↪︎I read Blindsight for the first time in 2009, when it was translated into Russian. It enjoyed cult status in the 3D-design community at the time, and a friend of mine recommended it to me. I was blown away by the amount of technical, scientific, and psychological details Peter Watts packed into the novel, while still keeping it a tense and fascinating read.
↪︎It felt like it contained enough excellent, thought-provoking ideas for five books, rather than just one. The text was so vivid that reading it felt, to me, like watching a movie inside my head. However, I had no ambitions to make this movie I imagined, since that was obviously an impossible task, so I patiently waited for someone in Hollywood to pick up the story and make it into a movie.
↪︎A few years later I decided to give the book another read, this time in English. To my surprise, I found that the novel was freely available to anyone under Creative Commons. I also discovered a link for donations / notes on the author’s site, which I happily took advantage of. I hadn’t expected Peter to respond, but amazingly, he did. After a brief message exchange with him, I reached out to some of my friends in 3D and animation.
We ended up deciding that making a few renders based off Peter Watts’ book was a good way to show our love for the best sci-fi novel out there.. And that is how this project got started.
↪︎Initially, we just wanted to make a bunch of still frames. Creating a full CG animated short felt too time-consuming and ambitious. But as time passed, more and more images were made, which helped attract even more incredibly talented people to the project. As the team grew, we realized that we now had enough resources to pull off animation (or so we thought, ha).
But everyone involved could only participate in the spare time they had between commercial projects, so the work moved quite slowly.
↪︎I began by simply creating a few style-frames and then gradually moving on to animation tests. At a certain point it began seeming as though there might be enough resources to create something beyond just a series of shots. But at the same time, since there was zero financial backing, it was clear that a short with realistic characters, dialogue and a full script was out of the question.
That was simply not within the realm of possibility for our team.
↪︎Eventually I landed on the idea of making a mini-short based on the protagonist Siri’s memories and voice-over narration. The entire novel is Siri’s retelling of the events that took place at first contact with a member of an extraterrestrial civilization, so this seemed like a good framework for our short. We chose around 40 key scenes from the book (omitting dialogue) and then whittled the short-list down to 20.
↪︎After that the overarching structure of the story became clearer - we were going to begin and end on the hero waking from cryo-sleep. In between these framing scenes, we would focus on his memories, which were going to be shown in reverse order - starting with the final battle between Theseus and Rorschach and ending on the first appearance of the Fireflies in the sky of the Earth, the moment when humanity discovered that we are not alone in this universe.
↪︎I was lucky enough to get to work with an extremely talented storyboard artist in the early stages of the project. Now that we have the final short, it’s curious to see how closely every shot resembles her initial sketches, made 4 years earlier.
When the content of each shot was clear we moved on to previs, which would make editing the scenes’ layouts, animation and camera movements much easier. This is also where the video editor got involved - I kept updating the previs until everyone was happy with the overall rhythm and montage.
↪︎Next came the most time-consuming part of the process - each scene required detailed modeling, realistic materials for each of the objects and animation of these objects and the characters. For certain shots this process ended up taking over a year.
Then all these scenes needed to be rendered. A four-and-a-half minute animation is no joke, when rendering certain frames takes up to 15-20 minutes. Since there was no budget, render-farms were not an option, so almost all the scenes were rendered at home, at night, on my personal computer. The rendering alone took around a month and a half of pure computation, at the very least.
↪︎When we finished the rendering and shot compositing, the video editor went over the whole thing again, checking and tightening every cut. And finally, each shot went through color-correction, in order to unify all the color schemes and set the tone for the entire film.
Thank you for writing the best sci-fi novel I ever read (I mean it!). And for your patience, willingness to answer my endless questions about the most granular details of your book and the positive feedback you provided at each stage. And apologies for my many “it’s too early”’s in response to your requests to publish the drafts we sent you.
For editing the film, but first and foremost for supporting me throughout these last four years. Without you I would have given up after month one.
For turning my 30-page, written in broken English brief into one of the most atmospheric scores I’d ever heard. Seeing the film with your sound for the first time ever, I could hardly believe that this was a project I was actually working on. It was incredible!
Without you we could not have physically dealt with these kinds of volumes. Plus you gifted us a year-long license, so thank you squared!
For interface animation in the space-suit. The task was way too simple for you, next time we’ll go full throttle :)
for designing the HUD interface in the space-suit. I know you only got to do half of what you could have, since I was constantly asking for things to be simplified.
For the concept art for the space-suit and bots. We were incredibly lucky to have you with us from the start. Thank you for believing in this project, even when we had barely anything to show for it.
For the concept of Sarasti and Bates. Creating the appearance of a convincing, genetically-reborn vampire is quite the challenge!
For giving us the shuttle concept. I remember how surprised you were afterwards at how long it took us to create a production-ready model based off your work - that’s how we roll :)
For the insanely cool storyboards. We had to work extremely hard to have our shots look as good as your boards (Which you made in just a few days. Life is so unfair!)
The only one on our team who knew what to do with organic modeling. Without you, Sarasti would have remained a 2D concept and Siri would never have existed at all.
For help with modeling all of the textile parts of the space suit. Seeing your model made me wish the entire space suit consisted of textiles, too bad that wasn’t possible according to the script :)
For modeling Theseus’ interior spine and for help with the final details of the shuttle. It was such a pleasure seeing how skilfully you handled the problems thrown at you. We were lucky to have someone on our team as experienced as you at working on shorts.
As if making most of the Theseus model wasn’t enough (just a piddling 60 million polygons!) you also helped us with elements of the shuttle’s interior, the space suit, and the inside of its helmet. Thank you!
For assisting in modeling the bot. I’m super happy with the result, no matter what you say! :)
For doing most of the modeling work on the space suit. If you hadn’t set us straight, the characters would still be wearing a weird mix of scuba diving gear and the Power armor from Fallout :)
For modeling the shuttle. You’re responsible for around 60% of the model and those are undoubtedly its best 60%!
For help with parts of the shuttle and for the models you gave us which came in really handy with the bot.
I don’t know how many billion voxels were in the simulation of Ben’s atmosphere or how long it took to render the entire thing - but I do know that without you this shot would simply have not existed.
Theseus’ appearance in the shots on Earth’s and Ben’s orbits is wholly your doing.. Plus you joined the project at a point where I was ready to give it all up, but your enthusiasm drove me to go on. Thank you!
For the excellent compositing of several shots and priceless advice on the compositing of the rest. Without your pages and pages of instructions on Telegram everything would have definitely ended up looking a lot worse.
For the shot with the Fireflies above the city. I do not know anybody who is capable of making an architectural shot better than you.
For animating the astronaut in the shot where my animation skills had fallen short even at the previs stage, let alone the final animation.
For Sarasti’s outfit and animation. I can imagine the pain of animating the outfits for long shots in Marvelous - thank you for agreeing to go through that.
For turning my faltering speech into what you are reading now.
For the site’s design and for attention to detail. Judging by the volume of work required, another person might have taken as long to do this as it took us to make the entire film, but you managed to do it in just a few weeks.
For developing the site. I remember the moment when you responded to my post saying “if we find a developer, there might be a site” by saying, “Danya, WE’LL do the site!”. From that moment on I knew that when it came to the quality of the website development there was nothing to worry about.
This was quite the enthralling journey. When I compare where I am today with where I was at the beginning of this project, it’s striking how approaching challenges that seem, at first, insurmountable, has become much easier. And I got the opportunity to meet and work with a huge number of incredibly talented people. After viewing every shot probably close to 500 times, I can’t tell anymore what the result actually turned out to be, but the process of getting there was undoubtedly worth it.
Thank you to you all!
Sometimes we could conceive of things and still not see them, although they stood right before us.