Let’s take a look at some of the best sci-fi short films ever made and the creative teams behind them.
Top image courtesy of Wikimedia
Science Fiction is a big part of our cinematic experience these days. In reality, it always has been, even back to the days of George Melies and Fritz Lang in the early 1900s. But now we live in an era where blockbusters and tentpole franchises are king, and the majority of those are sci-fi features. Needless to say, it’s a great time to be a motion graphic and visual effects artist, as well as a sci-fi film fan.
As sci-fi films move from being campy B-rated films to massive blockbusters, many filmmakers and visual effects artists are getting their start by putting together great short films. This has been a big proving ground for well over a decade now. Let’s take a look at the best sci-fi short films that we’ve ever seen from independent filmmakers and visual effects artists.
R’ha is an incredibly impressive film on its own, but when you peel the layers back and realize that it was developed and created by one person — a 22-year-old German student named Kaleb Lechowski — you can’t help but be even more impressed. This six-minute film was the second big project that Lechowski produced for the film program at Berlin Mediadesign Hochschule.
No doubt Kaleb was able to ace the semester and impress his professors, but they weren’t the only ones impressed. Producer Rick McCallum, who worked closely with George Lucas on the The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series and then produced all three Star Wars prequels, has optioned the short film and is working with Lechowski to turn R’ha into a feature film.
Tears of Steel (2012)
This film began as the Mango Open Movie Project in 2012 when film producer and Blender founder Ton Roosendaal joined forces with director Ian Hubert. The point of the project was to show off the visual effects capabilities of the open source Blender 3D software. Tears of Steel was the fifth short film produced by the Blender Foundation.
The live-action sequences were shot using Sony CineAlta cameras and then all rendering, compositing, and grading was done through a pipeline of Blender community users.
Dr. Easy (2013)
Dr. Easy is one of those short sci-fi films that has some substantial backing from the onset. Co-produced and developed by Film4, Warp Films, and Shynola, Dr. Easy features veteran actors Tom Hollander and Geraldine James as the main characters. Directors Jason Groves, Chris Harding, and Richard Kenworthy adapted the film based around the novel The Red Men Good Reads by Matthew De Abaitua.
This short film was the launch of a partnership between Film4 and Vimeo, the goal of which was to expand Film4’s reach in terms of original content.
Alive in Joburg (2005)
Who didn’t love District 9? It was a solid movie and impressive first showing for young director Neill Blomkamp. But District 9 didn’t just come out of thin air. No, its true origins began in the early 2000s as Blomkamp joined forces with producers Simon Hansen, Sharlto Copley, and Carlo Trulli of Spy Films to develop a sci-fi proof-of-concept film, Alive in Joburg.
Sharlto Copley starred in the short film, which gained wide attention when it was released. Famed director Peter Jackson took notice and helped Blomkamp develop Alive in Joburg into a feature film that became District 9. The film went on to garner a solid box office return, as well as nominations at the Academy Awards — including a nod for Best Picture.
World Builder (2007)
Spending just $2000 of his own money and calling in multiple favors, director and visual effects professional Bruce Branit developed World Builder over the period of a couple of years. Using Lightwave, Branit shows us what one can do with inventiveness, drive, and a little bit of money.
Branit would submit his film to multiple film festivals over the coming years, spending a large sum of money on submissions. In the end, the film was only selected to a few mid-tier festivals. Frustrated with the lack of exposure, Branit released the film online and it blew up, which aided the film and his career.
Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB (1967)
Here is the film that helped launch the career of Star Wars creator George Lucas. Developed at the end of his collegiate career at USC, THX would be Lucas’s defining film at the University. It would garner him an enormous amount of attention, which he used to develop a feature-length version of the film that aided him in the development of Star Wars.
Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB has gone on to become a landmark film. In 2010, it joined Star Wars when it was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry.
State Zero (2015)
Many of the sci-fi short films you find online today are usually loaded with large amounts of visual effects and 3D elements. Many times these short films turn out to be nothing more than eye candy… but every once and a while we’ll get a great looking film with a solid narrative. And that’s the case for State Zero directed by Andrée Wallin.
This is the directorial debut for Wallin, who is a professional concept artist. Wallin isn’t just any concept artist either — he is one of the lead concept artists for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: Rogue One, Oblivion, and the Elder Scrolls Online video game. With a rush of Hollywood studios gobbling up sci-fi shorts in the last year— and Wallin’s connections — we fully expect State Zero to be picked up sooner rather than later. Not just because it looks good, but because it’s a solid film.
A Trip to the Moon (1902)
You might say that this is the sci-fi short film that started it all. Directed by George Melies, 1902’s A Trip to the Moon is, without question, the first sci-fi film ever created. Melies is well-known for building expansive and impressive sets, as well as being the father of special effects. T\hese skill sets converged for an incredibly impressive film that was made over 110 years ago.
This film has gone on to influence filmmakers and visual effects artists alike for over a century. These names include legendary filmmakers like Fritz Lang, Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, and Christopher Nolan, as well as major visual effects artists like Joe Johnston, Neill Blomkamp, and Richard Taylor.
The Leviathan (2015)
Director and visual effects artist Ruairi Robinson is no stranger to sci-fi. He directed the sci-fi feature film The Last Days on Mars, starring Liev Schreiber, as well as the acclaimed sci-fi short film BlinkyTM. However, in 2015 Robinson released another sci-fi film that took the internet by storm: The Leviathan.
Developed as a proof-of-concept short (taking nods from Moby Dick), Robinson created a visually impressive and alluring short. Neill Blomkamp and Simon Kinberg quickly jumped on board the project, which prompted 20th Century Fox to purchase the film rights. The film is currently being developed into a feature film, which will be the second feature for Robinson.
Directors Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell began developing Prospect back in 2012, which was funded through Kickstarter. They eventually finished the film and premiered it at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival. The total amount of time, labor, and equipment that was used would total just over $100,000. But Earl and Caldwell were able to make the film on a budget of just over $21,000.
After a successful SXSW premiere, the film went on to other avenues and eventually found its way to Vimeo, where it’s been watched over 300,000 times. While the film hasn’t been picked up by a major studio, it’s still one of the best indie sci-fi films we’ve ever seen and has been a major boon for Shep Films.