Of Ancient Design – UE Short Film Challenge: Production Background

It’s been such a mad rush it’s a bit difficult to recall the exact order of events. Back in July 2020 I entered the Unreal Engine Short Film Challenge Australia. That got me into the free 2 weeks of on-line training delivered by the terrific ANZ Epic Team (Tony, Chris and Alex) live on YouTube, from 11-21 August. It was a lot to absorb in two weeks, working from home as the pandemic was really beginning to have an impact, but also great to get away from the dreadful news locally and from around the world and to focus on something creative, technical and challenging. I was basically coming to UE from scratch, though I’ve poked around a bit over the years, whilst mainly focusing on Unity. So this was a great opportunity to explore what looked to me like a very compelling alternative – especially given its widespread use in virtual production – a subject of great interest. What an eye-opener it’s been.

The next step was to put in a proposal for a short film through Screen Tasmania for the ANZ Epic Team, to be proffered up to the Epic Gods in LA, where final selections were made, so I understand. There were to be up to two per State, so it seems there was also a competition to get into the competition. Much to my surprise, my proposal was selected! As far as I know, the only one from Tasmania (why wasn’t there another one? how many actually applied in Tasmania?), and the only one that had a tiny team of one person making the actual film, with two talented musical colleagues, Mike Shrapnel and Tony Bonney, working on the music and aspects of the audio mix. Although we’ve been friends and acquaintances for many years (in that bloke-ish, “oh, we probably last spoke about 5 years ago” kind of way) it’s actually the first time we’ve ever worked together on a project, and it’s been great – I look forward to more collaborations in the future and even catching up in person. The mind boggles.

I got that ‘you’ve been selected’ phone call whilst up on the roof of my studio, hammering down some tin that had been ripped up by a storm down in the channel country. You can gaze out there across the D’Entrecasteaux, towards the Southern Ocean in the direction of Antarctica. So I did that, imagining my virtual explorations of Macquarie Island, and its remarkable history. And that marked the beginning of a very intense working period to produce a nearly 5 minute 3D animated film in 6 very short weeks from when the starting gun was fired – on October 19th. It was a lot to juggle – helping to home-school two young kids, finishing my PhD, trying to keep my sole-trader business alive during the economic crash and, basically, to keep my head above the water. In that respect, despite the somewhat daunting prospect, it was manna from heaven – I know a lot of people had it much worse than me, so no whingeing, carpe diem and be grateful for the opportunity. Truly 2020 has been a memorable year – I suspect 2021 will be too.

All 16 finalists movies here: https://vimeo.com/showcase/7924145

Nice to get some recognition from ScreenTas too:

The next step is to look into how I can expand this into a much bigger project – I can easily see it as 4 x 15 minute episodes – say an hour total, or even feature length. I would love to make an animated feature – I think I could do that in about a year, to get it to the highest standard. The question is how to manage to live and eat whilst I’m working on it – preferably without distraction from needing to earn an income doing other jobs. Hmmmm.

Anyway, time to get cracking on the script and the storyboard and getting a decent new fast computer with a decent GPU. Preferably an RTX3090 or something along those lines.

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