Unreal Engine powers ILM’s VR virtual production toolset on “Solo: A Star Wars Story”
The film tells the backstory of Han Solo and his adventures in the criminal underworld—where he meets his future co-pilot Chewbacca—years before joining the Rebellion. In one sequence, the pair band together with a group of thieves to steal some Coaxium, a much sought-after hyperfuel, from a moving train.
Clyne explains how the team used StageCraft VR, one of the key tools in ILM’s new virtual production system powered by Unreal Engine, to design the train and understand its physical dimensions when it came to previsualizing the stunts.
“We really got to place ourselves in the environment,” says Clyne. “What the tool allowed us to do was to surround ourselves 360 with a view of what these machines would actually become.”
ILM Visual Effects Supervisor Patrick Tubach explains that one of the biggest challenges with working on VFX-heavy sequences is traditionally the lack of material to work with in editorial. “Without some sort of virtual playground to work through your cameras and your action and your blocking, you’re sort of flying blind,” he says.
In contrast, working with real-time assets in a virtual production environment means that the team can move things around, and play with different aspects of the sequence.
“Creatively, it really brings out something that you don’t get from just working with cumbersome, slow, pre-rendered assets,” says Tubach. “You have the ability to make real-time changes and see the impact on your story, on your edit.”
The ability to work in real time in VR is key in getting consensus between the director, the set designer, and the production designer, who can discuss the how they plan to shoot the scene and make adjustments on the fly.
“They can sit there and they can look at it and they can envision it differently”, says Tubach. “Without real-time technology, you just don’t get that kind of collaborative interaction.”
For a company at the top of their game, quality plays an important role in everything ILM does, and their choice of real-time toolset in no exception.
“We have really high-level artists at Industrial Light & Magic,” says Clyne. “The Unreal Engine gives them the level of control that they require and demand from their tools in order to produce something that not only functions in real time, but gives us the kind of feature film-quality results that we need.”
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