his morning, I had the pleasure of speaking with Vlad Mastilović, the VP of Digital Humans Technology at Epic Games, ahead of his highly anticipated March 17 appearance on the subject of real-time digital humans, which you can register for right here.
Vlad's company, 3Lateral, was one of a few strategic tech acquisitions Epic Games made in the last two years leading up to the mind-swirling announcement of the MetaHuman Creator tool.
The tool is a browser-based platform for creating digital humans that are high-fidelity, real-time, fully rigged, diverse, and portable—one which sent the CG world into a frenzy late last month, and for good reason.
Vlad will meet publicly next week with other innovators in the digital human space, from Brud (Lil Miquela) to Sony Pictures Imageworks, to discuss the recent advancements in real-time digital humans and their impact on the future of games, films, and more.
Enjoy my conversation with Vlad about the future of digital humans at Epic Games ahead of his grander discussion about the technology next week.
Hey Vlad! Congratulations on 3Lateral's acquisition and your evolving role as Epic Games' VP of Digital Humans Technology. How would you describe your work at Epic?
[Vlad] Thank you! The 3Lateral team (myself included) is thrilled to be a part of Epic Games since we’re fully aligned with regards to the vision where this leads. As an independent company, we have managed to create the know-how, pipeline, scalable production techniques and exciting new tech, but getting it out there on a global level and integrated into exciting new workflows is something we couldn’t have done alone.
I think things also clicked on the value system we nurtured at 3Lateral with the one that was nurtured at Epic Games for decades. Our work currently involves both planning for an exciting future on the scale of 5-10 years as well as milestones next week. Building this bridge between present and future is a wonderful experience.
Most people perceive digital humans just as "video game characters". What role do you see digital humans playing beyond the video game industry?
[Vlad] I see digital humans as a reflection of ourselves and, as such, they have a wide application in the gaming space. There are also different kinds of games, and a sense of what a game is will also evolve in the future.
Typically, games will entertain us and create a social space where we can connect with other people, but there can also be games where we learn through digital humans: we can explore anatomy, the ways to better move in sports, for example, or how to dance.
We can also have a “game” where we choose our wardrobe and that may be the way to actually buy it in the future. Some of these are immediate & obvious, and others speculative & futuristic, but one thing is certain: digital humans will be one of the fundamental building blocks of many technologies in the future.
Fascinating... What dynamic of the MetaHuman Creator tool excites you the most?
[Vlad] Definitely the fact that we brought a niche technology that used to require expert knowledge into a space that has a wider and faster feedback loop. We’re excited to see what storytellers from around the world will do with this new capability.
What first inspired you towards digital humans as a concept?
[Vlad] I think it was the first VFX shots done through CG, like in the movie Abyss and later on The Matrix. It’s an incredibly challenging domain and I’m thrilled to see that it’s getting the kind of attention that it deserves.
I like the end result as well as the process. I like analyzing patterns of our behavior and creating experiments that will collect data and later on model things mathematically. It’s a wonderful mix of artistic and scientific. You know how it’s kind of sad when an exciting project finishes? Like when we got to the last Lord of The Rings movie. Well, this topic is infinitely complex, so we’ll never get to really see the end of it.
If you had a piece of advice for any artists, developers, or storytellers working in the digital humans space, what would you share?
[Vlad] The value of human contribution in the digital human space will never go away. For example, I don’t believe that we will ever want to replace actors or artists with technology. We will, however, want to automate time-consuming processes and will make efforts to remove tasks which are purely mechanical and repeatable.
Always keep an eye on what a fundamental art skill is versus what is a temporary production requirement that needs to be filled, and keep a good balance of both.
What's the next big step for MetaHuman Creator?
[Vlad] MetaHuman Creator will continually evolve for years. One of the high priorities is to increase the database so that we can create an even more diverse set of appearances. We’ll also work on further improving the fidelity of the deformation rig.
There’s also more to be added to the workflows after you receive the asset. That would cover some of the obvious improvement points, but beyond that we’ll leave that for one of the future updates as we’re still debating in what order we can commit to new features.
What we can say, though, is this is at the core of our mission, and we’ll do our best to provide creatives around the world with a tool that produces diverse and high-fidelity digital humans at a fraction of the time and cost that it would usually take.
Thank you, Vlad! I'm looking forward to what's next.
[Vlad] Thanks Christopher. We're all excited to see how this will evolve.
To hear Vlad speak more about the MetaHuman Creator tool, register here.