“But with real-time, as you’re tweaking you’re seeing everything happen with zero delay. There’s no delay whatsoever. So, the timeframe of being able to develop things and just be creative is instant.”
The move to real-time began when ASC started taking on more game-related and VR projects, with Sims noting they have now actually been using Unreal Engine for a number of years. “However,” he says, “it wasn’t until COVID hit that I saw some really incredible things being produced by artists and other visionaries who were coming up with techniques on how to use the engine for things beyond games. That’s what excited me, so I started getting into it and learning Unreal in more detail to help tell some of our stories. Then I realized, ‘OK, wait, this is more powerful than I expected it to actually be.’ On every level, it was like it was doing more than I ever anticipated.”
The other real benefit of real-time for Sims has been speed. “The faster I can get from point A to point B, I know it’s true to my original vision. The more you start muddying it up, the more it becomes something else and the less that you can actually see it in real-time. You’re just guessing until the end. So for me it’s been fascinating to see something that’s available now, especially during COVID when I’ve been stuck at home. It’s made it even more reason to dive into it as much as I can to learn as much.”
Over the past few years, ASC has regularly produced short film projects. Some have been for demos and tests and some as part of what Sims calls the studio’s ‘Sketch-to-Screen’ process, designed to showcase the steps in concept design, layout, asset creation, lookdev, previs, animation, compositing and final rendering. Sims has even had a couple of potential feature films come and go.
DIVE is the first project for which the studio has completely embraced a game engine pipeline, and is intended as the start of a series of ‘survival’ films that Sims and his writing partner, Tyler Winther (Head of Development at ASC), have envisaged.
“The films revolve around different environment-based scenarios,” outlines Sims. “This first one, DIVE, is about a character who’s put in a situation where they have to survive. We’re going to see diving and cave diving in the film, but we wanted to put an everyday person into all these different situations and have the audience go, ‘That could be me.’”
The development of the films has been at an internal level so far (ASC has also received an Epic Games MegaGrant to help fund development), but still involves some ambitious goals. For example, DIVE, of course, contains an underwater aspect to the filmmaking. Water simulation can be tricky enough already with existing visual effects tools, let alone inside a game engine for film-quality photorealistic results.
“It’s very challenging to do water,” admits Sims, although he adds that the technology has progressed dramatically in game engines.