Making an indie virtual production Samurai film in Unreal 5 with VFX Artist & Director Josh Toonen

August 6, 2023
15 min read

Go behind the scenes in a VFX Breakdown of TesseracT's “War of Being” hosted by VFX Artist and Director Josh Toonen, an experienced artist and supervisor of Hollywood films (including Star Wars IX, Deadpool, Across the Spiderverse), who’s been part of Rokoko’s community for a while now. Follow along as Josh walks us through a behind the scenes look at indie virtual production, providing valuable insights for anyone interested in VFX, filmmaking, character animation or Unreal Engine production processes with a small team and a limited budget.

Josh and his team break down the motion capture, how they create the environments in UE5, the exploration process for their Samurai characters and their control rigs for motion capture cleanup animation, all in Unreal Engine 5. Josh also shares his CineCamera workflow and his best tips when creating your own animated film for the first time.

The Vision and Collaboration: Creating a World

Josh introduces his passion for creating films and his transition from working on Hollywood productions to making his own indie films. He highlights the importance of collaboration and how he teamed up with Kyle Kadow and Steven Cleavland to bring the vision of "War of Being" to life. They set out to create an 11-minute Sci-Fi Action short film using Unreal Engine 5.

Motion Capture and Choreography: Capturing Performances

The team begins the process by focusing on motion capture, using the Rokoko Smartsuit Pro (body animations) and Smartgloves (finger and hand animations). Josh explains the significance of motion capture cleanup, ensuring that the movements and performances look natural and coherent. He emphasizes the need for precise control rigs for character animation (download a free e-book on control rigs here), particularly in scenes with sword fights.

Environment and Character Design: Building the World

The creation of environments and character designs becomes a critical aspect of the project. Josh discusses the collaboration with Florent Vilbert, a CG artist who contributes to building the environments and concept art. The team iterates quickly in Unreal Engine 5 to find the right visual elements for the film.

Animation and Collaboration: Animating Characters

The animation process involves reanimating certain shots to add impact and weight to the fight scenes. The team collaborates through a GitHub repository, ensuring seamless teamwork. Josh also shares a pro tip about simplifying camera and character movement by parenting them to a reference actor.

Final Lighting and Compositing: Bringing It All Together

Josh takes on the final steps, including lighting, compositing, and adding effects. He emphasizes that most of the film is rendered directly in Unreal Engine 5, with minimal post-production. The importance of practice and experimentation in Unreal Engine 5 is highlighted as it allows artists to discover their own style.


"How to Make a Samurai Film in Unreal 5" offers a comprehensive look at the process of creating a visually stunning film using Unreal Engine 5 with a limited budget and team. Josh Toonen shares valuable lessons learned during the process of making the film, including the importance of character readiness, hardware considerations, and the necessity of embracing challenges as part of the learning process. He also introduces the "Unreal Fundamentals" course, a learning program for aspiring filmmakers and visual effects artists that we highly recommend. Josh encourages viewers to explore the world of film creation with Unreal Engine 5, making it accessible to a broader audience, regardless of budget constraints.

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