Seven ThirtyBetter light than never

A few weeks ago I created a short cinematic for a competition. I then completely forgot to say anything about it on my journal. Hashtag - winning at life.

Posted on 15 September, 2022

A few weeks ago I created a short cinematic for a competition. I then completely forgot to say anything about it on my journal.

Hashtag – winning at life.

The competition was run by Epic Games and entitled ‘Better Light Than Never‘. The guidelines were quite simple: create a cinematic of no more than 30 seconds in length that makes creative use of lighting, using Unreal Engine.

This was right up my alley because as much as I enjoy lighting projects in Unreal Engine, I also enjoy never finishing them. The benefit of a competition where money is the prize, is that financial remuneration is an effective incentive when self respect is lacking.

Thank you Epic Games, for tricking me into being productive.

But don’t make a habit of it, you’ll give Anna ideas.

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When the absence of time results in a focusing of the mind

The first thing to get out of the way is that I didn’t win the competition – sad face. In fairness, there were plenty of entries, the winners were fantastic and the standard was generally quite high. However, I did make it into the honourable mentions and enjoyed some great feedback on the forums. No-one said it was dog shit and that I should kill myself, counter to my short-lived experience of having a Twitter account.

As far as the design goes, I couldn’t afford to commit much time to the project. I therefore decided to keep things simple in terms of both concept and execution. Coincidentally, on the morning I learned of the competition I’d awoken with a mental image of being suspended in the middle of a vast concrete pit. What does this tell us about the inner workings of my psyche and the condition of my soul? Simply, that I should stop eating cheese before bed. Or at least, just far less cheese. I really like cheese.

I felt like the image would make for as good an environment as any and that leaning in a brutalist architectural direction would naturally lend itself to a stylistically strong use of light. If I went for something more naturalistic, I’d probably need a degree of skill and patience to pull it off – so no thanks.

Long story short – I chucked together some very basic shapes and then composed them such way that a single directional light would give plenty of nice and sharp stencil shadows. I’m a sucker for ultra widescreen movies and so setup a camera in Unreal Engine 4 to give me a look that was roughly similar to Ultra Panavision 70. Camera motion, lighting, music and timing all then followed in fairly quick, iterative succession.

Here’s the final output:

The final version

Sound, iteration and thematic relevance

I had no intention of using sound initially, because it’d be an almighty faff. But it’s important never to underestimate the huge effect just a simple, minimalistic use of sound can have. I had a sample lying around from a friend’s band, which I was given permission to use. With a couple of tweaks and mixing provided by the awfully talented Glide Studio, it didn’t take long to get something suitably atmospheric that worked in the available time.

The music went in approximately half way through the process and you can see the impact it had on other elements of the sequence in the video below. I tweaked the motion of certain camera movements and light shafts to better follow the sway and tone of the sound. I can’t say to what extend this benefitted the sequence creatively, but as someone who has grown to have a rather pedantic insistence on timing (not that you’d believe it if you listened to my contributions to Krupskaya’s early discography) between elements, it’s far less irritating.

The following video consists of the final scene taken at four key points of its development. While very little really changed from the opening version, I think you can see the impact that the music had on various visual elements.

Right, it’s a tad insulting to the intelligence of my readers that I’ve managed to squeeze an entire journal entry out about this. Nevertheless, it was a fun little project and there’s certainly a charm to the results. If nothing else, it’s been a timely reminder that small projects like these which are focused on very specific, manageable goals are worth squeezing in between the daily grind of real work.

You can read more information about the process on my Seven Thirty portfolio page.