NEW YORK CITY — Creative and technology studio Preymaker (https://preymaker.com) has released Blue, a new CG short that was created entirely in the cloud by a global team of artists who rendered the project using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine.
Blue leans into the sci-fi genre, with lead character Jules following the case of a missing astronaut and looking up to the stars, wondering if she’ll ever get to explore far away worlds. The short recently screened at The View Conference in Turin, Italy, as part of Epic's “Future of Animated Storytelling” presentation, and will continue to play in festivals.
Robert Petrie directed the project (www.bluemotionpicture.com), which was executive produced by Angus Kneale, both from Preymaker. Blue 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,” says 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.”
“There is a new world of creative possibilities opening up right now; we believe the combination of realtime engines and artists collaborating entirely in the cloud is revolutionizing the media & entertainment industry,” adds Kneale. “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.”
While Blue is currently presented as a short film, its assets and Unreal Engine can help make it become a Metaverse experience, game, immersive VR world or live animation series. The project was inspired by the work of Pixar, with Preymaker looking to push the envelope in terms of animation quality, as well as overall visual fidelity. The studio’s goal was to deliver final-picture using Unreal Engine.
“The advantages of working in-engine included lighting and layout capabilities with the set-building aspect,” Petrie explains. “The ability to select objects or lights and move them around on the fly was key.”
Blue was created over the course of eight 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-plus shots. The team decided there would be no compositing, which proved crucial to the final look.
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, 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 realtime without ever being in the same room.
“We are entering a very exciting time with all the renewed interest in space,” states Kneale. “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 picked up awards from the London International Web & Shorts Film Festival, Venice Shorts, Sweden Film Awards and Independent Shorts.