Allan Poore at Unity explains how the lines between gaming and film technology are more blurred than ever

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Whether it’s the Tomb Raider adventures of Lara Croft or the cartoon visuals of Super Mario, the video games industry has always been inspired by the big-budget storytelling of the Hollywood film industry.

But this relationship is changing. The lines between gaming and film technology are more blurred than ever.

The exceptional visual effects being used in popular modern video games are now catching the attention of filmmakers as they plot out the plans for their next blockbuster, and there is a key reason why.

In the UK alone, the gaming industry accounted for £4.7bn of sales in 2022, which is higher than the film, television or music industries. And globally, the games industry hit expected revenues of $196.8 billion last year, compared to Hollywood’s $26 billion.

Given the global audience gaming now attracts, and the commercial success of VFX-driven games such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and Ghost of Tsushima, there is a real appetite for immersive visual effects experiences, and this is fast being recognised by filmmakers.

It’s no coincidence that four of the five films nominated for Best Visuals Effects at the Oscars this year also featured in the global top 10 list of highest-grossing films of 2022.

Avatar: The Way of Water is an example of this – winning the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and becoming the third most profitable film of all time worldwide.

Equally, films or series based on popular video games are increasing in popularity, and success; The Last of Us and Sonic the Hedgehog are just two of the recent examples to hit the big screen, with the former being one of the most successful game-to-TV adaptations yet.

Groundbreaking visual effects experiences and the democratisation of gaming technologies are proving to be integral to maintaining cinema attendance.

Filmmakers are not just battling other movies for audiences, they are also competing against other entertainment verticals and platforms, to grab a slice of viewership. This surge in competition means they are needing to produce compelling content in shorter time frames and give audiences bigger reasons to watch their film over other entertainment options available.

More often than not, to grab audience attention, this content requires big-budget production and significant VFX investment, which brings high costs in time and skilled labour.

Gaming technology and real-time 3D tools are helping to address these challenges, not only to make film production smoother, easier and faster but also to provide huge opportunities for filmmakers to radically transform their visual effects capabilities.

Tools like those from Unity’s Wētā Tools in Avatar: The Way of Water can show very quickly a representation of what a particular frame is going to look like before it’s filmed.

In addition, directors can use a virtual camera showing real-life components, so they can see what the scene and surroundings look like as they film.

There’s a big opportunity for creatives to move from waterfall production methods and adopt the tools to implement changes in creative direction without disrupting the entire pipeline.

Shifts to the cloud can reduce resources needed on-site, and also improve asset discoverability across collaborating studios. Overall, the way IP is created will change given the democratisation of assets across film and games, with no need to recreate content between big and small screen projects. This opens up greater creative possibilities for studios of any size.

VFX technologies, some forged in gaming, can have a huge impact on maintaining cinema culture in the age of streaming – if the tools can continue to be opened up and accessed in the right way.

They will enable studios to manage ongoing pressure timelines for creating compelling content with ease and can change workflows to make creative decisions more quickly.

If we can continue down this positive path, creatives will have the power to remain in the creative flow for longer and deliver on the demands for immersive and thrilling content. This promises a rich new era and a bright future for filmmaking and our cinemas.

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 Allan Poore is senior vice president at Unity