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Epic Games showed an amazing demo of Troll, built with Unreal Engine technology by the team at Goodbye Kansas, Deep Forest Films, and 3Lateral. It’s yet another stellar example of “digital human” technology.

Shown off at the State of Unreal talk at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Epic and its partners took another step forward in creating believable digital humans that look real. This scene has real-time lighting and animation effects that could be mistaken for a movie.

Last year, Epic Games teamed up with CubicMotion, 3Lateral, Tencent, and Vicon to create the demo of Siren, a woman rendered in real-time using Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 technology. The year before that, 3Lateral created a live demo of Senua from Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and the year before that it created a cute digital human demo of A Boy and His Kite.

Vladimir Mastilovic, founder of 3Lateral, said it is very hard to make digital humans look and move in a realistic way, without incurring a huge amount of cost. The company’s tech was used in Red Dead Redemption 2, Star Wars Battlefront II, and the new Devil May Cry 5.

Troll has some amazing digital human imagery.

Above: Troll has some amazing digital human imagery.

Image Credit: Epic Games/Goodbye Kansas

“We’ve now made the engine capable of raytracing out of the box,” said Kim Libreri, chief technology officer at Epic Games, in an interview with GamesBeat ahead of the GDC event. “We’re no longer talking about prototype or demonstration stuff. We now have an engine that will raytrace. What we’re trying to explain to people is that raytracing is not just about shiny bottles or glass surfaces or doing a bit of refraction. It’s about subtlety. It brings a quality of lighting that you’ve really only seen in animated movies or live-action photography.”

Libreri said Epic worked with a developer, Goodbye Kansas, which had early access to Unreal Engine 4.2.2 to make a short movie. Troll is based on an old Swedish fairy tale by an author called Jon Bauer. It’s about a princess and fairies and a troll.

“They’ve made a little teaser, about one and a half minutes, a cinematic piece, all rendered in real time in front of the audience on an Nvidia 2080Ti. It’s a movie, so it’s 24 frames per second. It looks awesome,” Libreri said.

Troll's shadows

Above: Troll’s shadows

Image Credit: Epic Games/Goodbye Kansas

Indeed. It features Alicia Vikander, the Tomb Raider actress and a star of Ex Machina.

“She’s an amazing digital human. 3Lateral built the digital human. But the real story is a very gentle, beautiful fairy tale with amazing-looking lighting,” Libreri said.

He said the demo takes advantage of Nvidia’s latest real-time ray tracing technology in its RTX graphics cards. Shadows spread out across the face of Bianca (the character). You can see the reflections of her face in the golden crown. These subtleties make a huge difference, and it runs on a single RTX card.

“We’re in the danger, as an industry, of entering into an uncanny valley not around digital humans, but around interactions,” Libreri said. “You can walk around an environment built in Unreal Engine that looks pretty photographic. With raytracing now it looks very photographic. But if you pick something up or try to fracture a wall or knock down a door, you get met with very simple rigid-body physics, relatively simple collisions — physics is still in a simple state in the game industry.”

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