Character concept, modelling and rigging company 3Lateral joins Epic Games in a move announced today.
The company that started 15 years ago has worked on over 200 projects and is well know for its incredible list of AAA game title contributions such as Marvel’s Spider-Man, Electronic Arts Star Wars Battlefront II, Battlefield I, Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Rockstar Games Grand Theft Auto IV and V, Red Dead Redemption I and II. 3Lateral is also very well known for its work with Epic Games on real-time special projects such as Kite, Siren, Hellblade, MeetMIKE and Osiris Black.
The Serbia-based group will continue supporting game industry, film, and television partners while working to advance the state of the art in Unreal Engine’s support for virtual humans and creatures.
“Real-time 3D experiences are reshaping the entire entertainment industry, and digital human technology is at the forefront. Fortnite shows that 200,000,000 people can experience a 3D world together. Reaching the next level requires capturing, personalizing, and conveying individual human faces and emotions,” said Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic Games.
Vladimir Mastilovic will lead Epic’s worldwide digital humans efforts while the 3Lateral team will continue to support all of its partners, and Epic’s new presence in Serbia will serve as a base for recruiting technical and creative talent in the region. Currently, the company has 85 staff.
Vladimir founded the multidisciplinary company focusing on high fidelity digital humans starting from capture systems (3D and 4D scanning, appearance capture) to modelling and articulation systems to databases, statistical modelling and engine integration. He has received several prestigious awards including Most Innovative Entrepreneur by EY (2014) and Best Real-Time Graphics and Interactivity (SIGGRAPH 2016, as part of the Epic games Ninja Theory team).
fxguide recently visited 3Lateral’s offices in Serbia and sat down with founder and CEO Vladimir Mastilovic. A much longer podcast will be coming soon, but we started by asking about the move with Epic.
FXG: Congratulations Vlad. So why now, after 15 years of being independent, have you decided to join up with Epic?
VM: That was one of the key questions that we needed to answer ourselves. The simple answer is that we want to stay focused to developing technology. We have been developing technologies which are pioneering in the gaming industry but we were starting to face challenges around distribution, legal issues and just packaging everything into a framework which is easy to use and it’s approachable to a wide audience.
At the same time, we have been doing these demos with Epic games and we really enjoyed working with them. So it seemed like a perfect synergy of skills. We realised that we should use the Unreal Engine to funnel our technologies to UE4 users.
FXG: Are you going to stay in Serbia or are you guys going to all up and move everything to North America?
VM: We are going to significantly invest more in facilities here in Serbia and we will expand the team. We will also expand our research and development activities while still servicing our AAA projects. So basically we will build our location here in Serbia, while at the same time we’re working with the rest of the team at Epic Games in various locations in the world.
FXG: So you are in fact going to maintain your current client base?
VM: We never wanted to just disappear, we want to stay working with all sorts of clients. We have created a lot of friends and partners in the industry over the last 10 to 15 years. We don’t want to let anybody down. We want this to be an empowering event to the whole industry where we can democratize what is currently accessible only to companies with very large budgets. So in a few years, everybody can create high-end digital humans.
FXG: So just to be clear, this isn’t a response of 3Lateral being in any sort of trouble or difficulty?
VM: Correct, it’s completely a strategic move on our side. We’ve been doing great since day one. The company has always been healthy and profitable. We have always been growing. It just makes sense for us to partner with Epic. It’s definitely not a response to any trouble that has cropped up.
FXG: Rigging is very much something that is very proprietary. Can we hope to see, with this move, the tools becoming more widely available and becoming more standardized?
VM: Yeah, absolutely.
You’re aware of our development regarding our ‘gene pool’ and digital DNA, that we showcased about two years ago at GDC 2017 in San Francisco. We want to expand on that. It makes perfect sense for us that any digital humans should have their own digital DNA and the applications of that are too long to list or even imagine at this point.
This creates this wonderful new world of opportunities where the users of this tech will inspire us and show us new ways that this can be used – in ways that we can’t even imagine. So yes, the idea is that we would standardize certain things about digital humans.
We have already standardized everything internally about six or seven years ago. This helped us a huge deal in breaking this complex problem into smaller problems, which is always the approach I prefer. This means that if you are an artist, you will be able to use certain tools which are artist-friendly. If you’re a technical director, again, there will be a set of tools which are built for TDs. People can approach the problem from their own context, from their own angle. For example, as an artist you will be able to sculpt shapes, you will be able to solve animations and improve on them.
FXG: Will you be at GDC if people want to discuss this for themselves?
VM: Yes. We have already reached out to the teams we already do work with and reassured them that we fully intend to continue with our current projects and are even taking on some new ones. We have been in a ‘bad’ situation of having to refuse projects. In 2018 we refused about 95% of projects that were offered…It’s bad because it creates a lot of frustration and negative energy, with people who might feel let down. It made perfect sense that instead of trying to do everything ourselves, we should give away the tools so that everybody can finish their own project – by themselves.
FXG: Will you expand beyond your current games clients?
VM: I think of the Unreal engine as being far beyond just gaming. It’s a tool that let us simulate worlds and that has huge applications in research, in machine learning, and various other fields. We will definitely be expanding our activities beyond being concerned only with faces, and explore everything that makes an ‘image’ of a person.
FXG: And you are not going anywhere… not leaving for a tropical beach somewhere?
VM: No, absolutely not. Even when I go to a beach, which is rare, I would still whip out my iPad and read about the latest advancements in the technology. This is my passion, always has been, even before it became a job. And I would say that we’re not even halfway done. This move with Epic will provide us with enough resources to not only continue but also intensify what we were doing .
FXG: Thanks so much and good luck.