By Michael Wright
Epic Games recently unveiled their latest innovation in graphics and design technology. Metahuman Creator is a tool that promises to put the creation of realistic characters in the hands of designers.
Epic Games is a local company that is leading the industry in many ways. While it is best known for its success with the game Fortnite, the company has also worked to make game development accessible to lots of people. Unreal Engine 4 is a powerful engine which Epic made free to use by anyone. Alongside it, Epic has released high quality photo-scanned terrain and assets from their game Paragon, all for free.
Unreal Engine is even being used outside of games now in many different industries such as engineering. Even films are now using it for visual effects, perhaps most notably the Star Wars franchise. Last year Epic unveiled the Unreal Engine 5, which will push the fidelity of real-time rendering even further using their Lumin and Nanite tech, all of which will be free to use.
Over the years many advancements with real-time motion tracking in Unreal Engine have been showcased, an example being the game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which was made in Unreal by a small team. Now the innovations from Epic Games’ various partnerships and acquisitions have culminated in Metahuman Creator, a tool that will allow for game- and motion capture-ready photoreal characters to be made in minutes. This has the potential to bypass and streamline some of the hurdles involved in creating characters like these.
Metahuman Creator will come with Unreal Engine and therefore is expected to be free to use by anyone with the right hardware who so wishes to. A demo released in February for Unreal Engine 4 featuring two characters created with the tool. The full Creator is expected to launch later this year.
I spoke with WPU instructor Brandon Crews, who heads the simulation and game design program, about his thoughts on this recent development. He has experience in the games industry as an animator, including working at Epic Games for a time. He believes that this is going to be a powerful tool for designers, and offered some insights on how it will work.
MW: You are no doubt pretty keyed in to developments in the games industry, so I am sure you have heard about the reveal of Metahuman Creator. What are your initial thoughts on this new announcement from Epic?
BC: So I know primarily from the production process the designers decide overall aspects of the character. They can create concept art of what the character should look like, and then those concepts and designs are sent to the 3D artist to model, and then sent to the riggers and animators to have them move how they want to. So what this is going to allow the industry and any kind of similar industries to do is to give those designers the reins of designing in 3D and not having to wait to see what someone else’s interpretation of their designs kind of look like. So that’s really where it’s going to be kind of revolutionary is to put it in the hands of designers. Just like the Unreal Engine has given designers the opportunity to create interactions through visual blueprinting, this is going to give designers the opportunity to create the 3D aspects how they want to without having to go outside of their own means.”
MW: There may be students in the SGD program who could possibly be using this tool in their careers, especially since Epic Games is headquartered nearby in Cary. What should students’ takeaways from this announcement be?
BC: The key thing is just like any kind of new tech, it’s not a replacement. Right? It’s not going to be a replacement for character development. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still understand good key body proportions. You shouldn’t understand good character movement. We still need the creators to be able to build believable characters and there is still that creative aspect. So it’s not a replacement for character development, it’s an aid in character development.”
MW: Artificial Intelligence has become very big over the last decade, and now we are seeing it become involved in the art process for games and film. Do you think Metahuman’s AI tech, and tech like it, will become the standard for generating characters in games?
BC: I think we’ve seen the terms of, like, proceduralism and modular design really become a mainstay in this industry. One, because it streamlines the process. It makes the development process of the game more successful. It gives us more variety and more opportunity when we think about things from a modular procedural way. And we’ve seen that improvement with games for environment art pieces. For the entire games, stuff like Warframe and games like that where the environments in general are procedurally created every time you open up a new level. And No Man’s Sky, how the entire planets are procedurally created when you go to that planet. We’re seeing how that has influenced and enhanced the way those games are played or interacted with with that proceduralism and now we’re going to start seeing more and more of that with characters and everything else we create.”