Lines between gaming and linear storytelling blurring: Sameer Pitalwalla

Shrugging off the disruptions of last year, businesses and agencies are looking for a strong revival in 2021. Adgully – as part of our annual TRENDING NOW endeavour – has been presenting the strategies and views of a cross-section of industry leaders as they go about reclaiming lost time and market opportunities and build for a stronger future, armed with the lessons of 2020.

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Epic Games’ Unreal Engine is an open and advanced real-time 3D tool used by creators across games, film, television, architecture, automotive and transportation, advertising, live events, and training and simulation. Unreal Engine helps deliver cutting-edge content, interactive experiences, and immersive virtual worlds.

To address the gender disparity and to encourage talented women creators in India and ASEAN region, Unreal Engine recently announced ‘The Women Creators Program’, which will select India’s talented women producers and VFX professionals to participate in a 4-week virtual training and mentoring program. The program will select 15 women to be mentored by former Unreal fellowship graduates along with Unreal Engine evangelists.

In conversation with Adgully, Sameer Pitalwalla, Business Director - India/SEA, Epic Games, speaks at length about virtual tech simulation and its role across the media and entertainment sector in 2021, the opportunities provided by Unreal Engine, encouraging women creators and much more. 

How was the industry quick to create content virtually after pandemic?

The pandemic continues to fundamentally challenge the way content is created and curated. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that all the things that required physical presence and face-to-face conversations can take place virtually with online collaboration, virtual meetings, and tech integration. As our content consumption increased multifold since the past year, the demand for it’s creation also surged. Considering that, and with more time at hand, content creators started looking for new ways to create content and channel their creativity. Things like virtual experiences have delivered entertainment to locked-down audiences around the world, allowing people to connect with communities while disconnecting from the global crisis. The pandemic also gave life to live virtual events which allows one to connect with their audience, creating a sense of community. in general as the whole production process gets more organised.

What role did technology play in the virtual production of content?

This is a really exciting time for virtual production in our industry. With emerging tech, virtual production and on-set capture will allow for more dynamically adjustable, realistic lighting, including soft shadows and quality reflections. And new innovative software features for multi-user workflows will connect key creatives in a wide range of locations, allowing some collaborative virtual production work to happen seamlessly from a distance. These tech advancements will have creators, filmmakers, and VFX professionals embracing the latest new workflows.

How has Unreal Engine technology completely transformed the process of moviemaking and art of storytelling?

The media and entertainment industry is increasingly using real-time technology to reinvent production pipelines. Where once computer-generated imagery (CGI) was reserved for post-production, forward-thinking creative businesses can include CGI both before and during the filming process. Using game engines like Unreal Engine is changing the landscape of what can be done with the output and is providing the ability to tell new stories, and it can be used by any business that wants to engage their audience with more emotional stories. From high-quality cinematography to virtual production, to in-camera visual effects that take the post out of production, Unreal Engine is ushering in a new era of storytelling. Whether someone is working on episodic animation, live-action blockbusters, or short-form content, real-time workflows are radically transforming established pipelines and delivering renewed creative control.

One huge advantage of Unreal Engine is its ease of use for artists that have transitioned from traditional VFX backgrounds. The Blueprint system is very familiar for artists that are used to node-based workflows as well as visual scripting. And, once content is ingested into the engine, the rest of the VFX pipeline lives within a single environment. Everything from the layout, look development, camerawork, simple compositing, editing, audio, and output can all be done directly out of Unreal.

How does the Unreal Engine inspire India and ASEAN’s talented women producers and VFX supervisors to adopt Unreal in their work?

Unreal Engine has been at the forefront of virtual production since the first workflows began to emerge; today, virtual production can influence every aspect of the production pipeline.

To bridge the gender gap in the M&E industry, Unreal Engine has launched ‘The Women Creators Program’, where Unreal Engine will select India’s talented women producers and VFX professionals to participate in a 4-week virtual training and mentoring program. The selected women to be mentored by former Unreal fellowship graduates along with Unreal Engine evangelists. The program aims to inspire and train women creators and form a community of creators. The workshop training will cover the VFX industry’s relevant themes such as Animation and DCC workflows, World Building and Terrain Tools, Lighting and Post Processing, Material Editor, Sequence, Livelink, and Blueprints.

What are the opportunities that you provide to these women after the training (Jobs, etc.)?

There has been a 4-5x surge in demand for Unreal Engine skills in the sub-continent, and there aren’t simply enough people skilled to provide them. When we looked at our Unreal Engine fellows program, we found that it was challenging getting any women to participate in it, inspite of many of them being overqualified for selection. In order to break that mental barrier, the Women’s Creator program is something that’s designed by women, of women and for women. It’s being organised and led by our marketing head, Shruti Verma, and there is a fabulous team of mentors and trainers who are going to make sure the selected crew gets hands on experience with Unreal Engine, it will leave them equipped with the necessary skills to meet the pent-up market demand, and we hope will create a lot more leaders within the industry who are women.

What are the future plans for Unreal Engine?

Unreal Engine continues to be adopted across a variety of industries, and especially with the lines between gaming and linear storytelling blurring, we see a multi-year cycle where real-time technology permeates production pipelines across advertising, broadcasting, live entertainment and all forms of long form and short form storytelling. Unreal Engine itself has expanded into an eco-system of tools beyond the core Engine itself, with the acquisition and subsequent democratised acesss to tools like Quixel, Reality Capture, RAD Game Tools and Meta Human Creator amongst many other 3D creation building blocks being provided to every creator, and the upcoming release of UE 4.27 and 5, we see an exciting time for anyone with an idea to create something fantastic using Unreal Engine.

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