A New Matrix Tech Demo Shows How Ridiculously Far Visual Effects Have Come

Most of the attention paid to The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience, a cheeky and technically impressive (but non-canonical) tie-in to the upcoming Matrix sequel, is likely to be around how digitally recreates actors Keanu Reeves and Carie-Ann Moss. It’s cool.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/m7vg5b/a-new-matrix-tech-demo-shows-how-ridiculously-far-visual-effects-have-come
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I am gonna be that person and say that this really didn’t look good at all. The animation and materials quality isn’t there so everyone slides into the uncanny valley in movement. In still frames, that model looks like goddamn Keanu Reeves. In motion, the way he moves in and out of the car looks exactly like the CG inserts in Reloaded and Revolutions.

Having worked in said engines for awhile, the real impressive thing is that it’s all running in realtime. No baking, no render farms, just 1 pc running 1 game and it just looks like that. What used to take weeks to render frame by frame is now just running instantly, and can be edited in any way desireable at runtime with no cost.

But yeah, animation tech and such has not kept up with fidelity, so it’s extremely obvious as soon as it moves, you’re right. But I think it’s more of a showoff for how much you can do with realtime rendering, and an ad for unreal 5 as a filmmaking tool (which it is more than something for making games, really)

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That’s a really interesting perspective that I didn’t take into account. I don’t know what goes into film CGI so all I’m seeing watching these clips is ‘that looks like the burly brawl from reloaded in 03’. The burly brawl probably took hundreds of hours to render, but gamer brain says that real-time graphics from 2021 should look better than 20 year old pre-renders. Maybe they should? but it’s certainly not a given.

I think I remember the same reaction when Kingdom Hearts 3 came out and the Toy Story sections weren’t even comparable to Toy Story 2 in some cases.

Goes to show, shouldn’t be so quick to judge!

Well, also consider that there’s different rendering technologies being used - I assume Toy Story itself was always raytraced on a big renderfarm, whilst KH3 is raster-style graphics (with a lot of clever passes and lighting approximation models to try to imitate raytracing). It’s only very recently that we’ve been able to do real-time raytracing fast enough to use in video games (and even then, it’s “cheating” by upsampling the results of rendering at a lower resolution).

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It’s very impressive but it’s not…real. (One might dare call it Unreal waka waka) I’m looking forward to seeing what developers do with it (Rocksteady is an Unreal house, I think), but I’m not all that over the moon about a tech demo.

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So, I did some actual research after this and:
I was wrong about Toy Story being ray traced in 1995 - even for Pixar’s render farm it was too difficult to ray trace a movie length feature, rather than just doing raster rendering!
(By Toy Story 3, they definitely were Ray traced - and apparently Pixar had to build new models for the later TS films, since the models from TS1 and 2 weren’t compatible with the software any more!)

That said - the amount of work being done by the raster engine in Toy Story is significant, there are sampling and shader techniques that wouldn’t turn up anywhere in computer games for a number of years (and TS2 of course added more tech, as Pixar’s policy was and is to keep render time per frame constant across their movies, just adding more features as technology allows them to do more in that time budget).
Apparently, Toy Story era Pixar movies spend around 4 hours per frame ("between 45mins and 30 hrs depending on the complexity of the scene) at a rendering resolution a bit less than 1080p.
KH3 presumably needs to render at 60fps, and proper 1080p.
1hr/frame is 216,000 times slower than 60fps… and Moore’s Law (which is a marketing thing now, but, as an estimator it’s ‘ok’) suggests that we double our compute every 2 years or so.
There are 24 years between KH3 and TS. 2^12 is only 4096! (Running the algorithm in reverse suggests that it will be around 2030 before we can do late 90s Pixar rendering at 60fps on commodity devices.)

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All I think when I play this tech demo is… Comparing what games looked like at the beginning of the last gen to how they looked at the end of it… I’m excited to see where things settle by the end of this generation.

Assuming by the end of this console generation we’re not at war with our Alexas and Google Homes.