Space Agents The Mysterious Ax
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An indie animated feature created using Unreal : Space Agents The Mysterious Ax

This article is also available in: French

A 94-minute feature film created using Unreal Engine: here is Space Agents: The Mysterious Ax, directed by Dom Fred. This independent project, spanning 94 minutes, began after the onset of the pandemic and incorporates various techniques to adhere to its budgetary constraints. iClone, Mixamo, ActorCore were among the tools and resources used by the team.

Here is an interview with the director, Dom Fred. Below, you will also find the trailer for this animated feature. The team is currently looking for a distributor.

Dom Fred


2145. Thanks to the discovery of gravitonium, a powerful Force that allowed them to increase their physical and cerebral capacities tenfold, the Earth crisscrossed space and set up colonies across the galaxy. In contact with new forms of Life, Humanity created the Alliance, a unit responsible for the regulation of resources and intergalactic conflicts. But the thirst for domination of the Saurian people, a race of super fighters doped with gravitonium, threatens the balance every day. Also, when the ESPÉRANCE ship is attacked, two Space Agents of the Alliance are responsible for securing its transport. On board, the future of Humanity…”

Space Agents The Mysterious Ax

3DVF: How did this project began?

Dom Fred: The project was born in 2020 during the COVID-19 period, out of a need for escape and artistic creation.
I was doing a lot of animation tests, and one day, I decided to create a science-fiction short film focused solely on action, with a duration of 5 minutes, entirely using Maya.
I called it Space Agents: The Mysterious Axe, and that’s the name we kept for the feature-length version.
After sharing the short film on my Facebook page, I received positive feedback from the media and even had a publication on Rokoko’s pages specializing in motion capture.

3DVF: So, the short film turned into a feature film. How large was the team?

The production team for our feature film consisted of nearly 100 people in total.
Given that a significant portion of the collaboration during the COVID-19 period was entirely remote, we were able to enlist freelancers from around the world based on our needs.

Space Agents The Mysterious Ax

3DVF: Production began in 2020, and at that time, using Unreal for animation was less common than it is today. Why did you choose the real-time approach?

Pre-production began in late 2020.
In 2021, we started animation and some 3D rendering tests.
We initially started with final rendering using Arnold renderer.
I had some reservations about introducing version 4 into my production pipeline, but with Unreal Engine 5, I had a set of assets that perfectly met our production needs.
It was a significant challenge for me because I had to transfer all the scenes from Maya to Unreal, along with the animations using various bridges.
It was a significant challenge for me because I had to transfer all the scenes from Maya to Unreal, along with the animations using various bridges.
The key advantage that motivated us to work with Unreal was being able to see in real-time how characters, armor, lighting reacted in the scenes, and even the special effects during animations.

It was a big relief for us to have Unreal for our film.

Below: trailer in French and then English.

3DVF: In practical terms, what was the workflow like? What role did Maya and iClone play?

For the workflow, we used Daz 3D, Maya for characters, costumes, animatics for scene previews, backgrounds, and assets.
iClone 8 allowed us to directly capture motions from ActorCore, adjust movements, and transfer characters to Unreal Engine for final rendering.

An important point we noted during production with iClone was the ability to assign any motion capture from Rokoko, Mixamo, or ActorCore without having to recalibrate our rigs. A simple drag-and-drop eased the workflow given the complexity of the scenes and the number of characters.
Post-production was then carried out using Adobe software.

Space Agents The Mysterious Ax

3DVF: Using motion capture from Mixamo and ActorCore obviously helped accelerate production and maintain a tight budget. But did this choice limit storytelling in any way?

No, it did not limit us in storytelling for our film.
On the contrary, with the motion capture mixing methods in Maya or iClone, it’s possible to modify, adjust, or add to existing animations in the scene, including new motion keys or animations for our characters.
This method greatly helped us make our film’s storytelling more impactful.

Space Agents The Mysterious Ax

3DVF: Did you have to adjust the writing based on the assets that were available?

No, with Alick Macaire, who is the scriptwriter and co-producer of the film, we spent a lot of time writing the script based on what was possible before the start of production.
So, we were confident that what was written in the script could be visually represented on the screen in terms of an expansive universe and science fiction.

3DVF: The team is currently looking for distributors and buyers. Can you share a few words about that? And is the goal to have a theatrical release or go with streaming?

This project is a French animated science fiction film, Space Agents: The Mysterious Axe.
Our film is now ready for distribution, and we have obtained the CNC’s all-ages exploitation visa.
My team and I will have a premiere in September 2023 at an independent cinema in Paris.

The film was also showcased at the Cannes Film Festival 2023 in the film market.
Our wish is for as many people as possible to see it in theaters or through streaming and discover the work of a motivated team.
A big thank you to 3DVF for this wonderful opportunity to present this project, which is dear to us and has taken three years of effort.

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