LOS ANGELES — In his latest Baby Yoda fan film, “The Child Strikes Back”, creator Cory Strassburger performed, voiced and animated the entire seven-minute short from concept to completion in just over two weeks.
Strassburger is the co-founder of Kite and Lightning, and took weekends off of his current game in development, Bebylon Battle Royale, to complete the short film to battle-test the company’s real-time animation pipeline. Traditionally, studio-quality animated sequences require teams of artists, banks of high-performance computers and months of render time, however using an iPhone, Epic Games’ Unreal Engine and inexpensive pre-built digital environments and characters purchased online, Strassburger has demonstrated how real-time game technology has the potential to turn animation production on its head.
In the comedic short film, Baby Yoda (Grogu) finds his voice and makes his opinions clear in a behind-the-scenes negotiation with his agent. All of the sets (Baby Yoda’s apartment, the desert environment), the stormtroopers and agent character were low-cost assets purchased via the Unreal Marketplace and CG Trader and modified to fit the storyline as needed. Strassburger performed and voiced all of the characters from the comfort of his living room using a head mounted iPhone camera rig, and Unreal Live Link Face iOS app to map his performances directly onto characters in Unreal Engine.
“The agent was a character I found on the Unreal Marketplace which I modified, adding a series of facial expression poses so the iPhone could puppet his face with my face performance. This whole project was about not trying to spend time doing anything elaborate or any custom builds—most everything was art directed from what I could find online, or plug-and-play from existing assets,” continued Strassburger. “A major studio feature has armies of creative teams to build fantastical sets. On a project like this, there was no budget to custom build the perfect settings but nowadays virtual filmmakers have vast libraries of marketplace props and environments at their fingertips, which are easily customized. All you need is a story to tell!”
A life-long fan of the Star Wars universe, this was a passion project for Strassburger and presented an opportunity to test some of the newest animation and virtual production methods that have taken off in the work-from-home era. In the same way that affordable video cameras and editing tools democratized filmmaking and led to a flood of new creators on YouTube, new animation methodologies are making way for single creators to produce studio quality animated stories like this one from home.