What do you do when you love a critically acclaimed sci-fi novel? If you’re filmmaker Danil Krivoruchko, you find a way to make a short sci-fi film in homage. That’s the feat Danil achieved with BLINDSIGHT—a non-commercial, self-funded project that brings the concept of the novel of the same name by author Peter Wattsto life.
The indie sci-fi short BLINDSIGHT focuses on the recollections of crew member Siri Keeton, a transhuman “synthesist” who can read the intentions of others, in the wake of first contact. With gorgeous visuals and music, BLINDSIGHT (the film) brings to life the intense drama of traveling through space and contacting alien creatures.
BLINDSIGHT was made in collaboration with artists from around the globe between 2016 and 2020. We caught up with Danil to discuss the making of his film and what it was like to collaborate with Watts.
RECURSOR: HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN CREATING VFX?
DANIL: My interest in Computer Graphics started when I was a kid. I was lucky to have access to computers at a very early age. It was back in the late ‘80s, and at that time in Ukraine (where I am from), there was not so much entertainment content available. I loved to draw, so I got into graphics.
Later, I got my degrees in computer science and graphic design. After that, I worked as a graphic designer, then as an interactive designer, and then I switched to motion graphics and VFX. And for the last eight years, I have worked as Art Director and VFX Artist for various clients here in New York.
WHAT LED YOU TO TAKE A LEAP INTO MAKING AN INDEPENDENT SHORT FILM?
I wouldn’t call it a leap. It was more of a gradual process. I kind of wandered into the process of creating the short.
After I read the novel Blindsight, I felt as though I had already seen the movie inside my head. Peter Watts has a lot of extremely detailed descriptions of specific scenes and objects in his novel, so it wasn’t hard to imagine.
I wasn’t striving to make a whole film. Originally, the idea was to create a couple of images for the gallery on Peter’s personal website. But gradually, little by little the project has been expanding, and the result is the film we have today.
HAVE YOU ALWAYS LOVED SCI-FI?
Yes, I’ve loved sci-fi since I was a kid. The first “grown-up” books that I read independently were short stories by Robert Sheckley and Ray Bradbury.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT SCI-FI, AND WATTS’ BOOK, THAT SPEAKS TO YOU?
I love reading about worlds that are different from ours but are structured according to their own internal logic. It is fascinating when an author really thinks through all the details. He makes you understand why he created this new world in this particular way and analyzes the consequences of change that might restructure the world we live in.
Not every author is that meticulous, but Watts is definitely one of them. While reading, I kept thinking how awesome his way of thinking is. I would never consider this perspective, but this totally makes sense.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO WORK ON A FILM INSPIRED BY A WELL-KNOWN AUTHOR’S WORK. WAS IT INTIMIDATING? EXCITING?
Both! Obviously, I was extremely excited not only to work on the visualization of my favorite novel but also to work directly with the author himself and with his approval.
On the other hand, it is a hard sci-fi novel, so naturally the main fandom consists of the most fastidious nerds on the planet. While working on the film, I reread the whole book six times and then some. I had to be absolutely sure I didn’t miss anything and that I was visualising all the details according to the text as much as possible.
DID YOU AND PETER WATTS COLLABORATE? WHAT HAS BEEN HIS REACTION TO SEEING THE FILM?
Peter was involved practically from the very beginning. He had uploaded this novel to his website, and after I read the book, I found a link for donations there. I obviously loved the book, so I wanted to express my gratitude. To my surprise, Peter not only thanked me for the donation but spent some time exploring my portfolio online and left some very pleasant comments.
Obviously, I was ecstatic. Then I suggested to some of my friends, who also work in 3D, we should all work together to create something in connection with the novel. Periodically, I would send some of our work to Peter, and he would always have time to give his feedback and to answer some of our questions about the text.
Gradually we progressed from just a couple of images to animation and then to the whole film. Four to five times a year, I would send him our work and explain which direction we were planning to proceed in, while also making sure we were getting everything right.
You can watch Peter Watts’ reaction to the final result here.
HOW DID YOU BALANCE THE CHALLENGES OF FILMMAKING TO CREATE SUCH A BEAUTIFUL FILM?
When I was working full time, there was no balance between my job and this project. I would work nights and weekends. My wife says I am just a workaholic, and I have taken up this project just as an excuse to work even more.
Three years ago, I started working as a freelancer, so naturally I would have breaks between projects and I could spend more time working on BLINDSIGHT. But I am not going to lie to you and to myself—I still worked nights and weekends.
HOW DID YOU BALANCE THE INTRICACIES OF CREATING REALISTIC VFX AND STILL MEET YOUR BUDGET?
This actually was the easy part. This was a non-profit project from the beginning because we did not want any issues with the copyright holders. So basically, our film is just a huge fan-art project, and consequently we didn’t have any issues with financing the project.
Obviously, creating good quality computer animation is a very laborious process. Though we didn’t spend any money, we spent a tremendous amount of time. I am so grateful to the nearly thirty professionals who agreed to help with solving some problems when my own expertise wasn’t enough.
THIS PROJECT TOOK FOUR YEARS FROM CONCEPT TO COMPLETION. HOW DID YOU STAY COMMITTED TO FINISHING IT?
At some point, we just couldn’t not finish it because we had invested so much effort already. Obviously, my family’s support helped a lot. Also, I was posting some parts online and have been receiving very good feedback. I was constantly getting encouraging messages, so that helped to keep up the enthusiasm.
I think the hardest part was the middle of the project. In the beginning, everything was very exciting and we were getting reasonable results in a considerably short amount of time. So, the first 20% of work was done with quite an ease. I was sure we were going to be done by 2017-2018. I was so naive!
Then came this not so pleasant period: We still had plenty left to do and no matter how much we worked, it seemed like we were not getting any closer to finishing. This is a completely non-profit project, and obviously I could not have done everything myself. So I was constantly trying to recruit people, tell everyone about the project, spark their interest.
Some people came aboard but then got too overwhelmed with their day jobs and left the project. Some were interested but left even before they did anything at all. Some parts took up to two years, which was pretty exhausting obviously. But finally we could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that ignited our enthusiasm, so the last 20% of the work was also pretty easy.
BLINDSIGHT FEELS LIKE A PROOF OF CONCEPT. DO YOU HAVE PLANS TO MARKET IT AND MAYBE GET A FILM DEAL OUT OF IT?
I agree. It was more important to me to capture the atmosphere of the novel rather than show the narrative arc. Also, because of our incredibly scarce resources, creating animated characters with mockup and facial expressions would have taken us another four years.
The main goal was to attract as much attention to the novel as possible. I truly believe it deserves a much wider audience. If as a result, some producer will stumble upon it and decide to make a full feature film (or even better, a show) in the Blindopraxia universe—that would be amazing. And if they decide that they want me to participate, I am definitely not going to say “no” to that.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST TAKEAWAY YOU GAINED FROM MAKING THIS FILM?
I was ready for the project to take twice as much as I initially planned. However, I was not at all ready for it to take four times as much.
Also, in the future, I think it is important to have at least some financing. It would really speed up and simplify the process if I did not have to look for volunteers all over the internet, and instead I could just hire the right people.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON RIGHT NOW?
I returned to some of my personal projects that are obviously not as large-scaled as this one. I had to put them on hold in the last months in order to be able to finish BLINDSIGHT. And as a main project, I am working on these beautiful opening titles for an epic sci-fi show that is scheduled for the next year to release. I cannot share the details just yet.
WHERE CAN FANS LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FILM?
On our BLINDSIGHT website, you can find a lot of additional materials on the making of the film, and even some correspondence with Peter Watts, including a mini-interview with him. So if someone’s interested to find out more about the process, there’s a lot to explore.
In the past 17 years of his experience, creative director and motion designer Danil Krivoruchko (pronounced kri-va-rúch-ko) has collaborated with multiple clients such as Apple, Nike, Boeing, Verizon, and Intel, to name a few. Danil specializes in direction and procedural design using Houdini. He currently resides in Brooklyn, New York and is available for freelance.