Real-time Rendering As The Future of Animation
The recent buzz about realtime rendering (especially Unreal Engine) is their capability to use in virtual sets like in Disney’s The Mandalorian. The world of shooting now will never be the same with the advent of real-time rendering software.
Baby Yoda from The Mandalorian. Copyright of Lucasfilm / Disney
But how about realtime rendering for animation? The trend is moving on the same way, with a lot of animated titles produced using game engines, mostly on Unreal Engine 4. Most of the title produced are animation for adult, with some exceptions like Zafari (2018). Hopefully, in the future, more animated series and films are moving to real-time renders.
For now, most of the production, especially for children, still rely on traditional CPU/GPU render. Why don’t they move directly to real-time rendering, given that the time you can save with it is enormous?
For one, the colour produced with real-time renderer is still not the same as the traditional renderer. Another thing is, it’s a hassle to change your production pipeline if you already have one that works well. Some studios also have invested a lot on their render farm, and they will want to see that they get a full return on their investment first before trying another unproven solution. And these are only the more general reasons. There will be a lot of incompatibilities when transferring animation from established 3D software, so some research & development and a lot of tweaking are to be expected.
Real-time animation workflow using Unreal Engine. Source: Unreal Blog
A more typical UE4 pipeline is what you see above, using motion capture which has functional integration with UE4. Some studio mix their renderer, some part is rendered on game engine, and some are still rendered traditionally.
Despite all the limitations above, it is an undeniable fact that in the future the real-time rendering will be a mainstream solution for those who want to produce animation faster, and animation studios are expected to have this as part of their solution.