a level of organic physical comedy to the overall mood of the piece. Throughout the fellowship my pipeline shifted to generating all my animations inside of Unreal apart from several simulations created in Houdini.

A special thanks to Epic Games for giving me this opportunity to explore.

You can get in touch with our team about Virtual Production by reaching out to us here.