Image courtesy of Aaron Sims Creative

Boost your Unreal Engine animation production pipeline with these plugins

June 28, 2022
Real-time technology is increasingly popular across the animation industry, with more and more studios adopting an Unreal Engine-based production pipeline. Whether you’re a large-scale studio, an animation boutique, or an individual creator, our Epic partners can bring new features to your pipeline, thanks to an ever-growing list of plugins and integrations designed to help you take your animations to the next level.

Today, we’re sharing some of the plugins currently available—we’ll keep updating this post with new animation tools as they are released, so bookmark this page.

Autodesk

Design software expert Autodesk caters to a diverse range of industries that includes everything from architecture and engineering to product design and film and television. The company’s industry-leading project management software ShotGrid offers powerful tracking and review tools for animation productions, helping streamline workflows for creative studios.

Co-released with Epic Games, the ShotGrid plugin for Unreal Engine creates a foundational integration between ShotGrid Toolkit and Unreal Engine to enable seamless tracking and review of your Unreal Engine project. It includes hooks that enable users to build their own custom workflows on top of some out-of-the-box functionality. For example, with the ShotGrid Loader, you can now import FBX files directly into the Unreal Engine Content Browser with database-driven folder organization, and if you are working in Maya, you can export Autodesk FBX assets and automatically import them into Unreal Engine for turntable rendering and subsequent publishing in ShotGrid. The plugin is compatible with both UE 4.27 and UE5.

Autodesk also provides the Unreal Live Link for Autodesk Maya plugin, which enables you to stream animation data from the company’s popular 3D content creation application to Unreal Engine in real time. This time-saving plugin means that you can animate character assets in Maya and see a real-time preview of your work inside Unreal Engine in a fully lit and rendered environment.

Aaron Sims Creative (ASC) used the ShotGrid plugin during the making of THE EYE: CALANTHEK. This enigmatic and suspenseful short film tells the story of intergalactic maintenance worker Valentina who encounters a hostile alien and mystery force when called to repair a drone on a distant planet. The film was created in just six weeks nearly entirely in Unreal Engine 5 Early Access, with Maya used to create Valentina’s spacesuit and helmet and ShotGrid to manage the project.
 

“ASC has been using ShotGrid since its early days as a VFX studio,” says Aaron Sims, renowned creature designer, and Founder and CEO of ASC. “When managing multiple projects at once, sequences, assets, and shots can pile up and quickly become overwhelming. The integrated review tools in ShotGrid let managers like me stay on point and make sure that I’m keeping the team moving in an efficient and time-sensitive way.”

Kitestring

Ozone by Kitestring enables film-quality character deformations in real time. The Ozone Engine plugin is designed to enable more interesting and unique deformations within both Unreal Engine 4 and 5.

Super Giant Robot Brothers! is the first animated series from Texas-based creative studio Reel FX to be created entirely in Unreal Engine, while Ozone was used to build the key characters.

“Working with Rich Hurrey's team at Kitestring has been such a rewarding experience,” says Douglas Bell, Rigging Supervisor at Reel FX. “During the production of Super Giant Robot Brothers!, we had the opportunity to build our characters utilizing Ozone. This gave us a boost in rig speed for animators, plus it carved a path to integrate our characters into Unreal Engine. In the character TD world, it’s rare to be able to implement ground-breaking tech like Ozone in a production, plus work alongside the Kitestring team with their massive amount of industry experience and passion for the engineering side of animation.”
 
Watch the Reel FX Spotlight on the upcoming Reel FX show Super Giant Robot Brothers!
Super Giant Robot Brothers / Courtesy of Netflix

Praxinos

Praxinos develops 2D tools based on Unreal Engine. The company’s suite of animation tools includes EPOS, a storyboard manager plugin for Unreal Engine. This innovative storytelling tool enables you to draw 2D storyboards in a 3D real-time environment. EPOS manages scene placement in space and time by creating a camera in your 3D environment, a scene within Unreal Engine’s Sequencer, and a transparent board for sketching.

Academy Award-winning independent animation studio Passion Pictures used the EPOS plugin when storyboarding and laying out their in-progress experimental short The Day I Became A Bird, a 14-min CG story about the awakening of an 11-year-old boy to the larger natural world when he becomes intrigued by a classmate’s fascination with birds.

“I think the ‘charm retention’ in the Praxinos/Unreal 3D story stage of animation production is a huge win for directors and the overall process,” says David Park, Executive Producer / Head of Production at Passion Pictures’ Features & Episodic Animation Division. “Often on Bird we saw a seamless transition from story to layout to animation with Praxinos 3D boards, versus more ‘traditional’ approaches, because the drawn character acting and expressions from the storyboards weren’t replaced by less appealing gray layout CG stand-ins. In a world of tight animation budgets, directors and artists not being distracted by the ‘charm loss’ moving from story to layout is a huge win.”
Image courtesy of Passion Pictures

SideFX

For over thirty-five years, SideFX has been developing procedural 3D animation and visual effects tools for the world’s top film, TV, advertising, and video game studios. The company’s Houdini 3D animation software uses nondestructive workflows—allowing editing at any stage in the process—to enable artists to work more freely, create multiple iterations, and quickly share workflows with colleagues.

The Houdini Engine for Unreal plugin lets artists leverage Houdini's procedural assets directly in Unreal Engine. It also enables technical artists to build procedural tools, and share them with artists across the studio—whether they know how to use Houdini or not.

To show how the Houdini Engine plugin can be used to work inside the Unreal Editor, SideFX created Project Titan. This in-house tech demo is designed to production test Houdini’s procedural workflows while creating a 3D environment built using the latest technologies in Unreal Engine 5. With Project Titan tools, artists can work faster while still maintaining creative control. The procedural workflow makes it possible for smaller teams to rapidly accomplish a high level of detail. SideFX plans to share the tools and techniques used in the Project Titan demo with the animation community as learning materials.
 

In addition, the Houdini Engine for Unreal plugin was used on In Vaulted Halls Entombed, the latest season of Love, Death + Robots. You can find out how Sony Pictures Imageworks took a leap and changed a pipeline that’s been working for over 25 years to deliver real-time animation for the show in our Spotlight.
Love, Death + Robots | Courtesy of Netflix
For tips and tricks from the growing community of #UEAnimators, check out our Animation Hub and Epic Developer Community.

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