Quite recently, Reallusion announced a new plugin for a live link to the Unreal Engine. They had videos and demos showcasing it since GDC in San Francisco not too long ago.
It had great access to a new level of film making, with Unreal introducing real-time ray tracing in its engine, it was a big step forward... then suddenly the price was announced. The reaction was complete sticker shock, for members, it has a starting price of $699US until the end of September. The retail price is set at $1,490US. Dear God... that is way too much for the average hobbyist.
The reaction from the community was in shock and questions, concerns, and anger erupted. "Are they moving away from our audience? Where to go next?" Many people had questions, including myself... luckily, I was about to get them soon.
Months before, I booked plane tickets to Los Angeles for Siggraph. I had questions to answer... where do I go next? Is it time to go to the next level and aim for a professional market? Will it be worth it? With this Unreal Live Link issue pressing, it added a few more questions to the fire.
Sunday was the first day of Siggraph, it was an overwhelming experience at first, but I started to settle in. I received a text from Rampa, who works with IT for Reallusion, that they are sitting in a nearby hotel lobby. It was time to meet everybody and get at least a few answers.
I wasn't expecting to get all the answers at once, they just arrived in Los Angeles, plus jet lag and the curse of one airline's recent struggles won't help either. However, they provided a brief glimpse before getting all the answers on Tuesday.
A short friendly chat, and they were happy to show what the link can at least provide, plus a brief glimpse in their newest shader coming out later this year. It provided a few answers, but not enough for a full story.
Monday arrived, I was hanging around the Substance Day event, meeting with Ricky Grove for a brief time, then off to a meeting with the Blender group as they announced a release of Blender 2.8 along with future developments.
What I come to learn is that a key asset takes precedence when it comes to professional productions. Time.
Time is incredibly valuable, time is money, the more time you lose, the more stressful and costly the production. Deadlines and organization are valuable.
To kill some time, I attended a Shotgun presentation about the importance of organization in your production and how to manage your time properly.
During the Substance Day talks, DNEG explained their process using Substance as a quick but effective way to get their production done. They would change resolutions in a simple mouse click to view in real-time, saving crucial time to edit and refine. Now it makes sense... but not quite. Tuesday is where I get the full story. What are they selling exactly and what are they aiming for?
Tuesday morning arrives and it was my last day at Siggraph, the whole event ends at the end of the week, but sadly I couldn't leave the office too long. I walked over to the Blender booth and shared a few words about the improved rendering Cycles time with RTX cards before departing to the Reallusion booth.
They were showing their newest and upcoming plugins for iClone. A fellow motion capture artist was testing out their Unreal Live Link plugin, there was a growing crowd interested in their products. One screen caught my attention, it was a series of action clips using animated avatars. It was a previsualized clip by Proxi Studios for the feature "Triple Frontier" and clips of a reviz for production of Mad Max Fury Road.
Speaking with John Martin from Reallusion, he mentioned that the Unreal Engine is being used more and more in the pre-visual industry. Skills in the Unreal Engine are becoming much more valuable as the engine improves dramatically. This is where the important asset of time comes in.
So let's say a director comes walking in and doesn't like the shot, the blocking or whatever. It needs to be changed. This is where a quick use of time comes in. The Live Link plugin provides expeditious results in the program along with a proper mocap set up to the Unreal Engine instantly. Combine that with total modular control at a price at around 1500 USD, to a VFX industry, it seems like a no brainer to consider.
How about the average iClone user?
It all depends really... honestly for a majority, I wouldn't consider it.
This is a tool aimed for professional developers and filmmakers whose eyes are always on the clock. You can still import iClone characters into the Unreal Engine with an export license, but you still have to go through the tedious process of setting it all up. For those who are in need of a very quick production process and the powerful rendering quality of the Unreal Engine, then it's a tool that I would say to look into.
How about the main program itself?
Many people feared that they will distant themselves away from iClone. I had that question what will happen to iClone honestly, but after that brief visit with the developers and Stuckon3D, a long-time user of the program answered that question. With new shaders to their characters, including a total rehaul of the hair, eyes, and skin. It puts the worries away and instead gives a sense of optimism. The program isn't going to go away, but instead, it is going to get a lot better.
In the end, it is up to you to decide what would be suitable for your production process.
Where to go next, that's up to your decision.
With more tools arriving such as Blender's newest update, iClone, Unreal, or whatever it is out there these days, it gives you more options to work with one or more tools to tell your story. It is in your time and at your pace to try it out.
After all, it's all what you do with the program is what matters.