The Best Work You May Never See: Impossible Objects, Director Joe Sill Navigate Virtual Production Path For "The Cloud Racer"

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Robert Goldrich
Monday, Aug. 22, 2022

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A struggling pilot takes his race-craft over the apocalyptic streets of future Los Angeles in a fierce aerial competition against the much better funded corporate teams in The Cloud Racer, a short film by Impossible Objects that was made as a proof-of-concept for a full-length original feature film.

For the Impossible Objects team, the project came to fruition as result of a devotion to developing narrative passion projects in between commercial projects and virtual production pipeline building. Impossible Objects co-founder and director of the film Joe Sill shared, “Our goal has always been to manifest original ideas independently using innovative and emerging new world building tools. Unreal Engine, MetaHuman Creator and KitBash3D are making it possible to visualize ambitious concepts at such a democratized level. The idea for Cloud Racer spawned from a mutual love for the jaw-dropping pod racing sequence that premiered in Star Wars just over twenty years ago, and how special it was to see a race film set in a science-fiction fantasy landscape on the big screen. We wanted to capture the essence of this sequence, and develop it into a story of a father and son taking on the daunting world around them, and proving that the little guy has a spot in the race too.”

The team heavily relied on Unreal Engine to create everything from virtual environments to lighting, camera, ingesting mocap performances, and final cinematics in-engine. The digital characters were built using Epic Games’ MetaHuman Creator, an innovative new platform to create pre-rigged digital human characters at astonishing speed that are infinitely customizable and fully operable within minutes.

To get up to speed with the workflow, the team conducted an experimental mocap shoot where they learned how to use motion and facial capture. “We shot our talent across one week in our office, where we used Rokoko  SmartSuits, Standard Deviation FaceCam HMC’s, and Unreal Engine’s LiveLink app to capture all of our facial and body performances--much of which was used in the final film. All the performances you see in the final film are the result of a live capture session and tweaks using Epic’s MetaHuman Control Rig,” shared virtual production supervisor and head of technology Luc Delamare. “We also used Vanishing Point & #39’s Vector system to do some referential camera work to simulate how we might end up filming the characters later on after ingesting all the performances into the scene.”

The bulk of the challenges the team faced during production were with the performance capture pipeline. Delamare added, “We had to figure out how to efficiently capture data, organize it, edit it, and push it through Unreal Engine with Metahumans. We were proud to build a system that was synchronized and intuitive within Unreal Engine, so that we could in essence ‘edit’ the film with performances recorded directly into Unreal.”

Impossible Objects built the film’s environments and art direction by heavily utilizing assets provided by Kitbash3D, Quixel, and Big/Medium/Small. “Companies like Kitbash3D are providing infinite possibilities for artists to stand up massive, detailed environments within an extremely short amount of time, allowing small teams to develop and realize completely fictitious, and previously restrictive big visual ideas, and really played a crucial role in the realization of the worlds of The Cloud Racer,” said Sill.

Credits

Virtual Production Company Impossible Objects Joe Sill, director & producer; Matisse Tolin, producer & writer; Jerad Anderson, producer; Luc Delamare, virtual production supervisor. Editorial & Color Correction Impossible Objects  Audio One Thousand Birds Jackie! Zhou, sound design & mix; Torin Geller, Myra Al-Rahim, additional sound design; Guin Frehling, Kira MacKnight, exec producers.

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