Watch it here - launching live today as part of Epic Games’ ‘Future of Animated Storytelling’ presentation, the animated short is one of the first crafted entirely in the cloud using Unreal Engine – without compositing - by a team of artists collaborating virtually from around the world.
Today at The View Conference 2022 as part of Epic Game's “Future of Animated Storytelling” presentation, Epic Games' Karen Dufilho just premiered Preymaker's Blue, the real-time animated short film created entirely in Unreal Engine. The film was created in the cloud by a team of artists collaborating from around the world, rendered using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, without the use of compositing.
In the film, Jules Reid is a bright, curious 12-year-old coming to grips with her mother's mysterious disappearance a few years earlier. She ponders worlds and galaxies unseen, unknown and unimagined. While gazing up at the stars, she questions if their exploration is within reach. Then, one night she is startled awake by a mysterious disturbance in a nearby forest. There she discovers something magical that triggers a remarkable and, at times perilous, life-changing adventure. And, of course, there are some intergalactic villains along the way.
Blue is directed by Preymaker’s Robert Petrie and executive produced by Angus Kneale. It was partly funded with the support of an Epic MegaGrant.
“Blue was without a doubt the most challenging project I’ve been involved in, but it’s also the most proud I’ve ever been of anything I’ve worked on in the 22 years of being in this industry,” shared Petrie. “My hope is that this is just the beginning for Jules and Blue. It has been very rewarding working with a diverse team of talented people around the world to make something very special. I have loved crafting a story within a new way of thinking as well as defining a new process of making.”
Kneale added, “There is a new world of creative possibilities opening up right now; we believe the combination of real-time engines and artists collaborating entirely in the cloud is revolutionizing the media & entertainment industry. The quality of what we have been able to create is very exciting. BLUE represents a milestone achievement for Preymaker and we are excited to continue to develop Jules and her amazing world.”
Please enjoy Blue, then learn more about its groundbreaking production:
The film ties into its open-ended story and Epic’s backend real-time technology with its world and characters poised to go beyond the short film. The Preymaker team envisions the film eventually expanding into a full feature, brought to life by writers and directors who will join the studio to authentically reflect the property’s voice and culture.
“As developed, Blue is currently presented as a short film,” noted Petrie. “However, by leveraging all of the Blue assets in Unreal Engine, Blue can become a Metaverse experience, a game, an immersive VR world, and a live animation series. Blue can be all those things, which is the most exciting thing of it all.”
Inspired by Pixar’s legacy of work, Preymaker chose to use Unreal Engine because the team wanted to push the envelope in terms of animation fidelity. While the animation itself was keyframed in Maya, the rigging and process of bringing the assets into Unreal Engine as a one-to-one translation was one of the most complex aspects of the project.
“The advantages of working in-engine included lighting and layout capabilities with the set-building aspect,” continued Petrie said. “The ability to select objects or lights and move them around on the fly was key.”
Blue was created over the course of eight consolidated months by a team of around 20 animators, modelers, FX, and Unreal Engine artists with three of the Unreal artists lighting and laying out 200+ shots. The decision to produce without compositing was crucial to the final look of the film.
Historically 3D animated content is rendered in layers and composited together. By removing the compositing step, Preymaker was able to spend more time crafting the look of the film in-engine, allowing the artists to make creative decisions up to the final delivery. With all the shaders on each object, ray tracing turned on, interactive lighting, volumetric fog, and depth of field, the team could easily scrub a timeline and change a camera.
With the entire animation team based in South Africa, Petrie and Kneale held daily Zoom-based animation reviews with them, using ShotGrid to ensure a seamless project management workflow. Preymaker’s cloud-based workflow enabled the team to work together seamlessly in real-time.
Kneale concluded, “We are entering a very exciting time with all the renewed interest in Space. With the James WEB space telescope, NASA returning to the moon, and the leaps in technology that SpaceX is making, the world needs young enquiring minds to tackle tomorrow's big challenges. We hope our story of Jules’ adventures inspires underrepresented young people and we hope that Blue helps drive interest not just in animation and filmmaking but in space and all the STEM disciplines. Representation in these fields really matters.”
Blue recently received awards from London International Web & Shorts Film Festival, Venice Shorts, Sweden Film Awards, and Independent Shorts.