When it comes to special effects, nothing looks more realistic than reality itself, and filmmakers Derek Van Gorder and Otto Stockmeier hope to show this with their upcoming film, “C.”
The short sci-fi film begins in an interplanetary cold war, and follows the story of an idealistic flight officer who hijacks her own ship to search for other habitable worlds, and a better future. Van Gorder and Stockmeier are breaking the mould with this film—abandoning computer graphics and green screens for model ships, lights, and whole lot of creativity.
They elaborated on this via e-mail, noting while “CGI can be really beautiful and it’s an incredibly powerful tool,” science fiction films and others that are filled with special effects tend to move too far from principles of basic photography.”
“Light and the physical world plays such an important role in a filmmaker’s decisions, and through all those decisions nature is meeting you halfway,” Van Gorder and Stockmeier said.
The film’s trailer shows this concept in action. A ship soars through space, lights shining forward through the darkness. There is depth and shadow, and an that uncanny feel that sci-fi films once had.
The ship, after all, is a miniature model with real lights, and the shadows are not rendered by a computer—they’re real.
“When you create elements of a shot entirely in a computer, you have to generate everything that physics and the natural world offers you from scratch,” they said, noting that while having these tools on hand can be empowering to filmmakers, it’s still just animation, and “throwing it into the same frame as a real live human being or natural landscape is a bold choice, it’s mixing mediums.”
“I like the Pixar approach better, full CGI movies that just are what they are—you accept it, it feels natural within the world of the film,” Van Gorder said. “I’m looking forward to more CGI-based science fiction that accepts the medium for what it is rather than copy & pasting big scary monsters or ridiculous landscapes into an otherwise live-action movie.”
They also have a love for the old way of doing effect. “There’s a richness and texture when you’re working with lenses and light that can’t be replicated. The goal of special effects shouldn’t necessarily be to look realistic, they should be works of art themselves and help create a mood or tell a story,” they said.
Van Gorder and Stockmeier used the “Stargate” sequence from 2001 as an example—which they describe as neither realistic nor recognizable—yet still “communicates an enormous science fiction concept effectively.” The add the great sci-fi films that still hold a spot in the hearts of many-a-good-geek took their places by creating “unforgettable visions that remain timeless because they told great stories, and their effects blended seamlessly into that vision.”
Trying to do everything with CGI and green screens sets what they describe as a trap that promises an audience photorealism. Yet for filmmakers, “all of a sudden you’re lighting for chromakeying instead of lighting for a mood, and you risk missing storytelling opportunities.” The end product often gives CGI-heavy movies what they describe as a “plastic” feel.
The team is currently raising funds on Kickstarter to complete the film. The title, “C,” refers to the speed of light, 299,792 kilometers per second. They state on their Kickstarter page that “C is about the human drive to explore, to break boundaries, to survive,” and “C is a new way to experience science fiction…”
Bringing back sci-fi
Going back to the old-fashioned tricks of good sci-fi films is just part of their quest to breathe new life into the genre. They also hope to rekindle interest by breaking the pattern of films about man’s conflict with technology, instead presenting a story of someone taking control of technology and charting their own course.
Their Kickstarter post states “In an era where science and technology are too often vilified, we believe that science-fiction should inspire us to surpass our limits and use the tools available to us to create a better future for our descendants.”
“The ‘cautionary tale’ against the dangers of runaway technology is omnipresent in sci-fi, but so many movies over-simplify the issue, and posit a triumph of the human over the machine,” Van Gorder and Stockmeier said, noting the basic idea that’s often ignored is throughout history, mankind has always existed alongside its own technology.
“New technology is never the problem, there will always be new technology—the problem is with how people use it,” they said.
Meanwhile, interest in space exploration is dwindling, and while technology is charging forward, “we have become so introspective that popular imagination has lost sight of the larger universe,” they said.
Science-fiction, they hope, can change this.
“Advanced civilizations have descended into dark ages before, it’s not outside the realm of possibility. So keeping that in mind, I think if you make science-fiction films today, you have an obligation to inspire people to think about exploration and progress and the beauty of scientific pursuits,” they said.
The problem with many science-fiction films today, according to Van Gorder and Stockmeier, is they fail to address mankind regaining control of its technology when technology reaches highly-advanced levels.
“C is about one woman who decides to literally change the course of the powerful technologies around her, commandeering resources from an arms race and utilizing them instead for survival and exploration,” they said.
“Cold war and the runaway development of weapons threaten the entire species, but if this energy could be channeled into something productive, it could be an opportunity to break through the next barrier in our way and increase our chances of survival as a species.”
“Most arguments against the evils of our crazy technological society eventually end up at the conclusion that extinction is our ultimate fate and we should simply accept that,” Van Gorder said. “I just find that argument very bogus and weird. If our way of life is flawed, we should use technology to create a better way of life, and above all to survive. We’ve been staring up at the stars for hundreds of thousands of years—you can’t tell me that we’re not meant to go up there! Just look at it all!”