The Programming Behind The Software That Made Hollywood’s Biggest Sci-Fi Films

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It all started with delving deeper into our technological curiosities with the help of nothing but stone. Right from then, we invented anything and everything from telephones to wheels and now machines to make our lives even simpler. While technology helped us in our day-to-day activity, it also allowed us to find more complex and engaging forms of art – cinema. One of the simple pleasures of our lives is movies, and they too have evolved over the years. The change has been unbelievable! 

A few decades ago, we watched black and white films with the least resolution and got amused by the moving pictures. But now, the technology has advanced so much, and James Cameron’s Avatar caught our attention. From the Pixar movies to the multiple award winner movie, Gravity, all use this advanced technology to make it seem real. But have you ever thought about the process behind the camera? One of the software that makes these films look real is Unreal Engine. But do you know the programming behind this software that makes everything look super real? Let’s dig deeper and find out now! 

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Here’s how these Sci-Fi masterpieces were made

The visually enchanting, Avatar

Avatar was a masterpiece, and certainly left us all in awe after watching the spectacular visual treat. Creating a world from scratch, right from the breathtaking flora and fauna to flying species took more than a bunch of software to make. Written in C++ and Python, Houdini, a 3D animation software, was one of the software used in the making of Avatar. Realism wasn’t spared in the set and Houdini’s PyroFX tools were used to create the smoke and fire in the human camp of Pandora. The team was quick to realize that making use of Volume Geometry gave them immense control over all the effects. The human base was surrounded by a vast stretch of forest and both Houdini and Xfrog were used to create a visual prototype for the forest.

One of the other major software that was used in Autodesk Maya. Working with two different software is a common thing in this industry, but with such huge amounts of assets in hand, it called for some redesign of the Houdini tools as well. The change was made by scripting a Python node, that was required to pull an XML file containing all the asset position and geometry cache files. 

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The Mind Alluring, Inception

Christoper Nolan’s mind-bender movie, Inception, explored an untouched dream reality concept, and the execution of this was mind-blowing. All the dream worlds were depicted in a visually surreal manner but the team made sure that the dreams appear as real as possible. One of the most challenging shots was the Limbo City collapsing into the sea of subconscious. As explained by the visual effects supervisor, Paul Franklin, the initial step to create the collapsing architecture was a simple model of a glacier. From there on, with the help of AutoDesk Maya, the interiors of the glaciers were made to look like architecture. Houdini software was used for the final touch to create the collapsing buildings. 

What is so real about Unreal Engine?

Unreal Engine is a game engine developed by Epic Games. Using this game engine, Epic Games has created many video games such as Fortnite, Gears of Wars, Infinity Blade, etc. Unreal Engine is also used extensively in massive Hollywood films and has become the backbone of the industry for many large-scale films. This was first used in Steven Spielberg’s “Artificial Intelligence,” and since then has been used in multiple blockbusters such as Star Wars, Planet of Apes, Ford Vs Ferrari, etc. 

Earlier studios used the green screen as a production method, where actors can do the stunts in front of it, and in the post-production, the effects will be added. But now, with the help of Unreal Engine technology, the studios can directly project a monster or anything onto the screen, and actors can interact with them, giving them control of a realistic virtual environment. With the inclusion of a new virtualized geometry system, nanite, the virtual effects are even better.

The programming behind Unreal Engine

Let’s now understand how they are programmed to give us the best experience. 


C++ is one of the most popular, powerful, and widely used languages, and this language is also extensively used in Unreal Engine. Gameplay Classes, Slate and Canvas user interface elements, and editor functionality are written in C++. 

Using Unreal Engine, programmers can code in C++ and Blueprint Visual Scripting to create various elements. Usually, the C++ programmer works in a text editor such as Notepad++, whereas the designer uses Blueprint Editor. A programmer generally develops the basic building blocks such as various classes, and a designer extends this using the Blueprint Editor. One of the advantages of using C++ is greater flexibility when it comes to customizing your gameplay elements.


Python has become one of the go-to languages for production pipelines and interoperability between 3D applications in the entertainment industry. Python has proved to be an excellent choice for the rapid prototyping of video games. As the complexity of the pipelines soared, the number of applications also grew, and the need for scripting language arose. Python is a great choice to automate all the workflow within the Unreal Editor. Using Python, you can create complex and full feature user interfaces using modules like Pyside.

Programming opens a world of possibilities, helping us turn our wildest dreams and imagination into reality with various software. In today’s world programmers are needed almost everywhere, and it’s blooming more every day. It’s never too late to begin your journey into being a master programmer, and revolutionize the world. Here’s a C++ tutorial for you to get started with.

Well then coders, until next time.


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