Forward-looking: Epic Games first unveiled a tool to let developers perform facial capture with a consumer smartphone in 2020. The following year, it unveiled software for efficiently designing realistic human characters. Now, the company has combined the two technologies to hopefully lower the barrier of entry for building and animating highly detailed 3D scenes.

Epic Games released a new animation suite for its MetaHuman character builder this week. The toolchain updates existing technology to expand Unreal Engine 5's capabilities for developers, big and small.

The company first unveiled its MetaHuman Animator tech at the 2023 Game Developers Conference in March in a demonstration from Ninja Theory showcasing its upcoming title Senua's Saga: Hellblae II. During the presentation, the developers captured a take from actress Melina Juergens using an iPhone. They then quickly applied the recorded information to a character model from Hellblade II, demonstrating how rapidly the studio can conduct facial motion capture using widely available hardware.

The software involved is the iPhone app Live Link Face, which Epic released in 2020. The tool uses the camera in an iPhone 12 or newer and Apple's ARKit augmented reality technology (which animates the Memoji and Animoji avatars) to record an actor's facial movements and apply them to Unreal Engine 5 characters.

Live Link Face received its first patch this week, adding support for MetaHuman Animator. Epic announced the program's debut by releasing a highly realistic short animated film (masthead) focusing on an actor's face captured by the app and rendered with MetaHuman.

The company also released an instructional video to get developers started and updated the documentation on its website with information about MetaHuman Animator. Although Epic demonstrated the tech using an iPhone, it supports any vertically-oriented stereo camera. Recent versions of the iPad Pro with TrueDepth cameras will work, but Epic has not optimized MetaHuman Animator for use with them yet, so performance could be sketchy. However, the company has tested the tool with Technoprops and Standard Deviation equipment and found no issues.

Although almost no Unreal Engine 5 games other than Epic's Fortnite have shipped yet, many are currently in development, some of which will undoubtedly use MetaHuman Animator. Immortals of Aveum, which utilizes MetaHumans, launches on July 20. Hellblade II is planned for 2024.