Epic news and industry trends from Annecy Animation Film Festival

June 28, 2024
We’ve just got back from the Annecy Animation Film Festival, where we had a blast immersing ourselves in all things animation. 

It was inspiring to see the community’s creativity and enthusiasm—there are so many exciting animation projects in the pipe, and we can’t wait to see them come to fruition. 

Couldn’t make it to France this year? Never fear. In this post, we’ll round up some of the key beats for Unreal creators from the event, as well as some wider industry trends. 

Real-time adoption picks up pace


One of the most interesting industry trends from the event was the noticeable uptick in the number of animation projects being produced using real-time workflows. 

We spoke to many animators who are now using real-time tools across a variety of phases of the pipeline, including layout, scene assembly, lighting, and rendering, and keyframe animation.

A lot of animators we met have already been making good use of the updates to Unreal Engine’s built-in animation toolset for rigging characters and authoring animation directly in engine, released in UE 5.4.

At the Epic booth, the team demoed all the latest rigging and animation features available directly in UE. Modular Control Rigs and New Deformer Functions in particular were a huge hit. While many studios still currently rely on Alembic, USD, or FBX imports, they’re excited about the possibility of doing it all directly in engine to avoid roundtripping with other DCCs and reduce the amount of pipeline integration they need to do.

Keep an eye out for more advancements in animation over the upcoming releases—we’re continuing to develop our rigging tools and deformers to enable high-fidelity character animation out of our Control Rigs and directly in engine.

Projects built using Unreal Engine


There were a number of fantastic animation projects built with Unreal Engine featured at Annecy this year. Check out some of the trailers and sizzle reels for them below.

War is Over!

Wētā FX and ElectroLeague used Unreal Engine to bring home the Oscar for Best Animated Short and an Annie for the short film War Is Over!

Bad Dinosaurs

Currently ranked number one for kids on Netflix, Bad Dinosaurs was fully rendered in Unreal Engine. 

Kyōryū

Amidst the ruins of a post-apocalyptic Japan, genetically re-engineered dinosaurs have survived humans and become the dominant species. Floating Rock Studio used Unreal Engine for the trailer of Kyōryū, and intends to re-use the assets for a series and a game. 

Astropulse: Reincarnation

Set on a war-torn future Earth, Astropulse: Reincarnation is a new sci-fi third-person shooter/RPG from Imagendary Studios that aims to be part of a larger transmedia universe built using UE5.   

Toad & Friends

Tim Searle and the talented team at Wild Child Animation used Unreal Engine for lighting and rendering on the endearing animated series Toad & Friends.

Flite

Set in a semi-submerged future London, Framestore’s short film Flite puts Unreal Engine at the heart of the filmmaking process, from planning and previs to final pixel.

Yuki’s Daydream

Yuki’s Daydream is an experimental short film created in Unreal Engine 5 by Chromosphere.

Into the Wonderwoods

Unreal Engine is also increasingly being used in the production of feature films, and this year for the first time, a full-length animated film made in UE was entered into the prestigious Annecy competition.

Epic talks and trends at Annecy


"War Is Over!" ElectroLeague and Wētā FX Bring Real-Time to the Oscars®

In a well-attended session, ElectroLeague’s multiple Academy Award-winning filmmakers Dave Mullins and Brad Booker joined Wētā FX’s VFX supervisor and Creative Director Keith Miller to share insights on collaborating on the Oscar and Annie award-winning short film, War Is Over

Dave, Brad, and Keith discussed how they used Unreal Engine on the project before giving insight into how ElectroLeague and Wētā plan to leverage this real-time animation workflow in the future.

Making your Animation Unreal

Epic’s Fredrik Nilsson and Benoit Gadreau presented a fascinating talk on the benefits of animating everything in Unreal Engine to avoid round-tripping, leading to quicker iteration and testing. 

They demonstrated the process of creating a piece of animated linear content entirely in Unreal Engine from start to finish and took the audience through some of the latest rigging and animation features in UE 5.4.

Key takeaways from the session:
  1. UE has the capabilities and features to create characters, cutscenes, graphics, animation, and physics with the same fidelity as traditional pipelines.
  2. With a suite of new deformer functions available in UE 5.4, you can create more organic animations, loop over deformer nodes, collapse graphs and create functions, and access a built-in deformer function library.
  3. UE 5.4 also introduced a new Anim Details panel, Sequencer Curves, and Layered Control Rig, which give greater flexibility for posing and animating.
More resources and tutorials for animating in Unreal Engine can be found in the Epic Games Learning Library.

From Pixels to Paychecks: Crafting Your Portfolio to Land Animation Job Opportunities

The ArtStation team were also at Annecy with a session that explored what it takes to craft a portfolio that can help animators land their dream job, with industry insiders unveiling tips on how to stand out and open the door to new opportunities.

This spirited discussion among industry leaders in animation included Camille Eden, VP of Talent and Recruitment at Nickelodeon, Dave Mullins, Animator and Academy Award Winning Director of War Is Over! and Jimmy Calhoun, Chair of 3D Animation & Visual Effects at the School of Visual Arts. All combined, they have looked at thousands of portfolios and reels and made hiring decisions in the process.

Camille, Dave, and Jimmy shared their insights, experiences and advice on how to stand out in a competitive landscape and balance creative craft with commercial success. The insightful conversation focused on how artists can land jobs in animation by bringing their passion and perspective to portfolios, showing the less polished process behind ideas, taking constructive feedback to heart, and sharpening soft skills like communication and connection building. 

They also talked about seeking opportunities with smaller studios and exploring roles in animation that are adjacent to film and TV. Stay tuned for a more detailed breakdown of key takeaways from this insightful and inspiring panel discussion.

A shift to environmentally sustainable production

As the global industry increasingly values environmentally friendly ways of creating content, a theme that came up was the importance of reducing the carbon footprint of animated productions.  In France specifically, all projects that benefit from France 2030 investment need to have an eco production plan to reduce environmental impact.

MIAM! Studio is a case in point. The French studio’s animated series The Tinies is primarily created using real-time CGI in Unreal Engine 5.3, and they estimate the global carbon footprint of the show amounts to 133 metric tons eqCO2. This calculation is taken from the Carbulator, a carbon footprint calculator created for the animation industry and developed by Anim France, the French union of independent producers.

To put that figure in perspective, movies can emit anywhere between 391 metric tons for a small film and up to 3,370 metric tons of CO2 equivalents for large, tentpole productions. A previous BAFTA report found that the average animation production produced 5.5 tons of CO2 emissions per hour.

On the production of Toad & Friends, for example, Tim Searle estimates that opting for a real-time approach led to a reduction in carbon emissions of up to 94%.
 

Universal Scene Description (USD)

In terms of technological trends, a notable development is the number of projects switching from a legacy pipeline based on FBX to one based around Universal Scene Description (USD). Simply put, this number has skyrocketed. 

Originally developed by Pixar, USD is a high-performance, extensible framework and ecosystem for describing, composing, and collaboratively navigating and constructing 3D scenes. 

It provides flexibility when making decisions about your art pipeline and facilitates collaboration between multiple 3D artists (animators, lighting or shading artists, modelers, FX artists, and others) using iterative and nondestructive methods. This is the future of interoperability for 3D content.

Unreal Engine's USD integration, currently in Beta, provides support for importing assets from and exporting assets to USD, as well as an interface for working with a live USD stage using the USD Stage Editor panel and UsdStageActors. In addition, the full USD Python API is available in the Editor for scripting your own tools and workflows.

Animating in real time

Finally, to the big topic on everybody’s lips. The most exciting development at Annecy for those working with real-time animation workflows was the prospect of being able to animate fully in engine.

From the Unreal Education Breakfast to the show floor, animators we spoke to were enthusiastic about ending the status quo of round-tripping between multiple applications in favor of animating everything in a single tool. This was widely seen as the next big thing for the animation industry.

The prospect of bringing together lighting, camera work, and acting (in this context, animation) in real time is seen as a game changer by many we spoke to at Annecy. The siloed nature of these different elements has been a major pain point in animation production, and solving this will enable directors to make decisions in the moment as they would in a live-action shoot (even more compelling when combined with powerful world-building capabilities).

At Epic, we’re working hard to make this a reality. UE 5.4 brought substantial updates to Unreal Engine’s built-in animation toolset, enabling you to quickly, easily, and enjoyably rig characters and author animation directly in engine, without that frustrating and time-consuming need to round-trip to external applications. We have many more in-engine animation updates like this on the roadmap, so stay tuned.

Want to learn more about animating with Unreal Engine?

From photorealistic to super-stylized projects, Unreal Engine offers everything you need to produce gorgeous animated content in a fraction of the time of offline rendering.

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