26 December 2014

Nightfall: Epic Science Fiction Fantasy Animated Short Film

This is quite an extraordinary short film being completely computer generated to begin with but that is not quite what I found the most astonishing thing about it.  It would probably be wrong to call this a silent movie but it could be adequately described as a wordless one.  Not a single word is spoken throughout and this is something which adds to its power.

The software used to create Nightfall was 3ds max 8 (vray, mentalray), combustion 4 and Premiere Pro.  The film was rendered in HD 720p with 25 fps – which may be an issue if you have a slow running PC but it is worth being patient. Its running time is a surprisingly long 11:30 min and it is made up of over seventeen thousand frames.

There are (as you might expect) numerous influences at work here –from the concept of a ring world which has echoes of the Larry Niven novel among others.  Sure, we have a thousand queens and dark lords in the history of science fiction too.  The design of the spaceships too, seems to have drawn some inspiration from the like of Battlestar Galactica as well as the more obvious Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Babylon 5.  In fact, although the plot bears no comparison, it this reminded me of Babylon 5 more than anything, if only in its epic sweep.

Yet drawing inspiration from other sources is fine as long as one’s own finished product is original.  This is an epic tale drawing to its end and because so much is left to us, a marvelously enigmatic piece of filmmaking too.  Nightfall draws heavily from its sources but at its heart is something a little different and more grown up (certainly darker) than the usual science fiction and fantasy fan boy fodder with which we are presented.

"What is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil." The quote at the film’s beginning – from Nietzsche -  places this work of animation very much in the grown up category.

The film is made by Valentin Schwind, a computer graphics artist and developer.  28 years old, he was born in Stuttgart, Germany and went to school in Esslingen, where he is still living today.  He graduated in 2008 from Stuttgart Media University where studied for his Media Computer Science Diploma.  Today he works as a freelancer for visual effects and game studios throughout Europe and also as a lecturer at the Stuttgart Media University.

The music is by Ivelina Nedyalkova.  A contemporary of Schwind’s at Stuttgart Media University she was persuaded by the animator to produce the soundtrack after he had heard her playing the piano.

Plot – so possibly spoilers:

The whole movie is like the end of some massive trilogy, but to put it in a nutshell.  A huge ring world, powered by an artificial sun is ruled over by a benign queen.  Yet a dark lord falls hopelessly in love with her and he desires her more than any other thing in the universe.  Surrounding her home world with an enormous space fleet he declares a war which will end a way of life which has endured millennia.  He has the queen to himself.  And the universe falls silent.