Short Film: The Changing Face Of Science Fiction
Science-fiction is nearly as old as cinema itself —1902’s A Trip To The Moon is generally seen as the first example— and yet, the genre continues to captivate audiences over a century later. In fact, hit films like Gravity, Interstellar, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049 (not to mention the rebooted Star Wars) have recently paved the way for a science-fiction renaissance, allowing auteur filmmakers to push and redefine boundaries more than ever before.
These boundaries are not, however, limited to feature-length releases. The two short films discussed below are proof that the sci-fi bug has burrowed its way into the independent scene without missing a step.
Others Will Follow: A pocket-sized epic, Others Will Follow tells the story of an astronaut (Winston Tao) who’s left to die after a failed mission to Mars. We drop in on his final ten minutes, where he relives his entire life and makes one last attempt to communicate with Earth, who mourns the galactic loss.
Firstly, let me say that the film has breathtaking visual effects, easily rivaling that of aforementioned blockbusters like Gravity. The outer space scenes feel intensely real, as do the instances in which the astronaut struggles to get his footing on the Mars surface. On his official website, writer-director Andrew Finch says that he spent over four years perfecting the film’s effects, and it's astonishingly clear that his hard work has paid off. Every frame feels polished as though it were backed by millions of dollars, when really the film was made for a cheap $10K that was raised on Kickstarter.
Finch has a knack for memorable visuals, and his scenes on Earth have a symbolic weight to them. The shot of the astronaut as a boy, watching a launch on television, or factory workers listening to the launch in the back of a pickup truck, distill mankind’s fascination with space down to perfectly romanticized images. Space appeals to the explorer in all of us, and Others Will Follow bottles this appeal in a way that feels at once current and timeless.
And, like the finest science-fiction, Others Will Follow uses its technological setting as a means of examining a plain, and plainly human trait: inspiration. It takes the larger concept of space travel and twists it to show that sometimes the bravest action is not to succeed, but to make sacrifices to inspire the next generation to continue exploring. The result is one of the finest short films you’ll see all year.
Fraktaal: In mathematics, a “fractal” is defined as an abstract object used to describe and simulate naturally occurring objects, often at an increasingly smaller scale. Knowing this information isn’t crucial when it comes to watching Fraktaal, but it definitely helps in understanding it. Created by VFX supervisor and self-proclaimed “fractal artist” Julius Horsthuis, Fraktaal is a mind-melting three-minute film that explores the wonders of technological patterns in outer space.
The film has no story, no dialogue, nor any discernible characters. Instead, Horsthuis gives himself over to the epic scope of his canvas, slowly panning over what appears to be a city on an unknown planet. As Fraktaal progresses, we’re plunged deeper and deeper into the city’s structure, until we’re left staring at lone, microscopic of technology within the planet itself. An atom of the unknown, if you will.
The film has already received lots of attention, mainly due to the fact that each of its images were randomly generated by a computer. In the Vimeo description, Horsthuis elaborates on his process, and why he felt compelled to let technology literally take the lead in telling the story:
“It so happens that I'm a lazy animator. Using fractals, I can conjure up entire worlds without having to draw or model anything. These shapes hide in the formulas, they exist in a mathematical reality, all I need to do is explore those worlds and make them reveal themselves. For me, that discovery has become one of the most thrilling aspects of digital filmmaking."
While Horsthuis' method may be derided by some as a gimmick, there’s little denying the hypnotic quality of the final product. Fraktaal is akin to a sort of digital psychedelia-- it's every second sucks you further into its amorphous shaping and seemingly endless landscapes. There’s also the musical accompaniment of composer David Levy, who expertly captures our sense of wonderment through glistening strings and staccato piano stabs. Though, given the film’s ambiguous quality, I could just as easily hear the sounds of King Crimson, Pink Floyd, The Moody Blues or any number of psychedelic rock groups being laid over it and provoking different emotional responses.
Horsthuis’ method will no doubt a bit to catch on with bigger audiences (if it ever will), but it's hard to ignore the tantalizing ideas that he’s raised with Fraktaal, the most overt collaboration between a human and a machine ever captured on film.