On Thursday, Epic Games announced they had acquired Cubic Motion, a company that specializes in automated performance-driven facial animation technology for film, videogames, broadcast, and similar media. The aim is to advance the technology used to create believable digital humans in Unreal Engine.
Epic Games said that the Cubic Motion team would work with 3Lateral, the developer of digitalization of actors to create realistic avatars. 3Lateral was also acquired by Epic Games in January last year, so I can see how both teams could work together to improve the existing digital characters pipeline.
3Lateral and Cubic Motion were also the companies that provided facial scans and facial performance capture for the game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which I discussed in a previous article here (https://magazine.renderosity.com/article/2932/the-game-re-design-of-hellblade-senuas-sacrifice). You can see an example of what these companies made when working together in this video from the Hellblade development diary.
I am usually excited about anything tech, and I am obviously excited about what this means for the present and future of games. However, at the same time I obviously think about what this may mean for small studios using Unreal Engine 4. In this case, my answer would be “nothing, really,” as I think these technologies are usually way to expensive for your average small developer.
While anyone from solo developers to big studios can use Unreal Engine 4, small developers will either never use the higher-end options (including photo-realistic rendering of human characters), or produce mixed results (for example, the game Remothered produced very realistic graphics, but the characters had this “wax-look” and the character animation was not really something I would consider top-notch).
Having said this, don’t expect to see a surge of indie games with ultra-realistic humans. You can, however, expect more games from well-funded-mid-sized or AAA studios that produce photo-realistic 3D humans. With the new generation of consoles coming soon (and the focus always being on better graphics), things are going to be very interesting in the next few years.