Rustam Ryaboy from Studio krem.productions shared the experience of creating a cinematic game trailer for Steamcraft using Unreal Engine 4.
There were two reasons why we decided to use UE4.
- The inconvenience of using modern tools for creating cinematics.
Our usual pipeline is Blender, Cinema 4D, and 3ds Max. The disadvantage of this bundle is a very long rendering time. There is an alternative solution – After Effects plus the Element 3D plugin. This way you can make videos much faster except for one problem: this pack is unstable. Therefore, we are constantly looking for new solutions. We wanted our videos to be made quickly and avoid inconveniences.
- The hype around real-time visualization. Within the past few years, people have been constantly talking about the features of real-time rendering which is close to cinema quality.
We carefully watched cinematics made in Unreal and Unity and decided that our studio must try to work with one of these engines.
Our choice fell on Unreal Engine 4 as it has very convenient built-in tools for creating cinematics and a snazzy demo.
Here’s a short sketch showing our preparations. Please note that the sequence is not precise as we made several things at the same time.
I’m going to drop the steps like scriptwriting and storyboarding and focus on the preparation of the video.
In its simplest form, an animatic is essentially a rough draft of a film or sequence, consisting of simple storyboarded panels (sketchily drawn images of each shot in a sequence) that are timed out with a temporary soundtrack (voices, music and some sound effects). This becomes a crude draft of a film allowing the filmmaker to test timings, visual flow, and see if the intended meaning of the sequence is conveyed.
In our case, the animatic was a rough sketch made in UE4 without any detailed models and environment.
When we started to create the video, we had no idea how everything worked in Unreal but only 24 hours was enough to figure it out. I think this is a good proof of a low entry level for CG specialists.
Since each scene was rendered for about two minutes, we could quickly make new changes. As a result, the fifth version of the animatic was approved and pre-production was completed.
We usually begin the production by preparing the models and environment that’s going to be in the frame.
Car models were prepared by our 3D experts and I was responsible for the locations. We wanted to have four locations: the desert, the night forest, the winter forest, and the garage.
Originally, I was thinking of creating them by myself. However, after meeting with the editor of the engine documents, I realized that I didn’t have time to master it. For this reason, I, as a decent compose specialist, plunged into the Unreal Marketplace.
After just five minutes, I found a package of landscapes that had everything I needed. It only remained to fill the empty locations with objects. And here the Quixel scan library of scanned objects helped me.
After I managed to get the knack of working with assets in Unreal Engine 4, I moved to the lighting settings. I rarely worked with lights in AE, as it was very uncomfortable. In Unreal, everything is much simpler, so I had the opportunity to experiment.
We decided that a part of the animation would be prepared in Maya and 3ds Max and then imported into Unreal. We knew that if the animation is skeletal, there wouldn’t be any problems, yet we had some bugs. For example, if there are two different animations of the same machine in one folder, Unreal Engine gives an error and breaks the entire animation. It can be avoided by importing animation into a new empty folder.
One of the most important advantages of working on the videos in Unreal Engine is the ability to control the camera position using the standard WASD keyboard layout. You only need to press a couple of keys instead of setting up a large number of variables.
What’s more, the settings have a wide range of functions – you can even do post-processing right away. Since version 4.20, developers have introduced a new DoF method (Circle DoF) which gives wonderful bokeh. But again, there can be some artifacts.
One of the most difficult stages of the project was the car animation. It was necessary to make a universal car rig inside Unreal and after a couple of days, our 3D animators achieved a cool and fully working result.
But as soon as we started recording the animation, something went wrong. Wheels kept flying off, appearing and disappearing, and sometimes there appeared guns instead of the wheels. We spent a week trying to deal with these bugs and the only explanation for them that we found was:
The deadline was approaching, and the scenes with moving cars were not ready. Cars moved in the air, through the ground, and sometimes without wheels.
As a result, in order not to waste our precious time, we had to go for various tricks in several scenes to make them look good in the camera, even if it was a matter of flying machine guns.
Since I was responsible for the final result, I had to take over the color correction and editing. For these tasks, I used After Effects, but it can also be done in Unreal Engine which has all the necessary tools.
There were no problems with color correction but during the editing phase, it became clear that there was a lack of dynamics. Therefore, I decided to add a few more scenes and change the angle and camera movement in the existing ones.
These changes took the last two days of work before we sent the first version of the trailer to the client. After a few revisions, it was approved.
There is one very important point which made me love Unreal with all my heart: it is iterative. When you immediately see the result in the window and the rendering of a 1-minute video takes 20-30 minutes, you spare some time for creativity and experiments.
Some of our scenes were re-shot 5-10 times, plus several scenes were shot just in case. We could make some mistakes and at the same time avoid losing time rendering scenes, as we saw almost final results in real time.
The idea to change the familiar pipeline that involved Blender, 3ds Max, and Maya to Unreal Engine just before the start of the project seemed crazy, but we did it. And for us, Unreal has become one of the tools for rendering videos.