Photoplay’s tech inspired film ‘A Low Hum’ descends on TEDx

June 14, 2018

A Low Hum is a short film from PHOTOPLAY in association with The Gingerbread Man and Electric Lens Co. premiering at TEDx Sydney on 15 June 2018.

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Photoplay’s tech inspired film ‘A Low Hum’ descends on TEDx

A Low Hum is a short film from PHOTOPLAY in association with The Gingerbread Man and Electric Lens Co. premiering at TEDx Sydney on 15 June 2018.

Written and directed by Scott Otto Anderson, A Low Hum is a near-future love story in the vein of Black Mirror but without the dystopian darkness. The film uses tech from computer games and VR to bypass traditional animation and rendering processes, which are expensive in both time and labour.

Anderson poses the question: “What happens when autonomous drones become miniaturised to the point they become almost ubiquitous? Are they capable of bringing us closer together or will they simply push us apart? This is a love story for the digital age. It suggests real human connections can be forged with the aid of technology but that at times we may be better off when we disconnect from the digital world and its unrealistic perfection-mirror. It also suggests true love and happiness might be found in a higher intelligence than ours.”

The story centres on Mia (played by Elsa Cocquerel, Wolf Creek), a 21-year-old Insta-star whose personal drone documents her every move for an unseen audience. But in a scenario we know all too well, stardom can often come with the price of loneliness, and a lack of real human connection. Through the dating app STIKKI DATE she hooks up with Billy Atmos (Tai Hara, Home and Away), another professional instagrammer whose drone comes fitted with a smoke machine (to add extra atmosphere to all his selfies). They go on the most perfectly art-directed date you-have-never-seen-before and documented with hashtags like #firstdatenerves and #truelove we imagine they are on the fast track to successful social media romance. Only with Artificial Intelligence things don’t always work out as planned.

The difficulty of getting a zero-budget (all TEDx films are done at the filmmakers’ expense) CGI-heavy film up in a short time frame was a challenge that the filmmakers felt they were up for. Says Craig Deeker of The Gingerbread Man (Cargo, Sweet Country, Jasper Jones): “This is something that Otto (Photoplay), Hermans (Electric Lens Co.) and I have been talking about for quite a while now. It’s time to challenge the classic model of CGI process to generate photoreal material as the method cannot work with the current budgetary landscape of filmmaking.”

 “We want to be able to make CGI-heavy indie films that look great, not just the Hollywood Blockbuster. The audience’s relationship toward CGI films has matured now to a level that means we need to come up with ways of engaging them with equally mature storytelling.”

Teaming up with Matt Hermans of Electric Lens Co. they reverse-engineered the realtime tech used in VR/AR to animate characters with the gaming engine Unreal. Hermans says: “It was fortuitous that Unreal was releasing its beta of the AR real-time tracking technology just days before Otto called me. We were able to take their latest tools and build a virtual production context for which decision making could be made confidently and in real-time. The characters were puppeteered therein and personalities developed naturally as a consequence of the instant feedback.”

Anderson was overjoyed with the results, stating: “Working on a love job like this meant an already tight timeline was even more compressed. We managed to ‘animate’ the two drones in a five hour session that would have taken weeks if not months to animate traditionally. It meant I got to ‘direct’ the performance of the drone characters as if they were there for real. It also meant we got from a locked-off edit to delivery to TEDx in under ten days.”