Unity´s Potential for Cinematography

Blast from the Past: In the issue 06 : 2018 our editor Alexandra Kaschny takes a look at Unity. Assisting her was Adam Myhill, Head of Cinematics, who Alexandra had a chat about how Unity Technologies made a huge step forward back in 2018.

This article was originally published in the issue of 06 : 2018.

When it comes to Unity, a lot of people might remember those good old days when Unity was ok. It was good, sort of, but now, those guys might need to take another look and refresh their memory. Especially for the last year, the team of Unity Technologies has made a huge step forward, hired even more talent from all around the globe and really worked on pushing this engine to the next level.

We grabbed one of these talents at Unite Berlin (19th – 21th of June). Adam Myhill, Head of Cinematics, has been the pushing force behind Cinemachine, which is a unified procedural camera system for in­game cameras, cinematics, cutscenes and much more. We got ourselves some coffee, took a selfie and talked about Cinemachine, his work at Unity and the new Lexus clip.

DP: How do you like the event so far and why did you choose Berlin over all other possible cities?

Adam Myhill: I love the event so far. I’m not the best person to ask the “why Berlin”, but what I’ve heard is that we hosted it in Amsterdam for a couple of years and we wanted to give it a try in another city. Berlin is such an amazing city in my opinion, it only makes sense to me. I’ve already been here a couple of times. I haven’t checked out Munich though. (laughs)

DP: During your time working for Unity so far, have you only worked on/with Cinemachine or have you been involved in other things as well?

Adam Myhill: I started Cinemachine, which was before Unity, actually. I’ve been building camera systems for almost my entire career. I’ve done it for EA, I created the camera system in Frostbite and when I met Unity I just wanted to do it again. I put a small team together and we built Cinemachine in the asset store as an independent, small studio. Unity saw it, they acquired it and that’s how it all came together. And me … well, I was hanging around, so they gave me a job, too. (laughs)

DP: Did you work on Timeline as well?

Adam Myhill: I did work closely with the Timeline team, which is a great team, by the way, and those two tools work super well together, you can’t really think of them as independent tools. Yes, technically they are, but when you look at Timeline and Cinemachine and post processing, they are just one big, happy family. It only makes sense that I’ve been on the Timeline team as well. I’ve lived in Montreal for a year and a half, which is where the Timeline team is based. So I spent a lot of time (what a joke!) with them.

DP: Would you say that this is the main strength of all these tools and Cinemachine in specific? Working together so well?

Adam Myhill: Well, before I built Cinemachine, it was so painful to actually create stories in CG. It took hours to keyframe cameras, to time things out and I spent hundreds of hours over my career trying to make only a few hours of stuff. I thought that the ratio was disgustingly asymmetrical. The amount of time compared to the amount of output. So I started working on this camera system, which we now know as Cinemachine, and now as an example: The automotive video took two and a half days. That is nothing compared to how much time it would have taken in the past. With it, Unity is changing the ratio of the time spent to the content created. What it does is Cinemachine sure has a lot of buttons and sliders to play around with. It might need a little time to check out all possibilities provided. you are actually spending your time creating things, rather than wrestling with tech, code and all that stuff. You don’t need a programmer standing by either, which usually was the case.

Travelling back in time: The dune buggy image from “Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak” has been created with Cinemachine v1.O before it was part of Unity.
Cinemachine sure has a lot of buttons and sliders to play around with. It might need a little time to check out all possibilities provided.

DP: What are the limits of Cinemachine?

Adam Myhill: Limits? Zero limits! Ok, I have to say that, but … to Cinemachine, Cinematics are obviously what comes to mind. But it also does in­game stuff like videogame cameras. And videogame cameras are really, really hard, because the player has agency, they have control and all that, so that makes it much more complicated. As a developer, you have to respect these facts. So when it comes to limitations in Cinemachine, I would say it’s the learning curve that comes with it. Because there are a lot of switches, settings and all that, and you need to spend some time to get used to it. It’s a new way of thinking, because it is more than just keyframing cameras – which you can still use, but these cameras are smart and capable of so much more.

DP: What was your position in the discussion on “virtual cameras vs. real cameras”?

Adam Myhill: In CG, the cameras are “heavy”. They can become computationally expensive quite fast, they are the viewport to all of this rendering, there is all this packaging going on and there is usually a lot of code around them as well. Just think of it as computational rent they have to them. When we built Cinemachine, we worked with virtual cameras instead. Compared to the usual approach, virtual cameras are very light. Cinemachine blends all of them together based on how you tell it to or on its own logic and gives that result to the main camera in the end.

DP: The version of 2018.2 is in Beta right now. What are the main features for this and the upcoming versions concerning Cinemachine?

Adam Myhill: We’ve updated a lot. We updated the noise system, we have added something called Physical Camera, which reacts more like a real camera. You pick your lense, your focal length and you pick what kind of film you are shooting on. It’s a good step into the direction of how real cameras see the world, so to speak. We’ve updated to Collision System. There is a lot of stuff coming and we are working full­time on getting everything right. In the long term, we are trying to achieve full procedural cinematography. And we are working towards a world where you can create movie­like sequences in various scenarios in realtime. If you think of an e­sports game right now, it’s maybe a player camera, which usually is quite simple and static. Imagine if you could get much more dynamic angles of the game live, as if you hired a film director, but without the director. In a way, it would change the game to a movie with more beautiful cinematography without anybody actually doing it.

DP: Let’s talk a little bit more about the project with Lexus. When exactly did you get involved in that?

Adam Myhill: It was around a month ago. We did our first video with just a car in a studio and some cameras going over it. The Creative Director of Unity, Marc Cinq­Mars, and me did it after work one day for giggles. We shared it, they liked it and asked us to make a video for them. We started at 6:30 and finished at 12:30. And that’s the video you saw. People said stuff like: “This can’t be Unity. It can’t be that good.” And we just referred to the new renderer, HDRP. And for speed, we finished the entire clip in two days. To be fair, we didn’t model the assets in the scene, we already had them. So we didn’t start from zero. We got the model of the car from Toyota and the other stuff was either from our own artists, who created them before, or from the assetstore. But like I said before, the amount of time it took to make the clip compared to the invested time is what makes this so exciting. It’s out of the box Unity.

DP: It does look like Unity is going more and more into the direction of high­quality production.

Adam Myhill: Something I think we are quite honest about is Unity’s position in the world and with it it’s strengths and weaknesses. A year and a half ago we decided to take graphics really seriously. We always have, but since then we have really put a focus on it. We have made some really powerful talent additions to our company, people who really know about it and who are really good at what they do. Director of Global Graphics, Natalya Tatarchurk, from Bungie and many others from the best graphics companies around the world. They have been working on HDRP for the last year and what comes out of it is great. People are going to see Unity do some pretty amazing stuff … is that obnoxious? (laughs) I know, it sounds quite corny, but it’s true.

DP: Is there one thing you would like to add to Unity personally?

Adam Myhill: Actually, I would like to make it easier for kids to use it. It would be cool to see them think of it as Lego. Like building blocks for creativity. It would be great to have a version of Unity that I could give to a young kid to already make a game or a story – in a much simpler way, of course. But using it as a tool to express creativity in early age. That would be awesome.

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