Recently, Epic Games released Unreal Engine 4.26, which includes a variety of new features (which I will cover in a future article). One of those features is a revamped hair and fur renderer and, as a companion, they released the project of the “Meerkat demo”, an animated short film developed in a partnership with Weta Digital, the VFX company behind the visual effects of big movies like The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and and Alita Battle Angel.
Right off the bat, I can’t really tell you what system specs you need to run the demo. I ran it on a Maingear laptop with a 10th gen Intel Core i7, 16 Gb of RAM and an Nvidia RTX 2060, and that was enough to run the demo (my other system is a 4th generation core i/ with 16 Gb of RAM and an Nvidia GTX 970, but I don’t have access to that one right now). After opening the project, the first thing I have to mention is that the visuals inside the project are exactly the same you see in the demo, meaning that what you see in the demo was the direct output from UE4, no extra post process added.
Exploring the scene in the project shows how they used lighting to produce the look of the scene, including the direct sun light and an ambient light using an HDR image. There are other lights used to lit specific areas of the scene.
The interesting part are the materials. For example, the stones are using “material instances” (which are basically “children” versions of a main material that make it easy to manage multiple copies of the same material) of a very complex material. I am curious about this material so I will try it out in Just Let Me Go to see how the objects look with this material compared to the material I am using (which is a basic material with albedo, metallic and normal maps).
The demo plays using a sequence, and you can also take a look at the entire animated short from an outside perspective. One thing that drew my attention is how the lights are moved. When you are watching the short, you don’t really notice, but the key light is moved around a lot at camera cuts, to create different light conditions for every shot. I found this to be a very nice touch, because I would feel tempted to just leave the lights as they are and not touch them at all. The sequence also includes the audio of the entire short, so you can watch the entire thing, with audio, in the sequence.
The project also includes the Maya source files for both animals, including animations. You can take a look at the rigs and the animations of both, and this can be another learning opportunity, as you can check out how they created the rigs for both animals.
On the other hand, you can’t really check out the fur setup unless you have Yeti for Maya (a hair and fur generation plugin), which I don’t have. I would have liked to see how they had created the hair, but there’s not even a demo version of Yeti so there’s no way for me to check that out.
Luckily, even if you are not using Maya you can learn quite a few things from the Meerkat demo. If you are interested in UE4, or are using UE4, and you are also interested in high end graphics, you should take a look at this demo.