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.
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 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:
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.
Apologies to readers for the lack of a favourite scene post last Sunday, I was in Vancouver on a business trip last week, and I've finally recovered from the 8 hour jet lag. In case anyone is wondering jet lag feels exactly like staying awake all night, perhaps a bit worse if you haven't been getting much sleep while you were away.
It just occurred to me that the one thing I haven't posted about yet is any kind of practical plan on how I plan to achieve my rather lofty goal. I have a few ideas that I've been playing around with over the years, but the flagship is a feature animation film, currently titled 'Iapetus'.
The film I plan to see on the big screens will be based around the following points:
- Visually inspirational, but not distractingly so
- Solid intelligent storyline, but not too clever
- Realistic human depiction, but not photographic
- Satisfying conclusion
- Several movements, a solid arc, over about 2 hours running time
- Lots of satisfying action
- Laugh out loud comic violence and black humour
- A solid main character with a human reason to drive the story forward
You'll note that none of this describes a specific storyline or theme, instead they outline the experience I want the audience to share when they see it. I'm describing the film I want to see, and the reasons I want to see it.
Next up is to create a short clip of one of the more frenetic scenes, currently titled "Bullet Wind". I'll post some storyboards on that fairly soon, followed by some concept artwork.
Feels good to be finally starting on this.