In 2020, a few weeks into the lock down, I stumbled across a “real time short competition” by LA based John Macinnes studios, supported by Epic Games. The ad read: Extraordinary times can inspire an extraordinary creative response….An illustrious panel of judges will pick the best. Fuck COVID!”

That sounded uplifting.

I immediately thought “Well, it’s now or never” . As so many, I have been traumatized by Autodesk Maya’s viewport 2.0 for years: the Unreal Engine was something I wanted to get my head around for ages.  It said in the competition brief “We are particularly interested in projects from teams or individuals with an interesting story”.

Great! I had created this graphic novel about an alien girl falling in love with an Austrian Hinterlander lying around for ages and thought it would be perfect as a starting point. Some drawings from back in the day here:

I decided to do a concept test trailer with the first sequence of the graphic novel. It features the alien girl crash landing and exploring the snow covered mountain landscape for the first time. After downloading the gorgeous “Grace” character asset by Mc Innes studios (and ruining it completely by shading her with a metallic green car shader), I searched my mocap/mixamo library for some snippets that I could use. Here is my list of mocap snippets:




020_jazz_dancing(4) xxx goes forward

030_petting_animal xxx snow xxx

040_happy xxxx kneels down xxxxxx

050_plant_a_plant xxx from kneeling backflip xxx

051_esquiva_1 xxx into spinA xxxx


060_northern_soul_floor_spin xxx spin anticlockwise xxx

070_dancing(2) xxx arms left right xxx

080_dancing(5) xxx forward jump xxx

090_look_over_shoulder INSTANCE

Ideally you would contact a professional dancer and do a mocap session….unlikely to happen in the middle of a pandemic. So I tried to blend the different moves together as good as I could in Maya. At the same time I scanned the asset store for some environments and found a beautiful Arctic landsape by Stefan Best and a Dynamic Volumetrc Sky Setup by Boran Ozturk. I also contacted my old friend Dionne and Malcolm Maynes at Music consulting company Large management and we started playing around with different musical ideas and sound designs. I used a rough audio assembly as a backdrop for a first cinematic in Maya’s camera sequencer, roughing out an edit and some cameras to the temp audio track. Dionne and myself decided to do a mix of 2 tracks: “DVA koja” by Laomz & Lezet and “be vary” by Allegra. In the end Allegra even recorded a special version of the track for me. I wanted to be flexible to change animation, edit and cameras, so I did quite few versions in Maya before I called the edit “locked”. At the same time I set up 2 scenes in Unreal: it made sense to have a separate setup for the cloud scene, all other shots could be rendered out of the same mountain environment. I love long lenses and shallow depth of field and was amazed how good it all looked in Unreal. I struggled to make it work on some shaders that had a transparency though. Rendering it on my old 8GB RAM Mac book in 4k, adding some stock footage snow elements, 30 days after I started …voila: A short that runs in realtime in the Unreal Game Engine!

You can watch the final here


Character design and setup: John McInnes
Sound and music : LARGE management.
Music: “DVA koja” by Laomz & Lezet and “be vary” by Allegra
HDR “Kloppenheim by Greg Zaal from
Dynamic Volumetrc Sky Setup by Boran Ozturk
Arctic Landscape by Stefan Best

All other entries of the competition here. Also, Feel free to check out various VR, building projections and fulldome projects I have done in the past below.