Games teacher transfers skills for the silver screen

August 20, 2021

Australian film, Never Alone, was recently featured at the prestigious LA Shorts Film Festival; an Academy Awards and BAFTA qualifying event. The film, which is about the magical journey of a lost and lonely character who befriends a balloon, was created in Unreal Engine by SAE Creative Media Institute games lecturer, Mark Thompson.
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Games teacher transfers skills for the silver screen

Australian film, Never Alone, was recently featured at the prestigious LA Shorts Film Festival; an Academy Awards and BAFTA qualifying event. The film, which is about the magical journey of a lost and lonely character who befriends a balloon, was created in Unreal Engine by SAE Creative Media Institute games lecturer, Mark Thompson.

Never Alone was supported by a $20,000 grant from ScreenWest and Epic Games; following a successful pitch in the Unreal Engine Short Film Challenge earlier this year.

During pre-production, Director Ben Matei explained that he had to source artists with specific skills in the software.

“The platform is the world’s most open and advanced real-time 3D creation tool, and after seeing the aesthetics from other short films using the technology, we needed professionals who had the expertise to execute our vision for the film,” Ben said.

Having never used the engine before, Ben pitched the film and advertised the opportunity on Facebook. “We got three quality artists – one of which happened to be Mark Thompson,” Ben enthused.

SAE Perth Games Lecturer, Mark Thompson, said he was attracted to the film beyond the opportunity to work in the Unreal Engine. “I love film and theatre, so getting the chance to work on Never Alone has been a blend of all my passions,” Mark said.

“As an Unreal developer, I’ve always been curious about making films inside the platform. After responding to Ben’s social post, we had a meeting, and he shared the inspiration for the film – the main character – based on the conceptual art of Haley Welsh.”

During production Mark’s expertise rendered him a key player in the team “If Ben needed an element that wasn’t available inside the platform, it was my job to build it. For example, I was responsible for creating some of the dynamic materials; like changing the weather, raindrops and puddles.

“I was also involved in optimising the lighting and rendering, so they could run in real time.”

The film took a total of six weeks to complete, a timeline Mark said was incredibly challenging, but very rewarding.

“I started teaching at SAE around the same time I was working on Never Alone and so it was very much a routine of going onto campus everyday to teach a class, coming home and working on the film, and then going to sleep.

“What I enjoy about SAE is they love their staff to get involved in technical and artistic pursuits – there is a lot of support and freedom for that.”

Despite missing out on the top award at the LA Shorts Film Festival, Mark said it was a real achievement for the team. “The LA Shorts International Film Festival ranks among the most prestigious international short film festivals in the world, and it’s also Oscar and BAFTA accredited, so to simply be selected has been an incredible experience.”

“This is a good lesson for my students as well, that those creative opportunities you find on a Facebook group can sometimes lead to amazing things like this.”

SAE is the place for creators and innovators; the leaders in creative media education across seven disciplines – animation, audio and music, creative industries, design, film, games, web and mobile. Find out more at sae.edu.au

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