Game Engine Graphics Are So Good Now, You Can Make Pixar Quality Films Like This In Real-Time

Unity is first and foremost a game engine, but in the last few years it has quickly grown into a tool for building interactable sci-fi UIs for movie sets, augmented reality fright-fests and post-apocalyptic robot short films. Now, it’s being used to make an animated film in real-time, with quality up there with the likes of Pixar.

What you’re seeing is a scene from the short film “Windup”, the work of artist Yibing Jiang. Currently, she’s employed by Unity, but previously held positions at the likes of Naughty Dog (developer of the PlayStation’s Uncharted series), Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar.

Image: Yibing Jiang / YouTube

The video is a snapshot, showing off some of the amazing effects that are possible by the engine, all rendered in real-time. As Jiang explains:

The test scene is a collaboration of Laurent Harduin, Jacob Norris, Colin Thomas and me. Special thanks to Melissa Chou, Sebastien Lagarde, John Parsaie, John Sweeney and Chris Kang who helped us finish it.

This short film will be the proof point to show that we can achieve animated feature quality and rendered real-time in Unity engine. Rather than using methods seen in VFX, we take techniques from the AAA game production that push the visual bar while being real-time.

Many of the visual techniques used by modern game engines are based on those used for offline rendering, just with some shortcuts and approximations to boost performance at the cost of quality.

However, as hardware becomes more powerful and these techniques are refined and optimised for real-time, it’s no surprise engines such as Unity and Unreal are fast approaching the point where it’s hard to tell the difference.

Jiang will be presenting her work in a few days at this year’s GDC so if you happen to be in San Francisco attending, you can check it out for yourself.