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  • Writer's pictureJack Chen

Retro Space Horror Virtual Production with Unreal Engine 4

This semester I had the opportunity of experimenting with basic virtual production techniques using Unreal Engine with the generous help of instructors Sang Jin Bae, David Poyner, Noah Kadner, along with the rest of my cohort at the fall 2021 Virtual Production class.

The project begin with ideation. My teammates Jessica Cochran, Camryn Brescia and I agreed on a space horror script to take advantage of the versatility of backgrounds offered by virtual production. Once the script had been written, most of the pre-production work was done in Unreal Engine.

We began by building the environment in UE4 by combining a variety of assets from the Epic Games store.

The lighting was done manually in UE4; red & warm toned lights are used in the bloody door hallway to accentuate the menacing ambience while green and cold toned lights are used in the main room to establish an eerie space horror atmosphere.

Once the environment is build, we added the camera angles in the environment, then used the unreal engine sequencer to animate the character, camera, and light movements.

A pre-viz of the scene was rendered before the in person shoot:

The live action shooting component of the production was done remotely with my team in New York communicating with Noah Kadner at his studio in California over zoom. Our sequence in UE4 was projected onto an LED screen. Noah acted out the scene as the actor in front of the LED screen while DMX lights behind the camera synced with the UE4 scene projecting lighting onto Noah that matches the environment in the scene.

It was a unique experience to not only direct a virtual production, but doing so remotely as well. Virtual production definitely provides a level of flexibility and control not present in purely live action productions. Changing elements within the scene is fast and easy; instead of calling in the lighting or art departments to change the environment, a single technician can make the changes in UE, same case with camera positions. Building the set in UE in pre production also gives the team better control of how the scene will look on the day of the shoot. However, there is also a limitation on the camera angle and movements in virtual production as the camera will always have to point in the direction of the LED screen and camera movements must be matched by the UE environment.

The post production process for our virtual production scene is similar to live action projects. Using Adobe premiere for editing then DaVinci Resolve for color grading.

I added a retro aesthetic to the final video in tribute to "Alien" and other retro space horror films which inspired our script.

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