Year: 2017-2018 | Client: Unity | Technology: Unity 2018

Our second project came in following some conversations with the Unity Demo Team, the makers of popular real-time short movies such as Adam and Book of The Dead which, back then, were the state of the art of real-time moviemaking (still often referred to as 'machinima').
To some extent, the Unity Demo Team was among those who pioneered pushing the art of making hi-end movies inside of a game engine. And being Treehouse Ninjas formed by both game and movie industry professionals, we resulted as the ideal partners to develop the world of The Heretic.

In the presentation The Convergence of Games & Movies, which was brought to multiple events in Europe, we broke down our work on The Heretic and we discussed in depth the ways that the game industry and the movie industry are coming together, since this project was a perfect case study for the topic.
Watching this talk is particulary recommended to those interested in virtual production, non-linear storytelling and in general to those willing to understanding better how games can take advantage of the movie grammar, and vice-versa.

Story-Driven and Story-Driving Environments
Games & Movies: Blurring The Lines
Games & Movies: The Shared Future

We started designing the world of The Heretic very early on, while the script was still in draft mode and no concept art was actually produced yet. So at the beginning it was an extremely iterative process, experimenting and exploring visual solutions and layouts for the style of the locations, given the type of vibes, the sense of scale we wanted to achieve and the story mood. We also took over the first round of concept art for the movie.

First, we created a rough edit of the movie, greyboxing the world, blocking out some reference character motion and camera work, plus some draft lighting. With these elements in place, we started playing with all the ingredients, literally flipping and flopping the whole world as we brainstormed different designs.

As the layout and camera work started taking shape with the intended narrative and rhythm, the Unity Team started developing more specific concept art for the different story moments, painting over our scenes and iterating with us.
Also the modularized asset work started, with a general breakdown of all the required pieces and the establishment of our photogrammetry workflow. Photogrammetry soon became key to the realism of the locations as we went scanning our rocks in real cave sites.

While the basement, the sewerage location and the citadel were made with modularized assets, either scanned or handmade (or a bit of both), the entire rock passage and cave landscapes were built with custom scanned rocks and additional Megascan assets - that meant our photogrammetry workflow had to be solid, and we had to fine tune it extra carefully, to ensure it would keep up with Quixel's quality.

After several passes of PBR lineups to harmonize textures and color temperatures, lighting, fx and set dressing started. Meanwhile, cameras, actors performance and music was being iterated through. Thanks to the modularity, reusability and "kitbashability" of the pieces we built, shuffling things around and layering complexity over many elements of the world became very fast.

Eventually, several tools were developed and implemented for release with Unity 2019 following all the technical conversations and initiatives sparked while working on this project. Many aspects, related to the new HD Render Pipeline and Fx were pretty new and you see them in full swing in the scale and depth of the environments, atmospherics, the portal trasformation sequence, and the overall realism.

This was an extremely innovative project for many aspects, during the early days of real-time graphics in movies and the booming of virtual prodution. It's an era that later developed into movie and game industries converging and taking advantage of eachother's teachings. There's lots to talk about here so, if you're interested in the topic, make sure to check our presentations in the links below.

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