July 8, 2019
ILMxLAB creates “Ralph Breaks VR” virtual reality experience with UE4
So where could Disney take their unlikely hero and his friends next? The answer came in the form of Ralph Breaks VR, a virtual reality experience that enables fans to step right inside the world of Ralph Breaks the Internet. The experience takes place in The VOID, where up to four players can share a whole-body fully immersive VR experience, supported by smells, wind effects, a haptic-enabled backpack, and a physical space that you can walk around and actually touch. There are currently nine locations across North America, with several more to come. With the hugely successful Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire VR experience (also hosted at The VOID) already in their portfolio, ILMxLAB were chosen for the project. From the outset, achieving the same high-quality look for which Disney is renowned was key for the team at ILMxLAB. They started out by reusing many of the assets from the film inside Unreal Engine.
“You look at a Disney feature animated film, and it is gorgeous,” says Jose Perez III, Senior Experience Designer at ILMxLAB. “As xLAB, we wanted to hit that same fidelity, or as close as we possibly could. So that's where we really started digging into Unreal technologies and looking at what we could do by literally taking assets from the film side of things and pulling them over into Unreal. And with just a little bit of tweaks, we were shocked at the fidelity that we were hitting right off the bat.
“I don't think any other engine looks as good as it right now,” he continues. “I don't think with any other real-time engine you can get the fidelity that you can get with Unreal currently.”
It’s not just the quality that impresses. Senior Lighting Technical Director Ronman Ng finds the real-time aspect of Unreal Engine extremely satisfying.
“The benefits of working in a real-time rendered environment are huge,” he says. “In a film pipeline, you might have to wait overnight to see what the final result is. Here, I can iterate on something and have it in game and clean in minutes, and then when I'm happy with it, I just check it in.”
For Perez, the ability to quickly rough out sequences using Unreal Engine’s visual scripting language and built-in multi-track editor is another big plus.
“One of my favorite things as a designer is the Blueprint system and things like Sequencer which allow me [...] to go in and block in ideas very, very quickly and then put them in front of a programmer or put them in front of an art director and show my thoughts,” says Perez. “Getting to that thought process in 3D where I can put on a headset and put somebody in that world is really great.”
Once in that world, the stakeholders’ reactions have been fascinating. Meeting beloved animated characters face to face is a memorable experience for anyone, but if you’re the person who worked on their original incarnation, it’s even more amazing. So much so, that, on first stepping into the VR world, one of the directors tried to hug the virtual Ralph. Disney’s Head of Animation on Ralph Breaks the Internet, Renato Dos Anjos, was equally blown away.
“Walking around the Ralph Breaks VR experience, it was something very magical to me,” he says. “You were working on a movie every day for two and a half years, and then all of a sudden you can walk inside of it, and that world is so incredible even beyond what I was seeing when I was animating the film.”
Helping studios to create incredible worlds and tell engaging stories has been a long-term goal at Epic Games, and as game and film industries continue to converge, that quest has never been more important.
“Honestly, I think one of the best parts about working with Epic and the Unreal Engine is a really unwavering dedication to quality,” says Shereif Fattouh, Senior Producer at ILMxLAB. “We have that shared goal of what is the highest fidelity that you can reach. And I think there is a true admiration and respect for storytelling and narrative and filmmaking that is very, very apparent.”
Admiration and respect is right. As someone who’s experienced their work in The VOID, I’m so excited to see what a studio like ILMxLAB has been able to achieve in this new genre on the Unreal Engine platform. Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire was amazing, but Ralph Breaks VR is even closer to film quality. The experiences are so much fun—I can’t wait to see what’s next!
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