Balenciaga blurs the real with the unreal in Fortnite

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It may have been more than 50 years since Cristóbal Balenciaga held the needle that stitched together landmark designs, but the same spirit of innovation and creative leadership lives on at the brand that bears his name, with director creative Demna Gvasalia at the helm.

In 2021, Balenciaga has a reputation for pushing the limits. It should therefore be the first haute couture brand to land fortnite. Since very recently, players can express themselves with digital outfits inspired by real Balenciaga silhouettes, buying them in a virtual version of a bricks-and-mortar Balenciaga store, and also nabbing an exclusive real-world hoodie. which unlocks the in-game outfit.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Since immersing himself in virtual worlds with the Unreal Engine Afterworld: the era of tomorrowBalenciaga has embraced cutting-edge technologies like few other fashion houses have.

A new partnership that blurs physical and virtual realities like never before fortnite players and characters moving between the two realms in a breathtaking multi-touchpoint experience. With 3D models repurposed for gaming, 3D billboards, traditional promotional materials and the
fortnite “Strange Times Featured Hub”, Balenciaga has built a veritable transmedia pipeline, giving insight into the reality-hopping experiences enabled by the Metaverse. The end result is an exciting new way to engage in fashion and a new mode of self-expression.

“Our partnership with Epic didn’t start with Fortnite, actually,” says Balenciaga Artistic Director Demna Gvasalia. “It all started with our own first video game, Afterworld, which we built using the Unreal Engine to launch our Fall 2021 collection. From there, we continued to draw inspiration from Unreal’s creativity and fortnite communities. It just made sense to me that we would collaborate more creating these authentic Balenciaga looks for
fortnite and a new physique
fortnite clothing series for our stores.


Create Balenciaga outfits for fortnite

Exquisite craftsmanship and innovative designs are Balenciaga’s signatures. These benchmarks also extend to the virtual world, and so naturally, the fashion house was keen to ensure that the digital replicas of its garments do justice to the real-life versions.

Create Balenciaga outfits for fortnite was a collaborative creative effort between teams at all levels of production. The process involved several artists from various disciplines working together towards a very specific visual goal: to recreate the quality of the beautiful real clothes chosen by Balenciaga in the stylized world of
fortnite.

With access to 3D scans of Balenciaga’s designs, the Fortnite team replicated the garment and put a fortnite turn on it. The modeling process and set of tools used to create Balenciaga outfits were established
fortnite Standard.

To begin, an artist produced concept art that defined the character’s outfit, attitude, and general appearance. Then the fortnite The team created a 3D “proto-model” using concept art as a guide. A prototype is a rough but functional approximation of the character’s silhouette and volumes. This prototype was given to a technical artist, who then created a virtual skeleton to control the movements of the character. Once technical animation approved the functionality of the proto-mesh, it moved on to the high-polygon modeling phase using ZBrush digital sculpting software. During this phase, the team polished and refined the rough shapes established in the proto phase, creating an intricate and detailed 3D sculpture.

After this high-poly model was approved, the team used Maya to create the low-poly model that would be used in fortnite. This model is lighter and more efficient than the high polygon model. The efficiency of the mesh allows it to be rendered in real time within the Unreal Engine, whether the player is on a mobile device or on a high-end gaming console – a key consideration for enabling cross-platform play.

The team used Marmoset Toolbag to transfer surface detail and lighting information from the high polygon model to the low polygon model. Image files rendered from Marmoset are the basis of the texturing process.

Finally, to recreate the material properties of Balenciaga’s real-world garments in 3D, the team used Substance Painter to paint the low-polygon model, defining the character’s color, specularity, and fine patterns.



Strike a pose

The big challenge was to create realistic materials and textures that matched the actual fabric reference while remaining true to the fortnite style. The most important considerations were staying true to fabric weaves and material qualities.

Scan data and CAD models provided by Balenciaga were essential to accurately recreate digital versions of real-world Balenciaga garments. These strengths have enabled the FortniteThe team to quickly replicate the complex construction of real-world elements for the
fortnite Outfits. This was especially true for Doggo’s shoes: the team took the CAD data of the Triple S sneakers provided by Balenciaga and were able to go straight to low poly, curing and UV.

The team also referenced photographs and videos of the materials used to construct real-world Balenciaga garments to create similar digital versions. Particular care was taken to find weaves and fabric grains that not only closely matched the reference provided, but also lived in the world of Fortnite. The team was able to develop a sequin pattern based on the procedure that allowed them to maintain a high level of texture fidelity regardless of the existing texel density. From there, they developed the textures and materials under neutralized and controlled lighting environments to make sure everything worked properly.

Unreal Engine’s shader system has proven particularly useful in recreating these sophisticated materials. Because the engine’s shaders are physically based, they obey rules for how light behaves in the real world.

This allowed the team to accurately replicate real-world materials while allowing customization of specialized surface properties. For the intricate materials used on Balenciaga items, the team used high-fidelity material layers to show detailed weaving at much higher resolution than their usual setups. The real-time nature of work in Unreal Engine unlocked rapid iterations for immediate feedback from artists.


 

Character poses were also a big part of the visual ideation. The team had to make sure the characters presented the outfits with a fashion theme that accurately represented Balenciaga. From the start, they had detailed conversations with Balenciaga about the tone of the characters and the unique designs and aesthetics. It was important to strike the right balance between avoiding traditional catwalk fashion poses while capturing the unique abstract nature of fortnite‘s/Balenciaga’s penchant for design and fashion.

One of the poses features elements of a famous fashion pose, and the other nods to the abstract distortion reflected throughout the partnership. It was also important that the poses show the material surfaces of the designs, because when rendered they had to have parity with the same actual materials that Balenciaga would use.



A virtual store to buy digital clothes

The ability to wear Balenciaga clothing digitally is only part of this unique fortnite experience. The fashion brand has gone even further: in addition to unlocking them in the game, you can visit a virtual store to buy these outfits in addition to
fortnite‘s Item Shop.

Inspired by the brutalist look of Afterworld: the era of tomorrowthis virtual store is currently the “featured hub” of
fortnite Creative. Creative Hubs are playable 3D spaces that serve as a gateway to high-quality community experiences. Outside of the virtual store,
fortnite and Balenciaga are also launching a real-life physical collaboration, with a new merchandising collection titled “Fortnite | Balenciaga Series” available at select Balenciaga stores and on Balenciaga.com. Fans who purchase the real-life apparel will unlock Balenciaga outfits in Fortnite, further mixing the virtual and the physical.



Bringing immersive 3D visuals to the streets


Bringing real-world clothing into the world of fortnite is one thing, but the fusion of the virtual and the real at Balenciaga does not stop there. Fortnite characters and outfits were then used to create spectacular real-world immersive 3D billboard experiences that are sure to draw passersby in London, New York, Tokyo and Seoul.

Lounging between the skyscrapers, a Balenciaga outfit fortnite Favorite Doggo looms larger than life on the sidewalks, bringing the Balenciaga x
fortnite partnership with the physical world in an entertaining and engaging way. In another twist, this same real billboard was digitally reproduced in the virtual store housed in Balenciaga’s Creative Hub, as part of an efficient transmedia approach that avoided having to create new assets from from zero.

The repurposing of existing assets allowed the team to faithfully retain the defined material surfaces that had been designed with Balenciaga for the fortnite crossover – for example, the materials of Doggo shoes perfectly mirror real-world sneakers. The billboard scene was assembled in Unreal Engine and adjustments were made to shading, lighting, scene layout, and real-time camera positions.

Leveraging real-time ray tracing and physics-based lighting materials helped the team match lighting to each physical location. This allowed them to anchor the lighting and make Doggo feel like he was actually in each location. Knowing the position of the sun based on the time of day, as well as where the sun will be in the sky, helped achieve realistic lighting.

Virtually no limits

Balenciaga’s partnership with fortnite and the ongoing work with Unreal Engine offers fascinating insight into the kinds of innovative cross-experiences that are now possible, opening up new ways to represent ourselves and connect with each other.

By reusing the same character models for multiple different experiences and communications, the fashion brand shed light on the opportunities offered by a transmedia approach – a key element for an open metaverse where we can all be part of the inclusive digital ecosystem. of the future. The boundaries between the virtual and physical worlds are becoming increasingly blurred, offering new ways to seduce and delight. By embracing cutting-edge technologies, Balenciaga has been able to woo a new digital-native audience, unconstrained by the boundaries of either world.

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