How 'Fortnite' Maps a Hollywood Future

Kim Libreri - Getty - H 2020
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Epic Games' Kim Libreri, one of THR's Top Hollywood Innovators, says digital representation of humans will become more real, from digital doubles to holograms.

A VFX vet who worked on The Matrix, Kim Libreri knows a thing or two about bringing tech capabilities to filmmaking. The chief technology officer of Epic Games helps Hollywood find applications for its real-time gaming engine, Unreal, used by the likes of Disney and Jon Favreau for The Mandalorian (and to develop the smash hit game Fortnite).

As an example, the Oscar nominee (for his VFX work on 2006's Poseidon) cites Unreal's multi-user capability as a tool that can bring disparate departments together to continue producing projects during the current shutdown. "It's like being on a physical set — but in the virtual world," he says. "During this COVID-19 nightmare, we've seen people connecting their computers across the internet and doing virtual production sessions together even though they're all at home working on their individual computers."

As the coronavirus crisis began, Epic was starting to experiment with Xsens motion-capture suits. He describes a motion-capture-from-anywhere setup, where an animator wears a suit, and a director — logged in to the Unreal Engine system from home — can go in and out of VR to make the action come to life.

Looking ahead, Libreri says the synthetic will continue to become more photoreal. “Because we’re getting to a point where the engine can generate movie-quality assets, it also enables IP creators or people who are trying to tell a story or transport people to a different world to make content that isn’t just a movie, or a TV show, or a video game. It could be all of these things because you can reuse the assets. But we’re just trying to move the barrier to entry.”

He also believes digital representation of humans will become more real, "from a leading character in a game to a digital double for film, to a live-venue hologram, or the virtual Travis Scott that 27.7 million players experienced in Fortnite," where the rapper debuted new music April 28.

Adds Libreri, "For many of these applications, having more photorealistic likenesses is essential." 

A version of this story first appeared in the May 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.