Epic Games’ Animation Week continues through July 1, with today’s spotlight shining brightly on the trailer debut of Blue, an animated short film created in the cloud using Unreal Engine’s real-time technology. New York-based Preymaker produced the project with the support of an Epic MegaGrant; the film is slated to be released sometime this fall.
One of the first animated shorts created entirely in the cloud, Blue, was brought to life by a team of artists collaborating virtually from around the world. It is also one of the first films rendered entirely in Epic Games’ Unreal Engine without compositing. The movie is executive produced by Preymaker Co-founder and Chief Creative Angus Kneale and directed by Rob Petrie, Preymaker Creative.
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.
With Blue and its young protagonist, Preymaker set out to open people’s eyes to a more diverse world. By telling a story from a novel perspective, the film leans into the sci-fi genre to create a space of wonder and heroism for young people who now find themselves living in a world filled with fear and uncertainty.
Check out the trailer for Blue, then read more about the production:
Petrie explained that as developed, Blue can be a mobile game, AAA or VR game, a live animation series, or even a metaverse experience. 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.
“With the storytelling and Epic’s backend real-time technology bringing it to life,” noted Petrie, “Blue can be all those things, which is the most exciting thing of it all. Blue right now is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the future of gaming and entertainment.”
Jules and her world were created from scratch using Epic’s Unreal Engine. Advantages to working in-engine included lighting, layout capabilities, and the set-building capabilities. The technology was key in allowing objects to be selected, moved around, or removed from the composition. In addition, the character design process provided the ability to scrub through a fully animated shot in Unreal Engine and play back fully fleshed-out and lit sequences.
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.
“Although we used a traditional Maya pipeline for the animation part of the film, once we got into lighting in Unreal, it was amazing for the artists to get real-time renders pretty much instantly,” added Petrie.
Discussing the integration of Unreal into the production, Petrie shared, “There were definitely a few challenges to integrating Unreal within our pipeline. We created a few custom tools and scripts to automate the building of sequences and populating shots with the latest animation and cameras that were coming from Maya.”
Custom tools developed in-house by the team included bringing an Edit Decision List (EDL) into Unreal Engine. The tools allowed for seamless compiling of the animation clips, connecting them to the skeletal mesh of Jules, and placing everything within the Sequencer with the correct time code.
“In the end, the team was able to work together seamlessly with the animators,” concluded Petrie. “For future projects, we will probably work a little bit more on integrating Unreal within Shotgrid so we can track the progress of each shot even better.”
Blue was created over eight months by a team of about 20 animators, modelers, FX, and Unreal Engine artists. With the entire animation team based in South Africa, Kneale and Petrie held daily Zoom-based animation reviews using ShotGrid for seamless project management workflow.
Source: Epic Games
Debbie Diamond Sarto is assistant news editor at Animation World Network.