CARLOS MONTERO, VP OF GRAPHICS TECHNOLOGY AT NEOGLYPHIC:
Can you tell our users a little bit about what NeoFur is, and the kinds of assets it can be used for?
NeoFur is a plugin for real-time engines, like Unreal and Unity, that makes it fast and easy to create realistic, dynamic fur and soft surfaces. It can be used for everything from animals to moss and carpets, bringing detail and fidelity to what are usually bland, flat surfaces. And the great news is that it’s in-editor, so you don’t have to jump around between multiple tools.
What inspired its creation? What did it bring to this industry that did not already exist?
Soft surfaces and furry creatures have always been a big challenge for real-time engines. We began by tackling the creation of our own intellectual property, Sunborn Rising, using real-time engines and we really needed a strong, world-class solution for fur in particular as all our main characters needed it. So we set out to solve our own problems. And along the way, as we were sharing our progress, the community of developers were really excited and asking us to make it more widely available. The pull from the community has been fantastic and we hope to keep building more cutting edge graphics technology for them.
Who is NeoFur for? Is it something that can be used by studios? Hobbyists? Or both?
We’ve tried very hard to make NeoFur accessible in terms of pricing & skill level, and we have customers ranging from hobbyists and indies all the way up to AAA Console developers and Blockbuster Hollywood studios. And more than that, it is being used across industries, including cinema/VFX, VR/AR, PC, console and even mobile games, as well as digital agencies and architecture firms. We have free demos for download for those who want to see what it can do.
How does the generated fur fit in with the environment that an artist is creating? How much room is there for manipulation?
All of our fur supports physically-based shading, receiving all the bounced light, reflections and ambience of the environments it is placed within. Our shaders are flexible and customizable so there is plenty of room for tweaking and customizing to your needs, as well. We’ve been able to achieve a range of styles from cartoony to realistic.
What fueled the decision to partner with Unity? What does it mean for NeoFur?
Unity has been fantastic to work with, enthusiastic about our development, and eager to help us along the way. More than that, their community of developers and artists has been very supportive, vocal and talented. The engine itself is headed in a bright direction and we are excited to be a part of that. We can’t wait to begin leveraging more cutting edge features, like scriptable renderloops, to continue to improve NeoFur’s lighting and shading, and hit even higher levels of fidelity.
You’re compatible with PC, mobile, VR, and consoles. Was it challenging to create a software that is meant to be used across multiple platforms? Specifically, what difficulties have you had to work through?
Getting strong performance across platforms was a huge challenge. VR challenged us to innovate and create new LOD systems that handled extreme fill rate issues, while mobile challenged us to create CPU-simulations that were robust and fast to update, which helped on OSX and other platforms that don’t support compute shaders as well. All in all, these were great challenges that helped performance across the board, so they were definitely worthwhile!
Can you give us an idea of where you see Neoglyphic going? Will NeoFur continue to evolve or do you have different plans in the works?
Firstly, we are committed to the continued development of NeoFur, adding more visual and performance features. More broadly, at Neoglyphic we believe that convergence to real-time engines is happening now, with many industries joining in. We also believe there are a lot of areas for growth and improvement within the pipeline and tools, to help creators spend more time creating and less time force-fitting traditional workflows and software into real-time techniques. We have big plans that marry this vision with more real-time simulation and procedural geometries, as well as some advanced machine learning and computer vision approaches. As an example, we are taking a look at a procedural, real-time solution for other tricky problems like hair. We think 3D creators will be excited as we bring more of these to market.
MARCOS SANCHEZ, HEAD OF GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS AT UNITY TECHNOLOGIES:
How did you first learn about NeoFur, and what was your initial impression?
NeoFur caught our eyes through their early promotion material, and team awareness expanded when they were just beginning development of the plugin for Unity. UX engineer Bradley Weiers said, “I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a demo and put it to the test; when I did, I was blown away with how easy it was to achieve realistic fur, in Unity, and see it work perfectly in real-time. And it’s come a long way since then.”
What makes a code plugin like NeoFur stand out in the Unity ecosystem?
There are a lot of amazing plugins for Unity: some are focused on rendering performance, some on graphical fidelity, and others on optimizing the development pipeline. NeoFur stands out because it excels in these areas and more, and really enables developers to take full advantage of Unity’s rendering power. On top of that, NeoFur is cross-platform: it runs smoothly and looks great on mobile and VR platforms as well as console and PC, which fits perfectly with our MO -- build once, deploy everywhere.
In what ways will this plugin benefit your users? We’re interested in knowing the specifics behind how pipelines will be affected for large and small-scale projects alike.
Realistic hair, fur, and fiber can have a huge impact on the look of characters and environments, but are often out-of-reach for small-to-medium productions due to the prohibitive cost of the talent, time, and software required for authoring and rendering. NeoFur breaks down these barriers by making it easy and affordable to achieve stunning results.
The sheer efficiency can’t be beat: making adjustments is as simple as tweaking well-documented parameters inside Unity. Attempting this beforehand would have required a much longer pipeline, which requires much more time and more money. There’s also the fact that every time you extend your pipeline, content is compromised. By integrating directly with Unity, artistic integrity is maintained while costs go down.
The type of dimension achieved relies on shadows, which are among the most tedious elements to render. NeoFur is self-shadowing and thus a really elegant solution. Furthermore it’s dynamic and interactive; with VR for example, you can actually pet an animal and see its fur moving! The built-in physics affectors are also impressive; things like wind can be dialed up or down right from within the editor. Without NeoFur built into Unity, achieving something like this in realtime requires proprietary systems that are prohibitively expensive. A plug-in integration tightens the iterative cycle, making it that much more likely that you’ll be able to deliver on what you envisioned.
Where do you see software plugins like NeoFur fitting into the CG industry on a larger scale? In what ways could this be considered a game changer?
Software like NeoFur is democratizing the creation of stunning, next-gen visuals, making lot of graphical opportunities previously only available to AAA studios and specialized artists, viable options for even one-person teams. Right now teams outsource to render farms where every fiber is rendered, which takes days/weeks/months. Reliance on a render farm limits flexibility and iteration, which is so integral to the creative process. Furthermore, cinematic VR experiences with positionally tracked HMDs mean that content creators can no longer rely fully pre-rendered scenes. Games and interactive cinematic experiences rely on dynamic, physics-based solutions… Things like NeoFur’s level-of-detail (LOD) system, as well as other performance enhancing solutions, make this all possible.
How often do you find partnerships with advanced software companies like Neoglyphic? Can you give our users an idea of the kind of role that they play in your environment?
We’re committed to putting powerful tools in the hands of creators, and we can’t do that alone. One of the best things about Unity is the extensibility of our platform. That paired with our passionate community leads to the development of some amazing projects and solutions. It provides an opportunity for the best in their field to develop specialized applications and specific use cases that further empower developers and make it easier to deliver on their creative visions.
We want to thank Neoglyphic and Unity for taking the time to chat with us. This is certainly a powerful duo that is changing the landscape for real-time fur generation. Find out more by visiting Neoglyphic's website, and don't forget to check out the launch sale!