Unreal Thoughts

I’ve been watching the discussions and interviews about the Matrix Awakens Unreal 5 demo (which, sadly, is not available on Game Pass), and I have thoughts about it. And they’re ambivalent, but likely not in the way you would expect.

So what do I think about it? Three things, mostly.

The first thing is that as someone who has the original Renderman book in my office library1, I would very much like to be working on something like this. I still watch SIGGraph recordings, and the one on Nanite this year was very interesting indeed.

The second is that the degree of realism and engine sophistication in the videos and the fact that it can all run on a game console console (which is effectively a specialized mid-range PC with a decent GPU) is both inevitable and welcome.

And the third is that they absolutely could not have picked2 a better movie to make their point. It’s the perfect meta-recursive reference to how we are now, quite literally, a pretty decent step closer to creating new realities with increasingly affordable computing.

Yes, there will be issues with human likenesses, stumbles into the uncanny valley, land grabs in the wild frontiers of the metaverse and various debates around whether we’re neglecting meatspace, but all of that is a bit moot from the perspective of being able to tell stories and create entertainment experiences, because, well, the show must go on, and we’ve long forgotten the scandals around early movies, sound, color, etc.

It’s happening, and there’s no stopping it but lack of money, eyeballs or humans (whichever comes first, although one of the key points is that we may not need all the humans anymore).

This is Just The Beginning

Unity running its "cinematic" sample on my M1, which takes 3GB on disk for a couple of minutes of cutesy animation.

Getting there, though, is still a bit of a journey. I’ve been playing around on and off with , , and for the past two years and have come to various conclusions, of which I can highlight the following:

  • None of my computers are really suited for doing this kind of thing (except maybe my new ), but is really optimized for Intel PC hardware and NVIDIA GPUs and none of its new fancy features support anything else.
  • Building anything interesting requires a lot of visual assets, storage and time. But mostly assets to get started, which is why you get Quixel Bridge with Unreal–and why has .
  • Finally, Apple clearly missed a step here where it regards aligning with Epic, because AR is going to be the next frontier after fancy cinematics, and cinematics are something anyone can do right now. And I’m not seeing them building authoring tools or actively building bridges with anyone on the ecosystem save .

Also, you need to see where the puck is going: Today, as in right now, you can get a very interesting, real-time cinematic shooting setup going for around US$10.000 to US$15.000–that buys you a decent camera, 3D positioning sensors, a short-throw projector and a beefy PC for real-time, fully camera tracked renders that may not be as expansive as a Mandalorian-grade “volume”, but are certainly good enough for various kinds of virtual studio shots.

And you can do it in a back room.

Scale that up to a small animation/motion capture team, good designers/asset creators and a real studio, and you can do anything3 if you’ve got decent writers and actors.

Right now there is some assembly required, but I give it two to five years until -grade creation tools become the norm for multiple kinds of content production outside gaming–and maybe half as much on top until we have equivalent free tools (maybe in a later iteration of or with better real-time rendering).

Buckle up, it’s going to be an insane ride. The Matrix is going to look like a Disney movie in comparison.

  1. I spent a chunk of my late college years working in multimedia at a little company called MegaMedia (that went on to become part of PT Multimedia) and I dabbled with many early gems where it regards 3D graphics creation tools, so 3D creation is something I‘ve always wanted to go back to (so much so that it made ). ↩︎

  2. It wasn’t really picked, I know there is a lot of shared history around the people who lined it all up, but the Universe can be serendipitous that way. ↩︎

  3. As long as it’s not another magic/ersatz medieval themed TV show. Please, we’ve had enough of those to last me literally half a lifetime. ↩︎

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