When it comes to using animations for marketing and brand engagement, many VR film projects currently on the market focus on providing an immersive one-off experience to captivate viewers in the moment. Rather than a mere afterthought, replayability is an essential ingredient for global VFX and animation studio Redrover, who is exploring fresh ways to engage viewers on a deeper level by combining story, gameplay, and greater interactivity.
Buddy VR – the team’s recent VR film spinoff of its Hollywood animated blockbuster, The Nut Job – recently took home the Best VR Experience Award at the Venice International Film Festival this fall. The project is part of Redrover’s vision to create a new genre of interactive animation, and what makes Buddy VR especially unique is the way it bridges the gap between animated short films and video game experiences.
A virtual interactive friendship
Starring “Buddy,” the loveable blue rat from The Nut Job, this vibrant interactive animation short has you meeting and befriending the little critter in a whimsical story that balances plot and gameplay elements. “We wanted to lead the story through intimacy between the player and character,” explains Chuck Chae, Director for Buddy VR.
Players get to know Buddy through a series of non-verbal interactions like exchanging names, petting, playing musical instruments, and more. It’s a humorous, heartwarming 16-minute interactive experience, and the response from those who have played it is overwhelmingly positive, he adds.
“Simply experiencing VR offers the player an extraordinary experience, and provides deep immersion while wearing VR equipment. However, many VR titles on the market are difficult to enjoy again once they have been played through the first time,” says Chae. “Our goal is to break away from this approach and produce titles that can maintain their replayability throughout lengthy and multiple playthroughs by combining Redrover's IP and VR technology with interactive elements.”
Optimizing creative potential with Unreal Engine
For this project, overcoming the challenge of creating cohesive story interaction through speechless communication required that the team weave in extra layers of detail and nuance to Buddy’s facial expressions, physical actions, and eye movements. Using Unreal Engine gave the team the tools and additional programming flexibility to craft a level of real-time interactivity and realism that could foster a believable relationship-building experience between players and the furry protagonist, says Chae.
“High-quality graphics and animations are essential for creating speechless interaction, which is the highlight of our product. It was amazing enough that Unreal Engine easily fulfilled our graphical standards, but it also had unbelievable real-time functionalities, allowing us to apply desired animations, edit unnatural or incorrect aspects, and then reapply to view the results all in one sitting,” says Chae, adding that the team was able to minimize production time using real-time rendering.
Optimizing their production workflows using real-time rendering also helped free up more of the team’s time and energy for creativity. “The greatest strengths of Unreal Engine are the ability to quickly make a prototype using codeless Blueprints and the ability to create high-quality graphic productions through real-time rendering,” he says. “By minimizing the workflow of realizing the designs and animations in your head to an actual render, there can be more time to concentrate on the creative aspects.”
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