Moving to real-time: ‘The Seed of Juna’

How the short was reimagined with Unreal Engine 4.

Back in May, I spoke to filmmaker Álvaro García Martinez about his The Seed of Juna project. Making that short was a journey in itself, but what’s interesting since then is that Martinez has pivoted to a set of new tools – including Unreal Engine – to re-imagine the project.

Check out the trailer below, and then read a release written by Martinez that explains his new approach with UE4.

Álvaro García Martinez: We chose Blender, Houdini and UE4 as our main ecosystem, spending the first months in rnd to communicate all the tools to each other in a circular fashion. The goal was to help animators quickly see how the lighting of their animation looks and adjust poses to enhance the final lookdev and storytelling. It is a rewarding process where you can anticipate potential problems, and adding elements to your shot knowing how the final pixel will look.

I asked our animators to go through the full process of learning Blender from scratch taking notes of all the things we need to implement for the future. As you can imagine, the beginnings are always slower, but once to get to pace and you gather a nice amount of feedback you are ready to jump into the rnd stage.

We used Blender rigify for the trailer. However, after our debrief, we decided to have our own in-house skeleton, agnostic to the software, and agnostic to the industry (animation, video games, immersive experiences), so the data can be moved seamlessly between departments, back and forth. As much as we can, we try to avoid templates, presets, creators, or precooked assets. It is true that you have a lot of tools, from rigify, mixamo, daz3d or character creator, where you can get results very fast in the short-term, but you will find a glass ceiling when you lose the artistic track and you don’t know how your rig works, or how a shader was built. If you keep track of your concept art, your modeling, rigging, shading, animation and final render, you know exactly what is going on in every single stage and that will deliver the defined art direction, to the fidelity of your vision as a filmmaker.

In parallel, Houdini is becoming more and more relevant not just the FX simulations you can see in the green fluids, rbd rocks, or muscle simulation in the trailer, but in procedural modeling and pipelines for small companies, automatizing processes using PDG, and saving hundreds of hours in creating new assets. In fact, we are starting new projects where proceduralism is going to be in the core of our production chain, and we believe that with the correct artistic input is the future for small companies to compete creating massive worlds.

Our goal is not to create tools for the sake of pushing technology, but for the sake of pushing storytelling. We want to get to that spot where blocking a shot can be done by any artist in a matter of minutes, and we feel closer and closer to that scenario. We are not living in easy times, but from any crisis there is always a window of opportunity, and technology can flatten the bumps in democratizing the art of telling stories, remotely and with beautiful final pixels in no time.

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