Making the pivot from directing Live Action over to Animation via Unreal Engine.

It was September 2019, and I was prepping for my next live action feature film 'LUNAR' and decided to download Unreal Engine to do some basic Previz. Very quickly I realised this was starting to look more than Previz, as I was getting shadows, reflections, dynamic lighting, particles etc. all in real-time plus, I was able to use Mixamo motion capture data easily with character assets and it was just me doing this! Not a huge team or any costs involved!

So, a light bulb moment happened instantly – why isn’t anyone producing actual commercial content out of Unreal Engine?

I needed to find a commercial project to push this notion, and it must have been fate – I got an email in Dec 2019 from a graphic novel company asking if I would be interested in directing a proof of concept for them based on one of their comic book properties – 'THE THEORY', they were developing into a TV Series. So, I pitched them to do it as an animated series. At first, they were hesitant, because they wanted live action, but for the budget they had, there was no way we could do that to the high quality (big giant mecha robots on alien worlds!), so I did a quick test scene in Unreal Engine 4.22 to show them what the quality would be like, which would not only manage their expectations but also boost the confidence in myself knowing I will be able to pull this off. They saw the test and were blown away, and I got to work on it with CG Artist (Andrea Tedeschi), Ronen Eytan (Technical Artist), Edward Patrick White (Music and Sound design).

Here is a link to watch it:

After it was released and got so much PR from Epic, Nvidia and animation sites etc, I was approached by a studio in Hollywood called Pathfinder Media, to pitch on an animated feature film based on a popular video game IP – Mutant Year Zero. I remember seeing the Unreal Engine logo when the game loaded up, so I arranged with the executives at Pathfinder to hook me up with the video game developers in Sweden called “Bearded Ladies”, and they shared the game assets with me. With the assets we put together a test scene to depict my vision for the film and they all loved it.

So, this was around May 2020, and we were ready to go into production of the animated feature film… but then COVID hit hard in LA, and financer's were holding back on the financing of the project and Hollywood hit the brakes on pretty much everything.

But my execs at Pathfinder really wanted to continue and not lose momentum so they released some soft pre-production finance for me and my team to design concepts, build assets etc, but within a month or so we realise that everything we were doing in Unreal Engine was final pixels, so it wasn’t really conceptual work we were doing, but actual sequences. So, we decided to put together a sizzle trailer of the sequences we were creating during this soft pre-prod stage.