Ulster University joins forces with tech giant Epic Games on virtual production tech

  • Ulster University has announced a new £1m virtual production facility and has become the first Unreal Academic Partner on the island of Ireland.

    The use of graphics technologies in the film industry has exploded in recent years with the advent of techniques such as realtime raytracing, prompting the birth of an entire virtual production industry. TV shows such as The Mandalorian have been filmed inside facilities with huge LED screens, providing accurate lighting for scenes where the entire backdrop may be computer generated.

    Ulster University has now announced that it's making a £1million investment to build a new Virtual Production Facility for teaching and research, helping to train the next generation of film industry experts. The university has also teamed up with global game tech provider Epic Games to gain global recognition for its courses.

    RELATED: Ulster University launches free online courses for workers affected by COVID-19

    Epic Games is the creator of the Unreal game engine, which has become a popular tool for virtual production as it's capable of rendering realistic graphics in realtime. It can also track camera positions in realtime and render the results to the massive backdrop LED screens in a virtual production setup, allowing the actor to move in a simulated environment.

    Before the use of realtime rendering engines, producers would have to shoot footage and then have computer graphics built around it. Now they can film a scene in realtime and watch the take on a monitor live and in close to final quality levels, including performance captures for controlling CG characters. The producer can see immediately whether they need to reshoot a scene or change something.

    RELATED: Queen’s University announces £2.5m investment in virtual production lab

    Ulster University's Screen Academy has announced that it's now officially an Unreal Academic Partner, the only one on the entire island of Ireland. Students in the university's Games Design and Animation programmes will be trained in using Unreal engine and will have access to virtual production tech.

    Unreal has seen a lot of growth in the animation and film space in recent years, but game design students should be aware that it's one of two major game engines used in industry. Statistics from 2019 showed that around 79% of UK game development studios use competing engine Unity, with 27% using Unreal and another 27% using proprietary engine tech.

    The new virtual production facility will have an LED wall with camera tracking tech, a large green screen area with virtual cameras, and a full-body motion capture suite including facial capture tech. The facility will help pace the way for the £65 million Screen Media Innovation Lab virtual production facility announced as part of the Belfast Region City Deal.

    RELATED: NI Executive approves £700m Belfast City Region Deal investment

    Linda Sellheim, Education Lead at Epic Games, commented: "It is our pleasure to welcome the Screen Academy at Ulster University into our Unreal Academic Partner Program. As the global demand for real-time 3D skills continues to increase, Ulster Screen Academy’s digital media, virtual production, and games design and animation programs will prepare students for exciting new career opportunities in Northern Ireland and beyond."

    Dr Declan Keeney, Director of Ulster Screen Academy, commented: "The new facilities will support staff and students in their ambition to offer the most relevant and agile degree programmes offered anywhere in the UK and Ireland, responding to the 3D and real-time skills gaps identified by our industry partners."

    Source: Written based on press release

    About the author

    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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