How UK Microstudio Sulkybunny Delivered the Natural History Fantasy Short
On the surface, short film “Wild Summon” is a cinematic documentation of a river salmon’s lifecycle. Instead of appearing as expected, the film’s central subjects have been replaced with human forms resembling free divers – resulting in a sometimes-unsettling juxtaposition. An official selection of the 2023 Cannes Film and Annecy Film Festivals, among others, the multilayered project was created by UK-based independent film and animation studio Sulkybunny (co-founded by director and photographer Karni, and CG artist Saul) through a grant from the British Film Institute (BFI).
According to Karni and Saul, the intention of swapping fish for humans in the context of the short is to evoke empathy while prompting ecological consideration. They aimed to explore themes of survival and sacrifice for the next generation.
Conveying the journey in an educational documentary style with a first-person perspective, the short takes viewers into the water, a feat achieved through a blend of live action footage and CG content. Though “Wild Summon” was awarded the grant in February 2020, Sulkybunny postponed filming until summer 2021, when the live action footage was captured on location in Iceland. Around the same time, Saul kicked off the animation development, with nearly 70-percent of the final film featuring CG elements. He primarily used Autodesk Maya and Arnold for animation and rendering, with Adobe After Effects for compositing, on a single iMac Pro. The Sulkybunny team completed all final rendering on the cloud using Conductor.
“After I used a cloud-based render farm for the first time, it completely changed the way I think about projects. You don’t need a studio setup to get big results,” Saul explained. “One of the greatest problems with rendering on your own machine is that it’s unusable during that time, and some of our heavier shots were taking 27 hours per frame to render locally. Using Conductor, our final render push was so much easier. Without it, I was looking at months of additional rendering time and would not have finished.”
To augment footage captured in camera and execute some of the complex underwater camera movements, Saul built a CG replica of the riverbed, leveraging 3D Quixel assets to expedite the creation process. He also used SythnEyes for tracking. When it came time to run the final renders, he was surprised at how quickly Conductor returned the results.
“I spent two years working on a mountain of shots, then suddenly my work was complete because Conductor rendered it so fast. It was a great relief to have the project finished, and I’m very proud of how it turned out,” Saul concluded. “Tools like Conductor allow me to deliver high quality content as a freelance CG artist, without the backing of studio infrastructure.”
Check out the “Wild Summon” trailer here.