i3 | August 08, 2017

Design Using 3D Rendering

John Gaudiosi
Black muscle car

Real-time 3D rendering, the mainstay technology that allows video game players to have complete control over their avatars in virtual worlds, has expanded beyond the interactive realm. With advances in technology and increases in computing power, verticals like the cruise industry, automobile makers and even Hollywood are now finding new ways to use video game engines.

Epic Games’ latest Unreal Engine technology has been powering games for decades — its newest is used by Microsoft’s Gears of War 4 and Capcom’s Street Fighter V. Now the game studio has launched an internal Unreal Engine enterprise business solely focused on how gaming technology can be used in new ways.

Real-time 3D is changing how all types of industries are doing business, while also saving time and money. Hasbro used the technology to bring “Mr. Monopoly” to life and interact with attendees at a Live Facebook press conference. Rival Mattel used Unreal to connect with tween girls through a series of Barbie vlogs (video logs) that positioned an animated version of the doll as a modern day girl.

From bringing toys to life to inspiring future scientists, Framestore Studio used Unreal for a project at the 2016 USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. Working with aerospace specialist Lockheed Martin and creative agency McCann, the developer turned a real yellow school bus into a traveling Field Trip to Mars without using virtual reality headsets. As students looked out the windows of the bus driving through the streets of DC, they saw a detailed recreation of 200 square miles of Mars.

Even NASA got into the Unreal engine, partnering with Fusion to create a separate Mars 2030 VR Experience that recreates an eight square kilometer section of the planet, allowing users to feel like they are standing on the distant planet when they put on a headset.

But the first wave of companies to fully embrace real-time 3D rendering emerged from the auto industry. Epic Games is working with McLaren, Chevrolet, Jaguar, BMW and Toyota across a number of different technology initiatives.

McLaren’s partnership with Epic began in 2015 as the high-end British carmaker captured data from all of its cars, including paint samples, material samples of fabric and audio recordings of engine noise to produce a Custom Configurator using Unreal Engine 4. The configurator is currently working with the McLaren 650S, a sports car that starts at $265,000. Using a PC or mobile device, customers can pick every detail of their car and build it virtually — listening to the rev of the engine and viewing how the color schemes mesh.

McLaren design manager Mark Roberts says the company is creating a range of new virtual tools in the visualization field with Epic Games. These new VR tools will revolutionize how the automaker does things, starting with design and going right through to the customer who can customize their car in the engine. While Epic continues to push technology with McLaren, the game maker’s enterprise division began working with Chevrolet in 2016. Epic showcased the fruit of that collaboration at the Game Developers Conference in February 2017.

Augmented Racing

Sam Russell, general director of global marketing for Chevrolet, says the automaker had been working with The Mill ad agency since 2013 to film new cars incognito. The C7 Corvette was the first vehicle to undergo this process, where the agency would film the older C6 Corvette on the open road. And then in post-production the C7 would be added virtually through computer-generated imagery, allowing the company to keep the look of the new vehicle under wraps until the offcial reveal.

As things evolved, The Mill designed a special vehicle called the Blackbird that’s equipped with four Red Epic 360 video cameras at its center and a spinning LiDAR scanner to capture the surrounding  environment and the correct data for lighting and reflections through a partner company called Arraiy. This means that the generic-looking frame of a vehicle can become a shape-shifter. It can be augmented into any vehicle the agency wants. Before Epic became involved, this “morphing” occurred in post-production. But Vince Baertsoen, the head of R&D at The Mill, asked Kim Libreri, CTO of Epic Games, if it’d be possible to use Unreal Engine 4 to show the director the augmented vehicle in real-time during the filming of a commercial shoot.

So The Mill shot a commercial featuring a 2017 Camaro ZL1 in a race against the Chevy FNR concept car, except neither car ever hit the asphalt in Southern California. The Blackbird was used for the shoot. And the director, ensconced inside a customized Mercedes ML that has a “Russian Arm” gyro-stabilized camera that can film the Blackbird from any angle, was able to see the Unreal engine generated vehicles through a monitor. A PC running on a high-end consumer NVIDIA graphics card powered the set-up.

Russell says this combination of real-time 3D rendering and a transforming vehicle has solved many problems within the auto industry. Any vehicle has numerous modifications for every market, which traditionally would require multiple shoots for each territory. Now just one shoot can be done, saving millions of dollars, and then each variation of the vehicle can be augmented digitally. It also helps marketers create content early, since new models aren’t readily available until much closer to launch.

Libreri says this technology also opens up new opportunities for car brands. Epic also created a custom

configurator for Chevy’s new Camaro using the same high-end model that was created for the commercial shoot. Epic added the ability for Google Tango-enabled devices to look at the vehicle on a large TV screen from any angle using mixed reality. And that’s just the beginning. “The same car could be used in a video game experience,” Libreri adds.

“You’ve customized your car, you’ve seen the vehicle in this video with beautiful lighting, and now you should also be able to choose to drive it somewhere. There’s no reason that they couldn’t make a companion driving application at whatever their favorite test track is. That’s the nice thing about using a game engine, when we build an asset it doesn’t need to just be a high quality piece of computer graphics like you would make for a movie or a TV show. It can be an actual virtual vehicle with steering, suspension and friction.”

Cruising in VR

Celebrity Cruise Line, a division of Royal Caribbean, recently showcased its new Edge ship to media. But since the first of four new ships is currently being built at the STX shipyard in France, the company used virtual reality to offer press an opportunity to explore the vessel ahead of its Dec. 16, 2019 launch. Celebrity partnered with Mechdyne Corp. to recreate the ship using Unreal Engine 4.

Royal Caribbean showcased its VR ship in its new Innovation Lab at Port Miami, adjacent to its global headquarters. The 20,000 square foot, two-story facility hosts the largest CAVE (cave automatic virtual environment) in the world, which allows up to a 10 people to don 3D glasses and step into a giant VR room. The floor, ceiling and three walls of the CAVE are made up of large flat-panel displays. The 3D glasses bring the virtual environments — in this case the different decks and venues on board the Edge ship — to life at scale.

Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, says these ships mark the first time that VR has been used throughout the entire design and construction process. For more than a century, ships were designed using pens, paper and blueprints. While 3D and VR were used in the recent past for specific venues or elements of a vessel, now this cruise titan is making the most of room-scale VR to democratize the creative process.

“In a normal design process, there are only a few people like the architects, designers and a few executives that can draw lines,” Fain explains. “Most people cannot even look at a blueprint or a twodimensional drawing and have a real understanding of the 3D spacial relationships. One of our most powerful weapons in the fight for greater innovation is our people. They are imaginative, but they’re also knowledgeable. And they’re also motivated to try and find new and better ways to do things.”

A typical cruise ship has between five to 10 million parts. With the Edge, Celebrity is changing the concept of the veranda, allowing passengers to extend the cabin through a sliding door system that makes the room 23 percent larger. The ship also includes a Magic Carpet extension, which moves from deck to deck and transforms into different dining environments.

These new innovations came to life through the video game engine, allowing for an early peek at what will become a reality that Fain hopes will evolve the cruise experience.