Four MPC artists from across our global studios were recently selected to take part in the prestigious Unreal Fellowship.

The 30-day intensive blended learning experience is designed to help experienced industry professionals in film, animation, and VFX learn Unreal Engine, develop a strong command of state-of-the-art virtual production tools, and foster the next generation of teams in the emerging field of real-time production.

The remote learning experience consisted of live training from experts, guest lectures and mentorship from top VFX veterans. The program culminated with participants using knowledge gained to produce their own short film.

Kristian Bonne Jensen, Senior CG Artist from the London studio gives us an insight into his experience.

How did it feel to be selected for the Unreal Fellowship?

I was very surprised when I heard I had been selected! I frankly didn’t really expect it since there was a very large number of applicants.

What were you hoping to achieve from the 5 weeks of training?

Since I had already done Unreal on my own and on a few projects at MPC, I was really looking to cement my knowledge in a few particular areas like materials, camera animation and everything relating to virtual production. Also, the storytelling is a big part of the fellowship, which was really important for me to dig deeper into. I’ve wanted to do my own short for a while and try to write my own story, dialogue and carry all that into a finished film.

What were your key takeaways/learnings?

For me it was learning to combine many of these new virtual production tools like, using an Ipad as both virtual camera and facial performance capture, mocap with an Xsens suit, and combine all these different performances in the engine to tell one coherent story. Many of these things are production techniques we already know and use, but the big difference here is bringing it all together in real time in Unreal. It opens up for a lot more reactiveness and creativity. Seeing your own facial capture, through the lens of a camera, with lights, atmosphere, environments, etc. makes it much easier to make decisions or come up with new ideas on the spot.

Why are training programs such as this so valuable?

The Unreal fellowship is an amazing example of how much knowledge can be gained over a short amount of time when it’s condensed and focused. Personally, I think we could do something similar every now and then whenever we’re trying to innovate and move into new areas of the industry. If we dare to pause our work for a short amount of time, to learn something new, and then put it back into to our active jobs, I think we can really strengthen the quality of our work and expand our repertoire.

What are the benefits of Unreal & virtual production vs traditional methods?

Virtual production is great because it combines traditional film making methods with animation and real time graphics. It’s much easier for us to work with great DP’s, since they can now film on real time driven LED Volumes, such as the stages being built by BILD/MARS studios in London. Or working with great actors and directors in a performance capture setting, where we can see everything in a very final and polished state in Unreal Engine, while the performance is happening. Virtual Production is a major benefit when it comes to creative collaboration since it’s now easier for us to get direct feedback and work much more hands on with our clients, directors or even internally rather than receiving a brief, working up our shots and then sending it for feedback weeks later. It doesn’t replace our traditional way of working just yet though. The quality is not 100% there and the challenges of creating production ready pipelines still needs to be overcome. But virtual production is great for working up ideas and answering the creative questions that can become very time consuming and challenging to work with once we’re far into the production process.

Talk us through the thought process behind your film and how you brought it to life

On the Fellowship we got the brief “Roadside Attraction / Road Trip”. I decided to combine that with some inspiration from the artist Beeple along with some acid-trip retro graphics to create an almost ambiguous space that would give a lot of freedom for crazy camera moves and FX.  At the moment cryptocurrency and NFT’s are quite hot topics, especially in regards to Beeple recently auctioning a lot of his digital art, so I wanted to do something humorous about these topics and almost question the idea of value in our digitalized society. I started out by storyboarding the film very roughly on post it’s that I would arrange on the wall of my “office” (My bedroom) and moving and editing them as I got feedback. I then did a mocap session with an Xsens suit to get all the performance of my main character that I could then arrange and shoot in Unreal. After the main film was blocked out, I got a hold of a voice actor to perform all the dialogue, then did facial capture of myself with my Ipad mimicking the lines of dialogue from the actor, that could then be combined with the mocap data to create a complete character performance.  At the end everything was rendered out of Unreal and combined and edited in Adobe Premiere.

It’s been a great experience to get the time to actually create something of my own and focus in and hone my skills as an artist in this area. Anyone who get the opportunity should definitely join The Unreal Fellowship!

Watch Kristian’s film ‘A Bit of Coin for the Trip’.