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16 Finalists From Unreal Engine Short Film Challenge Revealed

Stunning array of shorts, selected from across Australia in Epic’s first Unreal Engine Short Film Challenge, were all completed in just six weeks during the pandemic, and showcase Unreal’s virtual production capabilities and how the platform is enabling increasingly sophisticated creativity.

Epic Games, in conjunction with screen agencies from all eight Australian states and territories, has just revealed a set of 16 final projects produced as the culmination of the first Unreal Engine Short Film Challenge. Participating filmmakers ranged in levels of creative and technical experience; the quality of the resulting short films amply shows not just the level of talent in the region, but the increasingly sophisticated work being produced with the company’s leading-edge real-time tools.

Over 1,800 aspiring and seasoned artists and filmmakers from across Australia took part in free Unreal Engine online training over the course of two weeks, through which they learned the latest techniques in real-time animation and virtual production. They then teamed up to create short film pitches, of which 16 were selected and given $20,000 AUS to produce a short film in six weeks.

Cassini Logs, by Alexandru Popescu and Tim Ben Cole from NSW, was selected as the top film, receiving a $50,000 AUS grand prize.

“The level of production quality achieved in these shorts is remarkable considering the tight six-week turnaround,” said Connie Kennedy, Head of Los Angeles Lab, Epic Games. “These incredibly talented filmmakers, many who were using Unreal Engine for the first time, produced a portfolio of sophisticated live action and animated films. We’re delighted that many of these filmmakers are pursuing efforts to develop their projects further into episodic series and full-length features.”

All Australian state screen agencies - Film Victoria, Screen NSW, Screen Tasmania, Screen Queensland, Screen Canberra, Screenwest, South Australian Film Corporation and Screen Territory – coordinated a joint call across the country for participants. The 16 selected filmmaking teams also collaborated with visual effects facilities, production studios, and universities across Australia to leverage every tool in the virtual production playbook, from LED stage shoots, to real-time animation workflows, to performance capture, in-camera visual effects, and VR.

The final films portray everything from futuristic journeys into alternate universes under the sea and in outer space, to suspenseful live-action narratives with stunning visual effects, and thoughtful, whimsical fully animated tales. Here’s a trailer highlighting the selected shorts.

Here is information on all 16 films: you can watch them at https://vimeo.com/showcase/ueaustralia.

Title: Cassini Logs (First Place Winner)
Filmmaker: Timothy Cole
Region: New South Wales

Summary: Alone on one of Saturn's moons, Cassini, a 60-year-old scientist, is at the end of a 10-year journey trying to understand her parents' disappearance. As she reaches the location of their last known contact, she will retrace their steps, trying to finish their last mission. But the world she finds is caught in a delicate balance between its frozen surface and a violent volcanic core below that threatens to erupt at any minute.

Title: Decommissioned
Filmmaker: Perception Pictures
Region: Queensland

Summary: Specialist Diaz, an astronaut aboard the International Space Station, is due to return home after a long mission. While enjoying his final days with the extraordinary view of the Earth, he experiences a supernatural event.

Title: Eggs Cannot Fly
Filmmaker: Nicholas Colla
Region: Victoria

Summary: Daryl, a lonely middle-aged egg, wakes up one day determined to fly. But his plans are quickly met with overwhelming negativity in the small town in which he resides “Eggs can’t fly, don’t be ridiculous!”  On the verge of an existential crisis, Daryl is unexpectedly aided by a local neighborhood kid, allowing him to overcome the pessimistic world view of his small town and ultimately celebrate the joy of a self-determined existence.

Title: The Gathering
Filmmaker: Rebecca O’Brien
Region: New South Wales

Summary: The Vietnam war is finally over, The Eagles “Best of My Love” is number one, and a carton of eggs will set you back 45 cents. It's 1975, and Warren and Rose are having one of their typical weekend parties with friends. Georgia, their 6-year-old daughter tries to gain their attention. Ignored, she wanders outside and finds an all-too-attentive stranger lurking at the edge of the garden.

Title: Happy Anniversary
Filmmaker: Lisa Bishop
Region: South Australia

Summary: When happily married couple Jess and Jake take a hot air balloon ride to celebrate their anniversary, things go very wrong as they discover an uninvited passenger on board – a deadly brown snake! Add to the mix an unconscious pilot, a giant wedge tail eagle looking for his next meal, a school of blue ringed octopi, and this bumpy ride is not exactly the “happy” anniversary they thought they’d celebrate.

Title: Iopu
Filmmaker: Happening Films Pty Ltd
Region: Victoria

Summary: Iopu is a short VR film about alienation, acceptance, and finding our own tribe, using drama, dress, and dance to explore identity and connection between the individual and community. We follow a Samoan-Australian dancer in the midst of a performance, momentarily reflecting on different stages of his life. Iopu drifts into his head, exploring vivid memory fragments from his childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Iopu provides a positive image of a queer artist living as his true self, connecting through his artistry to the very roots and birth-cultures that inspired him.

Title: Love Letters To Our Trees
Filmmaker: Wilding Productions
Region: Victoria

Summary: In Melbourne, one of the fastest growing cities in the world, a vital conversation is unfurling.  The city’s trees were given their own, personal email addresses. Now its residents are talking to the city’s trees, a love affair is blooming. Love Letters to Our Trees takes extracts from these letters and weaves them into a hybrid animated documentary that entices us into an enchanted urban forest, and invites us to rediscover our trees, and experience the city from their perspective.

Title: Never Alone
Filmmaker: Ben Matei
Region: Western Australia

Summary: A balloon befriends a lost, lonely creature. Balloon takes Creature on a journey through magical lands. Creature learns life is precious and there is both beauty and hope to be found in small moments of joy. Despite ultimately suffering the loss of beloved Balloon, Creature finds the strength within to carry on. This stop-motion short based on the creative conceptual art of Hayley Welsh, deals with themes of loss, depression, friendship, fragility, life/death, and hope.

Title: Of Ancient Design
Filmmaker: Dr. Peter Morsee
Region: Tasmania

Summary: It is July 1810. The brig Perseverance is upon the high seas, the wild Southern Ocean. Captain Frederick Hasselborough is searching for new sealing grounds, with a crew of 25 men. On this gloomy, squally day, Hasselborough is certain he is the first to set eyes upon the uncharted emerald hills of Macquarie Island. Something hewn from wood is poking through the tussock grasses near the beach. Approaching the object over a headland, it emerges, massive timbers sunk fast in sand, a wreck of ancient design, carved with strange motifs. Someone has been here before. Someone unknown. Someone vanquished by nature.

Title: Penance
Filmmaker Wilf Watson
Region: Northern Territory

Summary: An isolated man struggles to survive in an ancient and harsh Australian Outback environment. Each time the man faces near death he awakens in his cave. A dark and mysterious entity follows the man, and an encounter with it changes the man’s life forever.

Title: Red Tail
Filmmaker: Tee Ken Ng, Non-Drowsy Design
Region: Western Australia

Summary: A 12-year-old girl with nothing but an old head torch wanders through the burnt out West Australian bush in search of a red-tailed black cockatoo. She follows the cockatoo across the harsh and desolate landscape and learns the story of her grandfather's harrowing experience as a volunteer SES bush firefighter.

Title: Siphon Sword
Filmmaker: Samuel Keene
Region: Queensland

Summary: With a blight of bleach spreading through their reef, a young mantis shrimp thief, Chiho, seeks out the mystical Siphon Sword said to be capable of defeating Akkoro, the octopus god responsible for the decay. The only problem is the cantankerous crab samurai, Joji, who is bound to the blade. Chiho and Joji are forced to work together as they travel across the reef through coral villages, treacherous seaweed forests, and mountainous underwater volcanoes to confront Akkoro in her decrepit castle and bring life back to the reef before it is consumed by the bleaching.

Title: The Girl On the Moon
Filmmaker: Georgina Jenkins
Region: Australian Capital Territory

Summary: 17-year-old Luna stands on a beach in awe of a beautiful sunset but it's just a dream.  She wakes back in her room on the Moon asking her mother why she can never go to Earth.  Her mother comforts her whilst reminding her how special she is; the only child ever born on the Moon, but her weak Moonling body would never survive on Earth.  The two women look longingly out the window at the Earth as mother comforts daughter.

Title: Time Writers
Filmmaker: Bree Whitford Smith
Region: South Australia

Summary: 10-year-old Claire has some issues to discuss, and much to the school counsellor’s surprise, it has nothing to do with her disability. Claire has just moved towns and schools and her imaginary friends CC and Barry have suddenly reappeared. On top of that, she discovered a time travelling encyclopedia and is now enlisted as a “Time Writer” to help guard history. The school counsellor indulges Claire and listens to her fantastical stories, he even asks for more details. Can Claire trust him or is there something more sinister about his interest?

Title: Weather Girl
Filmmaker: UNKO Studios
Region: New South Wales

Summary: Weather Girl opens on quiet 16-year-old Molly who is undergoing a transformation that she doesn’t yet understand. Nicknamed Little Mouse by her family, Molly has always felt that her existence was small and this nickname, though intended as endearment, has always cut her deeply. Following her parent’s separation, Molly has begun changing beyond her own comprehension. Now, when anxious, parts of Molly’s body have started turning to vapor causing her to feel like she is disappearing before her own eyes. When threatened and fearful, electrical currents have started to uncontrollably burst forth from her fingertips.

Title: VR Grampa
Filmmaker: Ché Baker
Region: Australian Capital Territory

Summary: When Grampa gets his VR on, anything is game! Not much happens in Grampa's retirement home; but all that changes when his granddaughter visits with a new birthday gift, something called 'Virtual Reality'. Now Gramps is transformed into a younger version of himself, leaping, kicking and fighting his way through a hilarious battle of wits in weird worlds, strange cities, and amazing environments... But is the game as harmless as it seems?

Source: Epic Games

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Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.

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