Ferrari races towards the Metaverse with real-time technology

August 5, 2021
We recently announced that the Ferrari 296 GTB was the first real-life, drivable car in Fortnite. Making history as the game’s first highly realistic, real-world vehicle is a huge achievement for Ferrari, but it’s also part of a bigger, even more fascinating story.

Digital replicas of the 296 GTB are to be found in multiple places across the Ferrari universe. There’s a version of it coming up in the new 296 GTB car configurator, due to be released next month, which will be used to delight fans and customers. There are versions of it on the Ferrari website. And in a melding of the digital and physical worlds, the real-life car was recently set against otherworldly digital backdrops for a virtual production shoot.

Digital clones of the real world—from cars to buildings and beyond—will be the foundation on which the Metaverse is built, and the ability to create CG assets that work seamlessly in multiple digital contexts will become essential in this new world.
 

A holistic approach to real-time technology

Ferrari is an automaker steeped in over 90 years of racing history and innovation. The company’s refusal to rest on its laurels when it comes to technology—and specifically its adoption of real-time technology—was a driving factor in the feat of achieving the first highly realistic car to launch in Fortnite.

“Not experimenting, by definition, means staying still,” says Jane Reeve, Chief Communications Officer at Ferrari. “Staying still means going backwards.”

It’s in this spirit that Ferrari has turned to Unreal Engine to power everything from design visualization to the production of product launch videos. The brand’s long-standing relationship with Epic Games as an early adopter of Unreal Engine in turn led to the Fortnite partnership.
With the same underlying technology being used for all of these things, no matter where Ferrari wants to take its new car IP, it just works.

Ferrari’s real-time configurator

From the 812 Superfast to the SF90 Spider, every Ferrari is an example of excellence—both in terms of design and technology. Each one is unique in its range of innovations.

For Ferrari, the experience a client has in configuring their new purchase is as important a moment in the customer journey as the decision to choose a Ferrari in the first place. “That experience must be as rewarding as possible, and also distinguished by its best-in-class technology,” says Reeve. “That’s why we chose Unreal Engine for personal one-to-one configurations made in our Tailor Made program, which is gradually being extended to all of our range on our online option.”

Ferrari Tailor Made is the exclusive Ferrari program for customers who want to customize every element of their car to create a one-of-a-kind vehicle.

This program, along with Ferrari’s Unreal Engine-powered car configurators, is part of a Ferrari ecosystem that hinges on an omnichannel approach. Wherever the existing or potential customer enters into the Ferrari world, thanks to the unified technology, they will feel at home. 

Reeve says that the fact Unreal Engine enables production from a single workstation, accelerating ray tracing calculations, was one of the key reasons for Ferrari’s adoption of the technology back in 2017. “We saw notable savings in time and costs from previous options,” she says.

Success using Unreal Engine for its real-time car configurator prompted Ferrari to start experimenting with the technology for other parts of its digital ecosystem. “Innovation, in everything that it does, is a fundamental asset of the Ferrari brand, and technology is one of the driving forces behind it,” says Reeve. “The opportunities real-time technology provides us with today must be a part of our overall strategy—finding the most appropriate and meaningful applications, wherever they are adopted.”

One such application the brand has explored is in the burgeoning field of virtual production filmmaking techniques.

Virtual production for automotive 

The launch assets for the Ferrari 296 GTB included three content pieces in which Ferrari spokespeople introduced various aspects of the new model. Ferrari decided that traditional production techniques alone would be insufficient to present the unique qualities of this new model, which featured a V6 engine in the range for the first time. “With real and unreal backdrops, the car itself became part of a world in which standard and realistic measures were no longer enough—the unreal ones took it to a completely new level,” says Reeve.
Image courtesy of Ferrari S.p.A.
The videos were shot in an extended reality studio with the sceneries coming to life on the LED walls, powered by Unreal Engine.

In one segment, the floor was manipulated to create a surprising elevator effect for the reveal of the sister model, 296 GTB Assetto Fiorano: the scene moves from the inside of a garage situated on a coastal road to an elevated view of the Fiorano track. “Extended reality not only underscored the fun-to-drive value—key to the concept of this car—but also supported its marketing positioning,” says Reeve. 
 

The team started from visual references and quickly translated them into previews using Cinema 4D to visualize and better understand the spatial interaction between the required elements in a three-dimensional environment.

It used Unreal Engine for shading, texturing, and lighting, and leveraged plugins such as Ultra Dynamic Sky and Advanced Water Material to achieve a more photorealistic look. They then used the Blueprint visual scripting system, within which they inserted the variables necessary to enable live interaction with the disguise platform.
Image courtesy of Ferrari S.p.A.
“With virtual production, we were able to reinvent reality,” says Reeve. “The elevator effect would have been a very costly exercise to reiterate in real circumstances, if it would have been possible at all.” 

By this time, real-time technology was well-embedded in the digital production pipeline at Ferrari. What came next was a natural next step for the innovative carmaker. 

The first real-life car in Fortnite

Ferrari’s long-standing relationship with Epic Games put the company in a perfect position to shoot for something truly remarkable—Fortnite’s first highly realistic, drivable vehicle. 

The endeavor took many hours of close collaboration between the Ferrari Centro Stile design team and the Epic / Unreal Engine design group. “A great team spirit was created along the way and we believe that the outcome is the perfect merge between our two worlds,” says Reeve. 
The two teams had to work together to overcome many challenges on the project. Not least of these was working out how to maintain a level of visual acuity that would do the Ferrari 296 GTB justice while in a game environment, where elements like lighting are constantly changing. “We had to morph our ultra-realistic graphic style into the game graphics while preserving a realistic and detailed design,” explains Reeve. “Both parties are extremely proud of the final result and we are convinced that we have provided the end-user with a very unique experience.”

As an early adopter of Unreal Engine for car configurators, design visualization, and virtual production, the company already had a bedrock of real-time CG experience on which to build. Now with this partnership, Ferrari has the opportunity to showcase its latest model to a huge untapped audience of new Ferrari enthusiasts. 
 

“The Fortnite collaboration allows us to increase awareness not only of the Ferrari 296 GTB but also the new luxury apparel collection launched in June 2020,” says Reeve. “Another key benefit for us is reaching out to a wider and younger audience, inviting them to share in the passion of Ferrari.”

Paving the way to the Metaverse 

In embracing real-time technology, Ferrari has positioned itself so that in the future the company will be able to take an asset and use it in all the other Unreal Engine-powered digital touchpoints as well.

The same asset used in Fortnite could be re-used for everything from billboard campaigns to running footage to HMI systems. As well as being highly cost-effective, this approach puts the brand in a perfect place to capitalize on all the benefits of the Metaverse.

One of the fundamental characteristics of the Metaverse is that it breaks down silos and barriers. Where previously games and film and events were all separate things, now they can all take place on a single, holistic digital plane. 

That empowers people, creators, and brands to redefine digital experiences and what they can be. Ideas don’t have to be constrained to the realm of games, or film, or events—they can span all of these things. 

For a world-renowned company like Ferrari, that’s a tantalizing prospect, offering a virtually limitless blank canvas for creativity. “The exploration of new communication scenarios is intrinsic to the company’s strategy and the Metaverse is part of that search,” confirms Reeve. “Working with the Unreal and Fortnite teams was a stimulating and eye-opening experience for all of us.”

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