Let’s not get sucked into any mention of the “metaverse” – from the standpoint of pure graphics power on mere-mortal PCs, Unreal is one of the tools that is now seriously accessible for artists, even on a budget. And that’s worth celebrating, given it previously required getting a rare gig in a Hollywood VFX company.

Actually, before we get to the video for The Matrix (in case you haven’t seen it already), it’s worth checking out what’s happening in Epic’s MegaGrants program. This is a series of development grants that goes out to artists and developers, even supporting open source and community efforts. It’s also encouraging, because even as the tech becomes more accessible, time doesn’t become any less precious. Folks need infrastructure and support to do good work, period.

There were over 400 projects funded in 2021 (that funding seems to be continuous). I actually really hope to see some music stuff – anybody want to put together a team? But in addition to the expected animation and game projects, you’ll find some educational initiatives, digital fashion, and open-source tools. It’s worth a little dig for the tools stuff alone. See Epic’s own write-up:

Epic MegaGrants: 2021 Update

Some highlights:

First, this is really exciting – and perhaps unexpected for Unreal – an open-source pipeline that makes measurements from photos:


See it in action in Meshroom 3D:

That obviously has implications from research to artmaking.

Then you’ve got just really useful stuff, like this bridge from Daz 3D to Unreal:

And, okay, yes, you will of course get the intersection of metaverse with virtual currency with digital fashion – it’s a thing. (A deeper discussion of the creative and ecological impact of all this I can leave for another time; the fundamental notion of virtual value I think is comparatively inescapable, even if there is much-needed debate over what that looks like and how it squares with physical reality.)

Plus the actual digital fashion looks cool:

That already has plunged us into a present-day, real-life Matrix, so let’s get back to the Wachowskis’ film that inspired a lot of us back in the 90s.

Unreal did find a beautiful tie-in by creating an entirely Unreal-powered showcase for The Matrix reboot. This does give me some uncomfortable flashbacks to the original Matrix films, in that between the brilliant first movie and the very-disappointing sequels came the video game tie-in and the Animatrix. So I hope this isn’t a bad sign that we’re there again.

But from a technical standpoint, this is still pretty mind-boggling. PC users are unfortunately left out for some reason, but console owners can run this on Sony and Microsoft boxes.

Introducing The Matrix Awakens: An Unreal Engine 5 Experience

Courtesy Epic.

And yes, AI, MetaHumans, ray tracing, and Lumen engine all feature prominently. It’s just about the best 3D demo for an engine, well, ever. As I regularly point out, Photoshop’s roots run alongside the water tentacles in The Abyss. This would be like if you could then download the project and play with water tentacles on your 80s Mac. It’s no question a sign of how far we’ve come, and if this doesn’t completely flop, it could set a new bar for creative ideas about how to promote engines.

Recent Epic investment partner SideFX, makers of Houdini, also were apparently heavily involved in this – they note their support.

So even as the metaverse gives us MegaLame ideas from a certain social media executive, it’s also stimulating rapid investment in making expressive tools for artists. I’ll take that pill, whatever color it is.

The Verge got a nice (and nicely-shot) interview with the co-stars about the project.

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss on making The Matrix Awakens with Epic Games

Speaking of Keanu, you have to love his reaction to NFTs. I’m a pragmatist, so I think the notion of “digital scarcity” has to be measured by actual reality – not to dismiss NFTs entirely, as they do have actual uses and are part of a larger context.

But basically, what I find truly priceless is – this clip.