Epic Games Releases Virtual Production Field Guide Volume 2

Updated field guide covers Remote Collaboration and new Case Studies.

Epic Games has today released the second volume of its Virtual Production Field Guide, a free in-depth resource for creators at any stage of the virtual production process in film and television. Available as a PDF download, this latest volume of the Virtual Production Field Guide dives deep into workflow evolutions including remote multi-user collaboration, new features released in Unreal Engine as well as what’s coming this year in Unreal Engine 5, and two dozen new interviews with industry leaders about their hands-on experiences with virtual production.

The first volume of the Virtual Production Field Guide was released in July 2019, designed as a foundational roadmap for the industry as adoption of virtual production techniques was poised to explode. Since then, a number of additional high-profile virtual productions have been completed, with new methodologies developed and tangible lessons ready to share with the industry. The second volume expands upon the first with over 100 pages of all-new content, covering a variety of virtual production workflows including remote collaboration, visualization, in-camera VFX, and animation.

This new volume of the Virtual Production Field Guide features interviews with industry leaders including directors Jon Favreau and Rick Famuyiwa, Netflix’s Girish Balakrishnan and Christina Lee Storm, VFX supervisor Rob Legato, cinematographer Greig Fraser, Digital Domain’s Darren Hendler, DNEG’s George Murphy, Sony Pictures Imageworks’ Jerome Chen, ILM’s Andrew Jones, Richard Bluff, and Charmaine Chan, and many more. In addition, it examines a variety of workflow scenarios, the impact of COVID-19 on production, and the growing ecosystem of virtual production service providers.

Interview with Matt Workman

Matt Workman shared some details about the release. Matt Workman is a cinematographer and founder of the Cinematography Database. His credits include a variety of music videos for artists including Justin Bieber, 50 Cent, and Diddy as well as commercials for clients such as Google, Facebook, and BMW. He developed Cine Tracer, planning, and visualization tool built in Unreal Engine. Workman also explores and teaches virtual production and Unreal Engine workflows via his YouTube channel, Cinematography Database.

What are some of the key developments in Unreal Engine for the indie developer world?

Matt Workman: We're building from the ground up with the context of trying to determine the lowest entry point to get into virtual production. Something that really helps is the HTC Vive and Valve SteamVR ecosystem, which essentially is doing tracking for us. We're able to get it up and running using just consumer VR equipment. That's the cornerstone tech piece that allows pretty much anyone to get into real-time camera tracking without it costing an exorbitant amount of money.
I also consider Blackmagic Design as a key partner moving forward with affordable cinema cameras like the Ursa Mini Pro G2 and 12K. They also make video I/O cards like the DeckLink 8K Pro, which are necessary to get footage into Unreal Engine, and the Ultimatte 12, which is the industry-standard real-time hardware keyer. Blackmagic Design also makes control panels, which is a big deal, as I see virtual production for DPs and directors where you never touch a mouse or keyboard.
Lens data protocols like Zeiss eXtended data are also going to make everyone’s lives much easier. The manufacturer calibrates them, and we get real-time data regarding focus, iris, zoom, lens shading, and very importantly, distortion values.

What about the software side? 

Matt Workman: The render quality of Unreal Engine is what sold me on dedicating almost three years of my life into this ecosystem. When they updated the circle bokeh in 4.20, the images started to look like they were photographed with real-world lenses. The ray tracing is really fast with reflections and bounce lighting since 4.25, which makes the lighting feel more realistic as well.

How has the need for remote collaboration affected your work?

Matt Workman: In 2020, the film industry had more time at home to learn both Cine Tracer and Unreal Engine. The quality of work from both user groups have increased quite a bit, which is amazing to see.
I’ve also been working with Art Directors Guild (IA 800), who have fully embraced Unreal Engine as the place to collaborate with VFX and the camera department. They’re developing their standards when working in Unreal Engine and I’m in touch with them to make sure Cine Tracer and my Unreal systems stay in sync. Developing industry standards is especially important for remote collaboration, so everyone can work on the same project seamlessly.

What are the challenges in remote workflows?

Matt Workman: Unreal Engine has a feature called Multi-User Editing where we can have multiple computers working on the same Unreal project. It's like a big Fortnite game, but within the full Unreal Engine. We can have an actor in a mocap suit broadcasting their actions, a cinematographer finding the camera angle, and the art department tweaking the set all at once.
Doing this remotely requires a VPN and it’s currently a very technical setup process. I believe this will get easier over time and it’s the direction where a lot of virtual production is headed. Professional remote virtual production crews will need fiber internet connections to be able to make this workflow viable.

What are your biggest challenges as an Unreal Engine developer?

Matt Workman: Unreal Engine is lovely, and it’s updated and improved so quickly that sometimes I can't keep track of the changes. One of my jobs is to keep Cine Tracer up to date and getting better, which means rolling in the newest updates, like the ray tracing and the new sky system. That's a good issue to have, just implementing the new features into my software and learning them.
One of the things I've done throughout learning Unreal Engine and doing software is to be very open about it. I share what I'm working on and the issues I encounter on YouTube. I have a Facebook group where I specifically surround myself with people who know more than I do about different aspects of Unreal Engine. For example, DMX lighting recently got enabled in Unreal Engine with a plugin, so we can control real-world lights from Unreal Engine. I don't know anything about that, but others in the group do.

Do you have any suggestions for someone interested in a career in virtual production?

Matt Workman: Virtual reality is a fun way to get into virtual production. Get a gaming PC and an HTC Vive, and you can get started with Cine Tracer designing 3D scenes and doing virtual camera work. It’s a great way to get your feet wet in virtual production if you have no 3D background.
If you have a 3D background, learning how to get assets from Maya / 3ds Max / Blender into Unreal Engine is the first step, and then learning how real-time rendering works to get good-looking images.
As you progress, you’ll want to jump into Unreal Engine and start to learn the more professional and advanced workflows for previs and mixed reality. I’d start by getting some free content off the Marketplace and joining the Unreal Engine Virtual Production Facebook group.

How do you see virtual production evolving over the next few years?

Matt Workman: I’m personally interested in making Cine Tracer a prosumer virtual production platform for filmmakers and creators who want to do previs, mixed reality, and performance capture. Cine Tracer is already being used in film schools around the world and I believe that it will bring more “non-3D” creators into virtual production.
From there, I believe Cine Tracer users will start to learn Unreal Engine for more customizability and advanced features that are used on professional film sets. A great example of this already happening is a short film called Nemosyne, which is on YouTube. This stunning Unreal Engine film was created by cinematographers Kevin Stewart and Luc Delamare. Kevin was an alpha tester of Cine Tracer and a user of Cine Designer, my earlier Cinema 4D plugin.
In 2020, the film industry really embraced virtual production for its ability to produce content with a smaller on-set footprint as is now mandated in the US. Producers and VFX companies are also looking for ways to virtualize and enable remote collaboration, and virtual production checks that box as well. Whether it’s green screen virtual sets or LED walls, we’re going to see virtual production in the film industry evolve rapidly over the next few years.

Matt Workman, Founder of Cinematography Database

Download Now!

Click here to download the Virtual Production Field Guide as a PDF, and also visit Epic’s Virtual Production Hub to learn more about how virtual production is transforming the art and craft of filmmaking.

About Unreal Engine

Epic Games’ Unreal Engine is the world’s most open and advanced real-time 3D tool. Creators across games, film, television, architecture, automotive and transportation, advertising, live events, and training and simulation choose Unreal to deliver cutting-edge content, interactive experiences, and immersive virtual worlds. Follow @UnrealEngine and download Unreal for free at unrealengine.com.

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