The true power of real-time rendered animated characters

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If there is one thing that animation studios, film distributors and producers have in common, it’s that they are all looking for a way to speed up the production process while cutting down costs. When you are targeting a 15- or 20-minute episode every week, it's easy to see how real-time rendering has become the holy grail of animation: it is both efficient and affordable. And with the current technology, so much more is possible in terms of interactivity, that it is simply perfect for TV. In this article, we will explore the possibilities and benefits of real-time rendering.

“Real-time rendering has become the holy grail of animation: it is both efficient and affordable”

Real-time rendered animated characters were first successfully introduced in video games. Companies such as NVIDIA are among the pioneers, consistently pushing the boundaries of graphics engines and providing great character animation to game developers worldwide. Today, real-time rendering, creating images fast enough on the computer so that the viewer can interact with the virtual environment, is widely used outside of the gaming industry. And rightly so.

The benefits of real-time rendered animated characters

1) Speed up production

Creating real-time rendered animated characters works in much the same way as traditional film-making. You create a set and tell real living and breathing actors what to do. Real-time rendering software turns them into animated characters on the spot. This really cuts the production pipeline as animators no longer need to create thousands of graphics for a single frame. With real-time rendered characters, creating a 15-minute episode every week is no longer impossible. In other words, storytellers can come up with a story and see their narrative on the air in a matter of days - and even faster!

real-time rendering animated characters

2) Cut costs

Speed is one benefit, cost another. The number of animators required for real-time rendering is nowhere near the workforce needed for traditional animation. Gone are the days where studios needed an army of designers, animators and the like to create just a couple of seconds of frames. With real-time technology you can create full-length episodes with a very limited staff. Art directors and animators can focus on the settings, instead of character animations.

3) Format extensions

As a consequence of the benefits described above, publishers can use their animated characters more frequently and in many different environments. One of the main features of real-time animation is that is allows animated characters to interact directly with a live audience, either in an animated or live environment. Publishers of animated content for kids, for example, could have an animated character talk directly to the TV host. Not to mention the near endless possibilities for comedy, talk and game shows and also advertising and marketing. All that content can be created and streamed through internet services in real-time without any hassle.

Real-time vs. pre-rendered animation

Real-time rendering makes life of animators and studios a lot easier. But that’s doesn’t mean that there aren’t any challenges. For one, the quality of real-time animation largely depends on the available graphics and processing power of your hardware. Generally speaking, the level of detail that can be achieved with pre-rendered animation exceeds real-time rendered sequences.

In time, these technological limitations will be overcome with the introduction of even more powerful GPU’s. For now, though, artists and storytellers need to work within the boundaries of what can be done - which is already quite a lot.

Real-time vs. pre-rendered animation

At Wonder Media, we firmly believe in the creative power of real-time animation. We offer integrated services, from developing formats and conceiving characters, to creating a fully functional production environment, featuring real-time animated characters that can accommodate live video, real-time cameras, and much more. And all of this can be accomplished at unsurpassed production turnaround speed.

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So how does it work? We offer an extensive selection of characters to get you started. Every character comes with a library of movements and expressions that can be customized. If you have your own character model, we can bring it to life in a matter of days. Using animated mascots, celebrities or even inanimate objects all becomes a breeze with our real-time animation graphics engine.

WonderGrove: real-time animation in action

WonderGrove is Wonder Media’s very own animated series that was completely created and produced using our in-house software and character library. Even though the number of settings, scenes and environments is limited, we still succeed in creating engaging stories that are loved by young viewers around the world. What’s more, we are capable of producing new stories every week - this is the true power of real-time animation.

WonderGrove Kids: Always Wear a Helmet from WonderGrove on Vimeo.

The expertise we get from creating WonderGrove is then used to further improve the Wonder Media solutions. Tapping into our own experiences, we find, is the best way to help our customers.

What will the future bring?

Technology will continue to evolve and the gap between pre-rendered and real-time animation will become smaller and smaller. In fact, most of the things we are capable of today in real-time were simply inconceivable just one year ago. At the current speed (the processing power is doubling every 18 months), the technological limitations of real-time rendering will surely dissolve.

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