Thursday, January 23rd, 2020 Posted by Jim Thacker

Watch The Heretic, Unity’s beautiful new CG short

Originally posted on 24 September 2019. Scroll down for updates.

Unity Technologies has screened the full seven-minute version of The Heretic, its new CG short designed to show the game engine’s real-time rendering capabilities, as part of the keynote at Unite Copenhagen 2019.

The short, which runs at 30fps in 1440p resolution on a “high-end gaming PC”, is lit using real-time lights, and showcases Unity’s recent work on photorealistic digital humans.

Updated 23 January 2020: Unity has now posted the final version of The Heretic online.

As it turns out, the version shown at Unite Copenhagen (you can see it here in the recording of the keynote) wasn’t quite the final one, with the final version reworking and extending the ending of the short.

Now three minutes longer – but still just as inscrutable
With its ambiguous plot and cliffhanger ending, we described The Heretic as “pretty enigmatic” when the teaser was first released at GDC 2019 earlier this year.

The full version sticks to its guns, simply replacing one cliffhanger ending with another.

By the end, Gawain, the short’s human protagonist, may be dead, killed by shape-shifting adversary Morgan, or may have been magically reanimated by his robot/spider/bird sidekick.

Updated 23 January: The final version of the short makes this clearer, although it’s still kind of a cliffhanger.

A ‘first attempt’ at photorealistic human characters in Unity
As with Unity’s previous tech demos Adam and Book of the Dead, the point of The Heretic isn’t really the storyline, but to showcase Unity’s developing photorealistic rendering capabilities.

In this case, that means the engine’s capability to render photorealistic digital humans – previously very much Unreal Engine’s unique selling point.

At GDC, Unity described the work as a “first attempt” at photorealistic human characters “scoped very conservatively with the primary purpose to establish a pipeline and a bar of quality”.

Created using new Shader Graph master nodes for fabric and hair
In its Unite Copenhagen keynote, Unity previewed some of the new technology that powers that pipeline, showing the short running inside the Unity editor from 01:37:00 in the video above.

That includes new readymade master nodes for fabric and hair inside Unity’s Shader Graph.

The latter sees limited use in The Heretic, being confined to Gawain’s stubble and his eyebrows, the decision to give him a shaved head presumably having been made on technical as well as artistic grounds.

And while the short does feature a lot of lovingly rendered skin, there’s no new dedicated skin shader, with the demo team instead extending the Shader Graph’s existing StackLit master node.

High Definition Render Pipeline and VFX Graph will be production-ready in Unity 2019.3
The demo also shows off the capabilities of Unity’s High Definition Render Pipline (HDRP), including real-time area and volumetric lights, and post-processing effects.

Morgan, the film’s antagonist – a “creature of undefined shape and gender in a constantly fluctuating emotional state” – was created using Unity’s new Visual Effect Graph.

GPU-based particle simulation was used to generate Morgan’s shifting form, with the modular nature of the graph making it possible to iterate quickly on new designs.

Both the HDRP and the VFX Graph are officially in preview, but will be released as stable production-ready builds in Unity 2019.3, currently avaiable in beta.

Read more about the making of The Heretic on Unity Technologies’ website