Brian Rossney is the author of Reimagining Characters with Unreal Engine’s MetaHuman Creator; we got the chance to sit down and find out more about his experience of writing with Packt.
Q: What are your specialist tech areas?
Brian: I’m a Visual Effects Supervisor and 3D generalist. I’ve also worked as a film/commercials director. Because I was already skilled in 3D when I started directing professionally, I used 3D animation to plan my shots instead of storyboarding. My 3D pre-visualization evolved from using Maya to using the Unreal Engine. I was so impressed by Unreal, that I tested it out further and made a short film with it.
Q: How did you become an author for Packt? Tell us about your journey. What was your motivation for writing this book?
Brian: Packt Publishing contacted me via LinkedIn as I had tagged that I use the Unreal Engine. In fact, I was using the Unreal Engine a lot for corporate events at the time. It just so happens that I was also looking into Metahumans and retargeting practices as I was in the planning stages of a short film titled ‘1976’, made with Unreal. I found that all the information I needed was out there, in the help docs, and in online tutorials but it was all very fragmented. I really needed a step-by-step guide to creating a pipeline for my next project. This personal research project was the motivation I needed to write the book.
Q: What kind of research did you do, and how long did you spend researching before beginning the book?
Brian: I put into practice every concept that I introduced into the book. The research required rigorous testing. Everything in the book was done by myself in Unreal and tested repeatedly. The testing and research involved; building a character in the MHC, and bringing it into Unreal. Applying body motion capture via Mixamo and Deepmotion, with the use of the IK retargeted. Recording facial capture using an iPhone and Faceware and applying it to the Metahuman and finally some adding lights and camera to a scene.
Q: Did you face any challenges during the writing process? How did you overcome them?
Brian: One of the biggest challenges was writing the book while Unreal Engine 5.0 was still only in a release version. This meant that there was little to no documentation on the new features of version 5. In fact, the IK retarget tool wasn’t released until UE5 formally was released in around June. I knew that there was going to be a release halfway through the process so I kept myself in the loop by routinely looking at Unreal Engine developer blogs and posts. As soon as the IK retarget tool was confirmed as a near certainty I had to pause writing as I knew it was going to create a lot of redundant work that would have a knock-on effect on the remaining chapters. Another challenge was writing about Mesh to Metahuman. It ended up being a bonus chapter due to its late release.
Q: What’s your take on the technologies discussed in the book? Where do you see these technologies heading in the future?
Brian: I’m blown away by the great work that comes out of Epic Games and their partners at Quixel. The core technology in the book is Metahumans and their integration with UE5. Given how recent they are, we are only seeing early development work. The animation control tools utilized by mocap and the control rig are incredibly powerful and I believe it will be a while until we see them mastered. I’m talking about technology right now. In the future, I see this technology merging with Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. The blueprints in UE are very capable of that kind of merge. ARkit for example capable of incredible articulation and there’s potential for AI to smooth it all out in a realistic fashion. For example, if we want a character to behave more nervously, there might be room for AI to contribute towards that happening on the existing technologies of Metahumans and ARkit.
Q: Why should readers choose this book over others already on the market? How would you differentiate your book from its competition?
Brian: This book aims to get down to business quickly. There is only a small amount of theory in the book because ultimately it’s a step-by-step guide to creating films. This means the reader can follow each chapter, build on their knowledge from the past and move on to the next step. Other books get too bogged down in technology and introduce too many concepts that are relevant but only barely. Ultimately, I wrote this book as a filmmaker. I’m not a programmer. I’ve produced and directed countless live-action projects and when writing this book, I imagine my readers are filmmakers too.
Q: What are the key takeaways you want readers to come away with from the book?
Brian: I want readers to follow the steps, but use their own projects with their own ideas.
Q. What advice would you give to readers learning tech? Do you have any top tips?
Brian: The biggest advice I have for readers learning tech is to simplify and repeat. In order to simplify a technological problem you have to be aware of the end goal. What is the desired outcome? Why do I need to do it this way? Once you have a simplified solution, repeat it over and over again until you find a fault.
Q. Do you have a blog that readers can follow?
Q: Can you share any blogs, websites, and forums to help readers gain a holistic view of the tech they are learning? What are the key takeaways you want readers to come away with from the book?
Q. How would you describe your author’s journey with Packt? Would you recommend Packt to aspiring authors?
Brian: I have only good things to say regarding my journey as an author with Packt. There were often times that my work schedule which took priority would conflict with writing time and this delayed things. However, my editor and the rest of the team were always very understanding but also gave me extra encouragement to get through the project.
Q. Do you belong to any tech community groups?
Q. What are your favorite tech journals? How do you keep yourself up to date on tech?
Brian: VES, FXPHD, VFX World Magazine, lesterbanks.com, the Gnomon Workshop
Q. How did you organize, plan, and prioritize your work and write the book?
Brian: I got most of my work done on weekends. It was seldom that I got enough time during the week. I found that the only way I could productively write was if I got about 6 hours of free time to write within. In hindsight, I would have scheduled all my correction times for specific days during the week as they typically took a lot less time. Because the earlier chapters, particularly the 2nd chapter were very large, it kind of gave me a false sense of exactly how much time I needed to schedule for writing.
Q. What is that one writing tip that you found most crucial and would like to share with aspiring authors?
Brian: Get into a daily habit of writing. Even if it’s just 20 minutes a day or just enough time to read back what you did the day before it will make a massive difference.
Q. Would you like to share your social handles? If so, please share.
You can find Brian’s book on Amazon by following this link: Please click here