Time to get real – what marketers can learn from video game graphics
We used to think of video game graphics as blocky, static polygons. Today, real-time technologies are capable of simulating near-photo-realistic scenes. Tracey Taylor explains what marketers are missing.
Real-time technologies (read: gaming engines and their rendering softwares) are not just for your AR/VR/interactive projects. Real-time technologies are revolutionising traditional production processes – but not replacing; enhancing. Think of them as a new suite of tools to help with your storytelling. Not since the digital revolution has there been such an opportunity to explore and develop content pipelines and the way we service clients.
If Hollywood studios and directors are embracing this new technology, then you know it’s worth paying attention. In a nutshell, real-time can provide more flexibility, innovation and adaptability in your production processes.
For the large 18 metre dome installation Spinifex is creating for the 2019 Avalon Airshow, it required content from a touch tablet to interact with animation projected onto the inside of the immersive dome. We made the decision to re-create the existing 16:9 animated video into a real-time environment, where we then placed a 3D animated character who interacted with the real-time content. The entire projection could have been pre-rendered, but real-time gave us the flexibility to alter the environment and tweak character animation with much more agility.
Real-time won’t suit all projects, but even if we don’t create in real-time, the pre-visualisation/ideation stage of the process can be enhanced by using a real-time engine. We’ve found that being able to quickly iterate ideas and concepts with directors, agencies and clients is invaluable. They can see immediate change without having to wait for long renders, and this design flexibility can lead to surprising outcomes that are only discovered through experimentation and iteration – a luxury that traditional processes often don’t afford.
Another key advantage of using real-time is adaptability. A traditional production pipeline involves a linear process where each stage needs a lock off on all elements before moving onto the next production phase. In complex CG or composited films, these lock offs can make changes expensive and laborious with many of the early production stages needing to be revisited in order to make changes to the final film.
With real-time rendering, previews are possible in the matter of minutes/hours, not hours/days; and clients reap the benefit of greater peace of mind in what can often be a process requiring several leaps of faith. Real-time allows for many of the production phases to happen at the same time, leading to creative collaboration between teams rather than each artist or technician only working on their part of the production. This results in better work all round with more adaptability to client requests.
Our most recent VR experience could have been created as pure three-dimensional animation, but we decided to create it in real-time using the Unity platform – for several reasons. First, the creative treatment required different worlds made entirely of individual glowing lights. Particle systems require huge amounts of processing power to render, but in Unity they are easily manipulated, revised and rendered in real-time. Unity also allowed our real-time artist to create an animatic in just a few days which was then worked on by multiple artists to revise architecture, character animation and messaging at the same time – meaning that the animatic has been updated every day. Instead of a client having to wait until very late in the production process to see what their project will actually look like, real-time pipelines allow them to see how their project is going to look much earlier in the process.
As well as adaptability, innovation and flexibility, real-time technologies ensures longevity of a project. Although some optimisation of the content might be required, your project can be made interactive, gamified or even fully VR without having to start from scratch – extending its use and therefore the client’s investment.
Up until recently, the very mention of game engines has conjured images of low-poly, low-grade visual fidelity and quality. As the technology has evolved, we are at the stage where real-time has the ability to reach very close to photo-real results. This has seen artists who are experts in traditional graphics packages migrating over to real-time platforms, knowing that mastering these new skills are also future-proofing their own careers.
As storytellers and content creators, we shouldn’t ignore real-time technologies. They should be seen as helping traditional content creation to evolve into something more flexible and inclusive, which will benefit all stakeholders, including the clients who are paying for their stories to be told.
Tracey Taylor is Spinifex APAC managing director
Image credit:Glenn Carstens-Peters