Top Spot of the Week: Preymaker Gets "Blue" With Animated Short Crafted In The Cloud Using Epic Games' Unreal Engine

By

Robert Goldrich
Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022

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Creative and technology studio Preymaker has turned out  Blue, a real-time animated short film created entirely in the cloud by a team of artists collaborating from around the world, rendered using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, without the use of compositing.

Blue leans into the sci-fi genre, creating a world of wonder and mystery. Its protagonist, Jules, looks up to the stars and wonders if she’ll ever get to explore the worlds we are yet to see.  Blue is currently enjoying an award-winning film festival run and will make its world premiere today (10/18) at The View Conference as part of Epic’s “Future of Animated Storytelling” presentation before an audience of media & entertainment executives in Turin, Italy. 

Blue is directed by Robert Petrie and executive produced by Angus Kneale, both from Preymaker. The short film was partly funded with the support of an Epic MegaGrant. 

Petrie commented: “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. 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 said, “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.” 

Another impetus for creating Blue ties into its open-ended story and Epic’s backend real-time technology bringing it to life; that is, the application of its world and characters beyond the short film. “As developed, Blue is currently presented as a short film,” Petrie said. “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 wanted to push the envelope in terms of animation quality as well as overall visual fidelity. Preymaker wanted to deliver final-picture using Unreal Engine. “The advantages of working in-engine included lighting and layout capabilities with the set-building aspect,” 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. Of the five Unreal artists, three of them lit and laid out 200+ shots. The team decided there would be no compositing, which proved crucial to the final look of Blue. Historically 3D animated content is rendered out in layers and composited together. By removing the compositing step, Preymaker was able to dedicate more time to crafting the entire look of the film in-engine. This way of working allowed the artists to make fundamental creative decisions all the way up to final delivery that previously in a linear process would have been impossible. It was eye opening for the team when they had all the shaders on each and every object, ray tracing turned on, interactive lighting, volumetric fog and depth of field, and they could literally scrub a timeline and change a camera with total ease.

And while the entire animation team was based in South Africa, NY-based Preymaker’s 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 without ever being in the same room. 

Kneale added, “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 inquiring 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.”

Credits

Production A Preymaker film Robert Petrie, director; Angus Kneale, Melanie Wickham, Verity Grantham, exec producers; Ruben Vandebroek, Tim Argall, Jabulani Simelane, Bradley Stilwell, Katie Schiffer, Rune Månsson, Pieter Uitenweerde, Imraan Zaindeen, Kwabena Sarfo, André de Villiers, Brandon Phillis, Depesh Cara, Hassan Taimur, Zolna Minik, Thomas du Plessis, Felipe Hansen, Greg Murray, Casey Herrick, Bridgette Doran, Brett Lambright, Fabio Piparo, Christian Reyes, Alan McSeveney, Jinell Webb, Ben Weaver, Eider Astigarraga, Paul Liaw, Syd Fini, Jongmoon Woo, Gabriela Brandes, the makers. Special Thanks To: Epic Games, Alistair Thompson, Rob Di Figlia; Consulate, Chinwe Chong, edit/conceptual edit; Amber Music, Alan Hankers, composer, Daniel Nolan, sound designer, Michelle Curran, exec producer; Mike Perri, sr. producer; Heard City, audio post; Hotspring, Zeki Kartal, rigger; Kim Edwards, advisor.

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