Recent Media Design School Shorts
Kia Ora and welcome to our inaugural edition of the Show Me Shorts Screening Room. Here we’ll take a look at some short films you can find online that we find interesting and try to give some perspective, background, or at least some (hopefully) relevant anecdotes about the films we discuss on the 1st of each month. I’m David and I’ve been involved with Show Me Shorts for the past 2 years or so and keep tabs on our website (thanks for visiting, by the way!). Today I’ll be going through some of New Zealand Media Design School‘s (MDS) recent short films that have impressed me- you can find these films and more on MDS’s Youtube Channel and on vimeo (better quality).
These shorts are all Directed by MDS’s 3D Programme Leader James Cunningham (Infection, Das Tub, Poppy), who, along with other participating industry veterans, ensures that the quality of these films is top notch. But they are also an intense labour of love for the students who toil away to make the effects convincing to spectacular. I’ll start with Dr. Grordbort Presents: The Deadliest Game, the premiere of which I had the opportunity to attend on February 15. But first, some background.
Dr. Grordbort Presents: The Deadliest Game
Dr. Grordbort’s is a side-project created and led by Weta Workshop‘s Conceptual Designer Greg Broadmore. Initially a means to the wonderfully geeky end of designing and bringing to life some of the coolest looking rayguns (scroll down in the link to check them out) subsequently known to Sci-Fi, Steampunk, and Cosplay enthusiasts around the globe, the project has evolved into an alternate universe where men roam star systems equipped with only their safari khakis, one of Doctor Grordbort’s Infallible Aether Oscillators, and a stiff upper lip. It’s an interestingly open-ended universe, and one that has begun expanding from concept art to video games, graphic comics, and now short film.
Brought to life by a team of 11 students; developed with screenwriter Nick Ward, cinematographer Simon Riera, and sound designer Dave Whitehead; Dr Grordbort Presents: The Deadliest Game gives a snapshot of the Grordbort’s macrocosm, somewhere on the far edge of the solar system. Lord Broadforce, on a “fact-finding mission for her Majesty’s Society of Off-World Species” is accompanied by reporter Ms. Middlesworth and his assistant Caruthers to investigate (with extreme prejudice) the flora and fauna of an unnamed distant planet.
At the Q&A for the premiere, Director James Cunningham described the initial premise for the film as a sort of “Steve Irwin in Space,” but the finished product also manages to capture a fair portion of the tongue-in-cheek satire on imperialist British society characteristic of Grordbort’s name. I was personally most impressed by the intricately imagined world rendered through some stunning effects courtesy of the students who collectively put over 1400 hours of work into each minute of the finished product.
From Sci-fi to Horromantic comedy, have a look at Rotting Hill. It’s a playful rendition within one of the most prestigious of genres in modern cinema: the zombie movie. A warning to the squeamish regarding gore and/or uncomfortable situational comedy: this one does contain some stomach turning moments. You may also recognize some familiar faces here: New Zealand’s own Anna Hutchison (Go Girls, Shortland Street, Underbelly) and Australian Jason Smith (Home & Away, Legend of the Seeker). Again a blend of professional and professional-quality student collaboration, the idea for the film came from one of MDS’s 3D graduates (Phil Magnussen) as a pitch for a short as a “zombie love story” and was cultivated by Cunningham, script writer Guy Hamling, and a team of 7 students at the blinding pace of 14 weeks from idea to finished product. Make sure to watch through the credits- I found quite a few moments that I assumed were done with elaborate props and makeup were in fact CGI rendered as convincingly as I’ve ever seen.
I think my unofficial role as Acting Nerd for the festival is about to become obvious as we round things off by returning to Sci-Fi. First Contact is another short from MDS’s Advanced 3D Productions class that attempts to… fill certain holes in popular theories about visitation of Earth by other “intelligent” beings. The CGI is again brilliantly put together and combined with live action, capturing the actors’ recognizable facial expressions and emotions while maintaining distinctly alien features. However, to me the effects also seem to be deliberately understated (after the dazzling opening) to allow the comic pacing, writing, and sound to shine. It’s a light take on the old trope of alien species as careful, deliberate, and/or at least serious types (although it is somewhat troubling to consider as an actual possibility.) First Contact also shares some talent with Dr. Grordbort’s: directed by James Cunningham, written by Nick Ward, and developed with cinematographer Simon Riera, composer Stephen Gallagher, sound design by Victoria Parsons and mixed by Dave Whitehead, and of course the 14 digital artists/students.
To close, the underlying thing that impressed me about watching these films together was how the filmmakers used CGI in different ways to tell their story. You can create something fantastically new like in Dr. Grordbort’s, you can accentuate key moments or scenes like in Rotting Hill, or you can use it to make unbelievable settings believable without making them distracting like in First Contact. But I think this also speaks to the range and talent of the industry veterans and the recent crop of students (some now freshly employed in the industry) involved in these shorts.
Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed keep an eye out for more Screening Room updates at the beginning of each month- we’ll be getting another perspective on more films from another team member or special guest.