Using MetaHuman Animator & Traditional Techniques for Blue Dot Short Movie

The 3Lateral team explained the process behind the cinematic.

Epic Games' MetaHuman is well-known for its power to create realistic people, and the recently released MetaHuman Animator can complete the picture with high-quality facial animations.

The capabilities of the tool were shown really well in Blue Dot, a short movie shot by 3Lateral in collaboration with other artists and filmmakers presented in June. The team explained how it used traditional filmmaking techniques to direct and capture actor Radivoje Bukvić's performance.

Image credit: 3Lateral

First, 3Lateral used its custom 4D scanning techniques to capture Bukvić’s likeness so that MetaHuman Animator could create animation data while the team was working on the MetaHuman rig.

Here is where practical work comes into the picture. The studio brought in physical lights to design the lighting as they would for a live-action shoot. This was beneficial for the project as the creators could see the setup in Unreal Engine with Bukvić's digital twin and quickly adjust everything while the actor was still on set.

Image credit: 3Lateral

Then, real-world movie cameras, complete with dolly tracks, were brought into the mocap studio. This helped 3Lateral recreate the camera motions in Unreal Engine with Bukvić's MetaHuman acting directly to the camera.

“One of the main engines of acting is imagination,” he said. “If you follow your inner emotions, your body will move spontaneously in front of the camera. [...] In this work, I was trying to explore my inner world and the result is really stunning.”

Image credit: 3Lateral

Close-ups were extremely important for the film, they are "how the viewer is communicating and exchanging emotions with the character," according to cinematographer Ivan Šijak, who acted as director of photography on the project.

Such close proximity was a challenge that, however, drove the development of MetaHuman Animator. 

“The human face is tremendously complex,” said 3Lateral Business Development Lead Uroš Sikimić. “We needed a tool powerful enough to be able to analyze all of that information, instead of trying manually to recreate each individual muscle movement on a human face.”

Eyes are crucial for any character-centered work, and Blue Dot is not an exception. “That is what makes or breaks the whole impression,” shared Art Director Aleksandar Popov. “And so we put in a lot of effort to actually design from that kind of artistic standpoint and allow the technology to do the rest.”

Bukvić's performance was recorded with a pair of stereo head-mounted cameras and then given to MetaHuman Animator together with calculated depth data so that it could process it all using a 4D solver.

Image credit: 3Lateral

The result was so realistic that Bukvić himself couldn't believe it: “I was blown away when I saw all the tiny details are there.” Šijak, too, noted the quality of the output, indistinguishable from the one shot with a real camera.

If you'd like to see what MetaHuman Animator is capable of, watch the full movie here and read the breakdown in this blog post. Also, join our 80 Level Talent platform and our Telegram channel, follow us on InstagramTwitter, and LinkedIn, where we share breakdowns, the latest news, awesome artworks, and more.

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