Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Neill Blomkamp, visual futurist

South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp, hired last year to helm the forthcoming adaptation of the video game series Halo, has made some of the coolest video artifacts from the future I've ever seen. His directorial portfolio to date has consisted of advertising spots and short films, but he started out in visual effects, an expertise in which is evident through all his work.

From the director profile at Canadian production house, Spy Entertainment:
[H]is forte is creating pure photo-real visualizations of concepts that not only can't be photographed, but exists [sic] only in his imagination.

Recognizing that filmmaking is as organic as it is artificial; Neill has merged the two seamlessly, making a hybrid which feels unexpectedly authentic. He enjoys creating atmosphere in a spot where the concept is not only unique, but slightly bizarre.

The combination of documentary style camerawork and editing, together with futuristic (mainly robot-related) subject matter, conspires to present the not-yet as here-and-now; and all this so beautifully done that, in my book, he's an outstanding visual futurist -- whether he knows it or not.

Here's Blomkamp in an interview for Ain't It Cool News, shortly after the Halo announcement:

I have to be doing something creative all the time, I like just rolling up my sleeves and just making stuff, for the sake of learning, or experimenting, or messing around, shorts can be better than pretty much anything for that. Commercials I was beginning to find uncreative because your end goal is to sell a product, and music videos are really great, but you can't really have dialogue, so I just defaulted to making my own pieces on the side of doing commercials, and ironically they seem better known then all the commercials, except that one for Adidas which was basically a short.

He doesn't seem to have given many interviews, but it would be interesting to gain some further insight into his approach. Meanwhile, four of Blomkamp's future documentary-style shorts (including the Adidas promo) are offered below. Enjoy.

Tetra Vaal (02003, 1'20")
Stunning. This is the first Blomkamp piece I saw, but only recently discovered his other work. I especially like the fact that this advertises a non-existent company; yet they went to the trouble of launching a basic website, providing diegetic continuity.

Alive in Joburg (02005, 6'20")
Alien/robot invasion, documentary style. As in Tetra Vaal, the vivid, gritty setting serves as realism-enhancing counterpoint to a futuristic premise. Which makes it intrinsically more arresting than the same story set in the (already abundantly mythologised) United States would be, I think. (Interestingly, rather than a future- or high-tech present-day setting, the short purports to take place back in 1990, during South African apartheid; which affords a grim social commentary on the divisions of that time.)

Yellow (02006, 4')
Shot for Adidas as part of a viral series called Adicolor, so technically a commercial for the sportswear company. Happily, its content pushes in a less irritating direction all its own (although the logo is hidden in the film), and it exhibits comparable aesthetic and production values as the others.

Tempbot™ (02006, 15')
An interesting anomaly: this comic short is sort of I, Robot meets The Office. A few too many sudden shifts of pace, and excessive music -- but a step from Bay-and-Bruckheimer melodrama towards something more intriguing, because it frames something extraordinary as mundane. Here's hoping that after he's done with Halo, Blomkamp might return to further exploration of the future documentary genre.

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