For someone who has been deeply steeped in technology for most of my career, I am woefully ignorant about computer games. I have written about this aspect of my life before, but today’s topic is how one game studio has had a breakout success in developing some very serious non-gaming business applications.
The company is Epic Games, most notably known for its Fortnite brand. Perhaps you have played it, or your kids have played it. Fortnite is built using the Unreal Engine, which has been around for decades and is now on its fifth version. Epic was smart with UE in getting it established as the premier 3D visualization tool, and it is used in all sorts of business applications. One of them caught my interest, when I watched this video from one of my favorite You Tube creators about the building of the Xi’an soccer stadium. The architects of the stadium used UE to pre-visualize how the seating sight lines would work, how the roof would be constructed, and other design aspects of the stadium. It is still under construction. We are building a more modest soccer stadium here in St. Louis, so I have a bit of stadium envy here.
Anyway, Epic was smart with spinning out UE from Fortnite. First, it is free to download and get started. Yes, there are license fees if you want to do more with it, but you can figure it out and use most of its features without spending any money. Second, there is a huge dev community to support your efforts: discussion forums, loads of documentation, and professional education options too. UE is being taught in numerous colleges across the world. For example, there is this entire online curriculum. These efforts have paid off, and now there are numerous games that independent developers have built in UE.
Before I get to that, here is a short diversion into the world of film pre-viz. When I was living in LA back in the early aughts, I got to meet Dan Gregoire of Halon Entertainment. Halon is one of the pre-eminent pre-viz shops in the entertainment space, and has worked on numerous blockbuster movies. The concept is similar to what the architects are doing: if you can represent what will be shown on screen digitally, you can help a director figure out what camera and lighting and actors are going to be filmed and save a lot of time and money. I asked Dan about UE and turns out he has been using this tool for more than five years, first adopting it for his work for War for the Planet of the Apes. “It is the core foundation of our pre-viz pipeline,” he told me. “We use it for all sorts of things, including as a virtual art department, LED stage content and final pixel game cinematics.” Coincidentally, today they are part of a conference being held in Burbank featuring experts from Nvidia, UE and Microsoft.
But let’s turn back to this field of architectural technology. As architects have gotten comfortable with digital tools, things like doing pre-viz for the Xi’an stadium make a lot of sense. If you can create a digital copy of your building and experiment with various changes before you pour the first foundation footing, you can save a lot of money and build a better building too.
”In the past, architects had to put huge financial resources aside to hire experts who specialize in using visualization tools,” writes this one blog. “The Unreal Engine removes all this from the equation. It is an easy-to-use tool with medium hardware requirements and supports real-time rendering and experimental visualization.” In effect, UE has made rendering more of a commodity to designers and made pre-viz more approachable even for smaller design studios. Epic has this website that will provide all sorts of case studies and links to resources. There is the Atlantic Technological University in Dublin, which actually offers a three-year BS degree in this area. That is impressive.
It is ironic in a way. Just as our construction industry supply chains are getting choked, digital technology can help cut down on mistakes and help build better buildings. “Real-time technology is the future,” says Dan. “All it took was for the technology to be accessible from a business model perspective, and having Epic license it for free for non-game content was a big step.”