SeaSapien started with a bet.
As a filmmaker, I’ve always had difficulty overcoming procrastination on projects where I’m only accountable to myself. Despite my curiosity and eagerness to learn, I had indefinitely deferred the leap into 3D graphics. Between work and life, I just never had the time.
The solution came during a boastful night out with a fellow creative. After confiding in each other our mutual dilemma, we realised we could hold each other accountable with a bet. The terms were as follows: We both had to finish our prospective project by the end of the year. If we both succeeded, then that was its own reward. If we both failed, then we would commiserate in each other’s company. However, if one of us finished and the other did not, the looser would have to pay the winner $5000. I’ll do almost anything for a thousand bucks, so the bet was on.
I’d been holding onto the ocean sky idea for a few years. I thought that making the sky look like an endless ocean would be both visually arresting and an interesting technical challenge.
The concept of the ocean sky initiated from two sources. The first was a photoshopped image of the golden gate bridge. Some anonymous genius on the internet had swapped the sky with the ocean. I remember seeing the image and being immediately struck with a thousand questions about how this sub-oceanic world would function, none of which were “where is the sun?”
The second inspiration was Super Mario Land 2 on the original Nintendo game boy. One level included a game mechanic where you had to swim through slime attached to the ceiling to avoid spikes on the floor. Functionally, Mario swam through the slime like any other body of water, but if he got too close to the bottom, he would fall to his death.
Together, these two inspirations gave birth to a tragic image; a man drowning in the ocean sky, unable to get a breath of air without plummeting towards the twinkling city lights below.
But how did he get there, what was his story? The ocean sky would remain a shallow aesthetic notion until I could think of a suitable plot. Luckily, re-runs of the X-files would provide the answer. He’d be an extra-terrestrial investigator. The investigator /detective plot gave the perfect structure to move quickly through this world. Then the story just flowed to wherever felt fun. I didn’t consciously look to reference or subvert the Noir genre. I was just trying to go where it felt natural and surprising.
Through the process of developing the film, it became apparent that the ocean sky meant something more than a pretty picture. I grew up next to water, and I have mixed feelings about it. In my opinion, the ocean is irrefutably awe inspiring, but also dangerous and drowns people with depraved indifference.
As the film developed, I realised that an ocean above stirred feelings of both anxiety and depression. Although I tried to make the sea mysterious and fantastical, it often felt claustrophobic and oppressive. I think these notions created a feedback loop with the story and informed the development of my flawed protagonist.
The production process was slow. Although I tried to be economical and efficient with the shotlist, the postproduction requirements were still substantial for a novice. My research and planning were considerable, but internet tutorials were limited to demonstrating tried and tested techniques, and I couldn’t find one that simply showed me how to make the sky an ocean. The result was a lot of trial and error, and it felt like some solutions were willed into existence.
If my goal was only to learn new skills, then I achieved it. Not only did I complete all of the modelling, rendering and compositing in this film, but I also taught myself how to mould, cast and pour latex prosthetics.
However, I also wanted to make a fun film by a deadline, and despite serious social reclusion and the achievement of numerous personal goals, I was unable to complete the project by the end of the year. Thankfully, neither was my colleague. So, we commiserated and pondered what we could improve next time. My colleague suggested I bit off more than I could chew. I said I didn’t. We agreed to disagree.
Apparently, spite is also a powerful motivator and I continued to work with the same ferocity as I had before. Soon I would show that smug bastard!
Shot by shot, SeaSapien was brought to life. And now I’m writing this silly, self-deprecating dribble. I might not be five thousand dollars richer, but having completed SeaSapien is a great consolation prize. And there is always the next project – double or nothing.