Live Animation with Game Engines

16th November 2018

Working at the intersection between technology and entertainment, Plug-in Media has always maintained a strong R&D function to ensure that the media we produce comes from a place of innovation.  Recently, and in response to unprecedented demand amongst young audiences for high-volume, short-form content consumed via Youtube, we've been looking at animation workflows and identifying how this type of content can be produced quickly and cheaply.   

We've been keeping a watchful eye on how game engines - such as Unity and Unreal Engine -are increasingly being used to create linear, animated content.  As a company with a strong games development heritage and in-house Unity expertise, it seemed an obvious route for us to consider too.  Our initial, live animation pilot, The Unpettables, was focused on exploring that workflow.  Rather than concentrate on the top-end, Pixar-like quality of projects such as Unreal-animated Allahyar, we think there's a significant opportunity at the lower, 2D end of things. Could we produce high-volume, 2D-animated short-form for Youtube at a fraction of the price of traditional animation?

The Unpettables was conceived.  A sitcom set with a cast of characters, all built within the Unity game engine.  The characters perform/are puppeted in real-time with a live lip-sync function.  Wearing head mics and using game controllers, our actors improvised episodes based around a loosely, plotted structure.  Cameras within Unity capture the action and a post-production edit chops all the best bits together.  Voila!  Short-form serialised content in multiple formats, quickly, easily and cheaply created, then uploaded to Youtube.

To create the 15 minutes of pilot material we have, we worked with Brighton-based comedy improv troupe, The Noise Next Door.  We've now moved on to exploring a scripted route with the same tool, by animating a series of child-sung nursery rhymes to see how we might adapt the same workflow for a process without improvised dialogue.

We think there's huge potential for the animation tool we've developed and are beginning to apply the workflow across both our original IP and client service work.  We're looking forward to sharing more projects created in this way.


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