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Unity Art tools: A new era of creativity

May 13, 2022 in Entertainment | 12 min. read
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In a recent panel session, thought leaders from Unity’s Art Tools division discussed the importance of creating new pipelines and workflows with an artist-first mentality. Here’s how our set of cloud-based tools can empower artists to reach the pinnacle of RT3D content creation

Following the recent series of announcements that welcomed both Wētā Digital and Ziva to Unity’s suite of art tools that also includes ArtEngine and SpeedTree, the most common question we’ve heard from our creators is: “What does this mean for me?”

Our participation at this year’s GDC provided the perfect opportunity to reconnect with our community, answer pressing questions, and share Unity’s vision for 2022 and beyond – in collaboration with the leading industry veterans who help drive this innovation.

Wētā Digital CTO Joe Marks opened the panel by stating: “Unity is on a mission to help everybody achieve their creative vision.” And this set the scene for a discussion about how and why – through technologies such as Wētā, Ziva, SpeedTree, and ArtEngine – Unity Art Tools is working toward democratizing 3D content creation for artists everywhere.

Meeting artists where they are

The first stage, as outlined by Natalya Tatarchuck, distinguished technical fellow and chief architect of professional artistry in graphics innovation, relies on bringing tools like Wētā and Ziva under the same roof within Unity, and making them available to all artists, no matter the engine or DCC they work in.

“A key goal for us is not just to create tools, but to also meet the artists where they are.”

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Natalya Tatarchuk on Unity’s goals for artists

She explains: “We want to build workflows to connect the artists who are grounded in their studio on Maya, or in Houdini, or in Blender, whether they’re VFX professionals or indie game developers. We want artists to take the workflows that they use right now and bring in more horsepower, more intuitive tools – and let them be successful with those tools.”

As demonstrated with the recent release of our acclaimed new demo Enemies, Unity’s core technology is already supporting creators in the generation of high-fidelity cinematic scenes, all rendered in real-time. And we’re just getting started.

It’s all about collaboration

Many artists have told us that they find the tools and pipelines for digital content creation fragmented. Not only do they require excessive manual work, they don’t always lend themselves well to effective collaboration.

Success with these tools, then, primarily requires the removal of the barriers caused by those fragmented datasets and disjointed creation systems.

Over the past two years, Unity has been developing and refining its existing artistry tools to bring content authoring technologies together and remove those barriers from the creation process. This is a major priority moving forward, as Ziva Co-founder and Academy Award Winner James Jacobs notes: “We have worked really hard to make sure that creators have the best possible experience.”

For Unity, this means accelerating solutions to the hard problems that artists face and making iteration of content creation more approachable than ever.

“I’m super excited about 3D art expanding beyond just simple assets and modest ambitions.”

Bay Raitt, the talented creator of Gollum’s facial animation system for the LOTR trilogy, and now a developer at Unity, provides direct insight into why this artist-first mentality is crucial for building out our professional artistry toolkit:

“It was always a little frustrating that [some content creation tools] are landlocked… When you move away from that studio you think, ‘oh, these fragmented pieces don't have to be done in separate ways. They can be done in this sort of networked way, in concert together.’”

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Part of Unity’s solution for streamlining this process is to move these pipelines to the cloud and democratize access to these tools, essentially pushing the boundaries of what’s possible creatively and enabling new ways of working.

“For Ziva, it will be a major simplification of the character creation pipeline,” specifies James.

“Accessible tools like ZivaFaces, Ziva Face Trainer, and many others, take that lengthy creation time of weeks – if not months – per character head, to a button click in the cloud. Such novel character creation pipeline tools aim to remove the friction that exists in the character creation pipeline, and not only accelerate the creation process, but also make it more accessible to a wider range of creators.”

Already inspired by the creative possibilities this will open up, Bay envisions: “Making a sequence with a hairy tree monster wearing old rags and getting oil gooped all over him and catching on fire isn’t a huge project anymore. It becomes the kind of thing you can make in a single session and stream. I’m super excited about 3D art expanding beyond just simple assets and modest ambitions.”

No blank canvases

Besides helping artists move beyond “simple assets and modest ambitions” and bringing together these powerful tools lies a rich content library with ready-to-use assets, also in the pipeline. This means that creators can build an immersive experience more quickly to placate the growing demands of their audience.

As Natalya reveals, “This is why the Wētā library and the Wētā assets were so interesting to us. We know so many creators who will benefit from having these assets as a baseline and at their fingertips.”

By combining such rich content with the artist tools, the content is bound to be procedural in nature, and very responsive too. According to Bay, “If you take the proceduralism that comes from the simulations at Wētā, and the procedural nature of SpeedTree, and you apply that with the machine learning from Ziva – and then bring that to real-time – you’re not necessarily starting from blank, but you’re starting from a fully rich reactive world that is actually able to run simulations.”

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Chris King on the power of proceduralism

This notion is shared by SpeedTree Founder Chris King: “Instead of being purely procedural, we added this concept of being art directed. Once the tree is created, you can go in there and make the tweaks, especially when your art director is looking over your shoulder. Our tool evolved to be able to handle that.”

“We’re entering a new world where you can start building things from the inside out.”

Streamlining the pipeline for character and asset creation, and placing these tools and libraries into the cloud, will make everything equally accessible to creators of all skill levels so they can achieve high-quality results.

“We’re entering a new world where you can start building things from the inside out. Suddenly a landscape of procedural assets that are simulation-ready with smarter behaviors and variants built can become possible.”

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SpeedTree 9's latest features

And this, as Bay emphasizes, can give creators the opportunity to deploy on multiple platforms and in multiple formats: “If you think about how Wētā has been optimizing for fidelity, meanwhile, Unity has got this ecosystem that has been optimizing for ubiquity across lots of different devices, it’s not just PC gaming with a high-end graphics card. It’s also consoles, and a Switch, and an Android, and a mobile phone. And when fidelity meets ubiquity, you start to have access as a creator to an actual 3D audience in a really intelligent, really efficient way.”

Advancing the creative landscape

Our strategy ultimately serves to facilitate creation for every kind of creator, no matter the platform or audience. As Joe puts it:

“Imagine game characters that will blow your players’ minds, digital stand-ins on the latest virtual production set that will hold up to close-up shots, virtual participants in immersive training scenarios that are more believable than ever before. The possibilities for creators are limitless! And that’s just the beginning.”

Watch the highlights here:

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May 13, 2022 in Entertainment | 12 min. read
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