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Colin Penty – Developer Spotlight [Q&A]

We take a moment to speak with Colin Penty, Technical Art Director for The Coalition, about his SIGGRAPH 2022 presentation, Behind the Scenes of “The Cavern” – UE5 Cinematic Visual Tech Test.

1. What is most relevant about your UE5 cinematic visual tech test when it comes to cinematic creation processes?

I think what’s most relevant about it is how The Coalition brought over our learnings from cinematic pipelines and content creation in Unreal Engine 4 to Unreal Engine 5. On the cinematic pipeline side our bi-directional pipeline that we used to process the actor facial and body performance separately, and the benefits that brings from being able to see your changes in Unreal Engine back in Maya and vice-versa is really powerful. On the content creation side our unique blendshape setup, Control Rig usage, modeling workflows, and cloth systems I think would be of interest to attendees.

2. How was Unreal 5 utilized in ways that your team had not experienced in the past?

For us that’s definitely moving our cinematic pipeline to Sequencer instead of using Matinee.  Gears 4 and 5 were built using Matinee for all of our cinematics and moving to Sequencer is a big – and welcome – change. Having cinematic files broken up into individual files per-shot is a much more efficient way to work and allows a team to collaborate on a cinematic much easier, which is exactly what we tested with the The Cavern cinematic.  Sequencer also provides a much more modern-way to interface with elements of our scene.  An example of this would be the custom ‘free-cam blend’ we added to The Cavern for the SIGGRAPH demo, that allows us to seamlessly blend between a user-controlled camera and the cinematic itself while keeping audio/video synced, this would not have been easily done in Matinee in UE4.

3. What were the challenges in running real-time on Xbox Series X, as your latest platform?

On Xbox the primary challenge was that The Cavern was our first time attempting a cinematic utilizing the latest UE5 features on Xbox.  There’s a learning process there for any studio with new systems like Nanite, Virtual Shadows, Lumen, etc, where you need to determine how to get the most out of that system while balancing that with artist workflows, visual quality, and technical performance considerations on Xbox.  We also had the conflicting goals of attempting to demonstrate a certain quality-bar with The Cavern cinematic so I didn’t want a ton of performance considerations to get in the way of that process.  This results in a cinematic like The Cavern getting optimized more on the ‘back-end’ for Xbox and perhaps not built with the clearest content budgets which wouldn’t really work for a real-game. All that said performance is surprisingly good for such a backwards process which is a testament to the power of Xbox Series X|S.

4. What do you value most about working at The Coalition in Vancouver?

I’ve been working at The Coalition since the very early days over 11 years ago, so I feel a certain sense of pride helping to build it up from 20’ish developers to 200+ developers today. In terms of the work I do I value how The Coalition is a studio that pushes for Technical Excellence in everything we do. In that respect I value our collaborations with Epic and other XGS studios to get the most out of Unreal Engine – it really allows us to push to that next-level of fidelity and quality. Ultimately though what I value most is the talented people I get to work with – some of which I’ve been working with for decades and a lot of them have become good friends. We all trust each other to deliver and when that uncertainty is eliminated it allows you to focus on the product and problem-spaces themselves, experiment, fail quickly, and try again, and just get things done – and have fun while doing it.

Interested in the world of Xbox? Here’s your chance to speak directly with Xbox Talent Acquisition at SIGGRAPH in Vancouver, August 8 to 11

Whether you’re early in your game industry career, at mid-level stage and seeking your next big move, or a seasoned pro ready to make a change, we want to talk to you about careers at Xbox! While at SIGGRAPH, you can visit the Xbox Game Studios booth on the main show floor. Sign up here to meet in person!