I think the first encounter I had with 3d graphics was on my trusty old Amiga 1200, a cover disk program called Real3D. I made a model of the Dropship from Aliens and animated it flying about. I remember it taking a long time to render out that animation, but still pretty exciting to see the end results. Years later I managed to lay hands on 3D Studio MAX and became, obsessed. A huge part of my waking life back then was associated with that program, even now when I see the interface I get a whack of nostalgia.

It was around this time that I decided I was going to make an animated film from Iapetus, instead of a comic. Instead of doing sensible stuff like coming up with a concept, script or even a story, I just got straight to work, scribbling out plans and ideas, and building them as I went.

The plan was to make an entire city block with the building below at the centreJust making it up as I goNestled snugly amidst Chemistry and Physics homework

The opening scene was going to be a guerrilla raid on an urban building during a Dark and Stormy Night. The one thing that I really wanted to see was a building which had a real interior, with complex internal lights, and a sort of industrial gothic feel [this is just a guess, looking back on it now :)]. I must have been fairly influenced by Blade Runner as well.. look at the design of the base! I actually quite like that I used all sorts of campy lighting effects - for the exact same reason you would in a low budget movie - as a cheap way to add detail and mood.

This building is the centrepiece of a futuristic European city, about to be attacked!

One of the key images I wanted was a realistic building with internal lighting

The HR department have some concerns about the lighting

Because I was working on a P90 with a 14" fishbowl CRT monitor, I had to build things one part at a time (one file contained a single floor, another the base, and so on). It took a long time to render an assembly of the entire building, and consumed enormous amounts of memory (even though my machine had a whopping 48mb of ram). It became a special occasion, something to look forward to, which was good, but it resulted in very few actual images. Any time I got a hardware upgrade, the first thing I'd do is fire off a render to see how much faster it was.

I'm not sure why, but I gradually spent less and less time on it. Probably the enormity of the task, the lack of actual goals - but by '99 it was .. done. Not finished, just done.

It was around this time that my career in software development began to take the place of experiments like this. Instead of creating 3D artwork, I was teaching myself to create 3D engines. It was fascinating to understand how it all works, and programming is a highly rewarding and satisfying hobby, but looking back, it seems a shame to have just abandoned that kind of pure no-forethought creativity.

Spinning cube! It felt far more impressive at the time in fairness

One thing is for sure, it was the start of a long drought in artistic expression, that would stretch on for a few years.

Until one night, working on a programming challenge, I drew a rough sketch on some copy paper, and got a glimpse of the character that would set my imagination off once more...

ElysiumThere aren't that many films I look forward to seeing, especially with the recent spat of pre-teen friendly superhero movies, but I was pretty stoked when I saw the trailer for Elysium. Wow, an intelligent science fiction action story with a great concept, from the guy who did District 9! I was on board.

Then I saw the film. It was.. ok.

Then I saw the trailer again, and it actually annoyed me. The film didn't deliver on it. Seeing the trailer again just rammed that home, cause I still want to actually see that film.

I don't want to rail on all the things I didn't like, and there was a lot I did like. Instead I was going to think about how I would have done things differently. This film is right up my alley, its my genre, hell its something I would have written myself, so I wondered why I didn't enjoy it. I decided to press all the books I've been reading into service and see if I can come up with a story I think I would have enjoyed more..

These are just some basic thoughts on the concept, all the action set pieces can be hung off of this, but that's all just flash in the pan if there's nothing behind it..

  • I would drop the illegal immigrant angle. Elysium is a place where you can go for treatment if you can afford it. This makes the plotting a lot more straightforward, and less 'in your face' allegorical.
  • The hero is not a recovering criminal, he's a recovering soldier. His disease is something chronic, something you can live with. But "boy Imagine if I didn't have this, everything would be roses!".
  • Elysium is paradise, sure, but the thing isn't getting there, its belonging there. That's the crux of the story. Acceptance.
  • Getting cured isn't going to get him what he wants, we could even get that over with in the first 10 minutes. Now we meet The Girl, a resident of Elysium.
  • The Hero wants to be accepted, firstly by a family, then by a society. Elysium is an unnatural society, built not on acceptance, but on rejection. The main romantic story plays that out as they back-and-forth. The story is done when they get together, because the original premise of Elysium itself will be disproven.
  • The villain. This is someone who wants to enforce separation, so he's at odds with our Hero. I think this guy is a terrorist. This guy represents the thing that actually does keep people apart - fear.
  • He arrives on the station, causes mayhem, and then things kick off. He has an agenda, he's not just a loose cannon. Most of the action then takes place on Elysium (which delivers on the trailer more).
  • During the fun and games, we learn that Elysium is a novelty that wears off quickly. People here are more isolated than those on Earth. There are a lot of cracks and decay up close.
  • The villain is defeated, the Hero doesn't die, and he does get the girl. This is the movies after all!

Some views of the bay in the late evening, its a far cry from the view I've had in previous apartments I can tell you!

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It's 1996, and I'm 15 years old. Back then, I spent all of my time dreaming up stories, and drawing, constantly drawing. I drew on envelopes, newspapers, schoolbooks, even exam papers. Iapetus arose on one of those exam afternoons.

It was an English exam, on a really nice sunny afternoon. The exam hall, imaginatively called The Green Carpet Room - even though the carpet was now blue - was huge and fairly empty. This day it was rather peaceful, with the sunlight streaming in through the oppressively high windows. I finished the exam early, and instead of leaving the exam hall, I stuck around and started writing out a story. By the time I was ushered out with the rest of the students, I had furiously scribbled out 3 foolscap pages, the examiner was confused when I left without submitting them with the exam.

When I got home, I typed up the pages and started expanding upon them. This was going to be a science fiction story, and the one thing that fascinated me was that it would be set in the distant future, thousands of years into the future. In this time, the Sun has started to 'break down'. Now, this was about 5 billion years too soon, but like Sunshine I didn't bother coming up with a good reason - the Sun just stopped working right. This was going to have all kinds of bad effects on the Earth and the inner planets, and the idea was to escape the dying solar system in some kind of ship. It's all very clichéd, but then, as now, I was more interested in the characters and the action.

I didn't have a title yet, so I dug out a battered old book on the Solar System, and started pouring through the index looking for interesting words. Iapetus was the only one I felt was pronounceable-ish, but obscure enough to not be basically just the name of a planet.

A battered old Space encyclopedia I've been lugging around all my lifeThe index at the back of the book where I discovered the name Iapetus

Even though I was intending to do a comic, I started writing out the story in a little notebook, the kind policemen use. I took it everywhere, and any chance I got, took it out and just kept writing where I'd left off. I typed it all up, all 20,000 words, and printed it out. Now it didn't make a lot of sense because I just made it up, in tiny 5 minute chunks in between class. In fact, it made no sense at all, but it did have some over-the-top violence that amused my classmates, so I had a small audience waiting for the continuing instalments.

I scribbled in this notebook any chance I gotWhen I read over it later, I realised it made no sense!More random scribblings

I didn't think much about how to structure a comic, I just figured I'd draw the pages as I went along, one at a time, like this one:

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I only managed to get a single page drawn though, because I had discovered 3D graphics, and I was already wondering how Iapetus would work as an animated film. It would open with a night-time attack in a vast cityscape. I began to design the centrepiece, a glass and steel skyscraper in the heart of futuristic Europe...

…I saw the trailer for C and I found it inspirational to say the least. Not only because it was an independent film, but because it had integrity and vision, and because its being made right now. I admire this.

Soon after seeing it, I wondered why I couldn’t do something similar for Iapetus, my own science fiction film concept. I set about writing a short screenplay and thinking about ship designs. I also decided to use miniature photography instead of CGI.

Some  of the (film related) things that I remember most about my childhood were space sequences in science fiction. Sure I loved the whizzing adrenalin of a Star Wars dogfight, what kid wouldn’t? – but what I remember most was the Enterprise leaving dry-dock in Star Trek II, or similar sequences in Star Trek III. The scale and volume of the ship as the camera very slowly moved past it were awe inspiring, it’s reality seemed beyond question.

This has been lost in recent years with the proliferation of CGI. The hard limitations of physical miniature photography: physics, time, optics and budget, made sure that every shot was extremely well planned and executed. Here, the story was king. If a shot wasn’t helping, it was dropped because it was so expensive, and because it was relatively inflexible all the thinking went in at the start.

With CGI the focus seems to have shifted from story telling to shiny effects reels, perhaps because of the enormous flexibility. I still think Jurassic Park is the finest execution of cinematic CGI to date. It’s no surprise that they spent a long time studying animal movements. Walt Disney did the same thing for Bambi, bringing in all kinds of artists and experts to try to capture the natural movement of wild deer. What strikes me in both films, is that the medium was exactly that, a vehicle for the story, not the other way round.

Unlike the creators of C, I’m not adverse to using green screen or digital compositing for these effects, and in fact the approach I’m using demands it (more on this later). Next time I want to post some more detail about the film in it’s current format, as well as some test shots for the space sequences.