Technology evolves so fast these days, it’s hard to keep up with the challenges that technology can cause. Science fiction fans—and filmmakers—know this better than just about anyone, which is what drives the creative vision of people like director Hasraf (‘HaZ’) Dulull.
As a visual effects supervisor/producer, Dulull has worked in films, video games, and TV. Among his many achievements, Dulull has worked in the previsualization department for THE DARK KNIGHT, composited shots in HELLBOY 2, produced effects for British show THE ALIENS, and been nominated for a VES Award for his work as a VFX Supervisor on AMERICA: THE STORY OF US and BBC’s PLANET DINOSAUR.
Dulull’s indie sci-fi short films — PROJECT KRONOS, I.R.I.S., and SYNC — depict grounded, smart science fiction built around the potentially dark side of technological advancements. He also recently directed two feature-length sci-fi films — THE BEYOND (2017), and 2036 ORIGIN UNKNOWN (2018), starring Katee Sackhoff.
We recently caught up with Dulull to talk about his sci-fi inspirations and his sci-fi films.
RECURSOR: How did you become interested in filmmaking?
HaZ: I remember watching BLADERUNNER as a 12-year-old and being blown away! I knew I wanted to do something which involved making imaginative futuristic worlds like that.
I got my first job as a CGI Artist working in video games. Several years later, I moved into VFX for films. Throughout those years, I was always making short films and clips.
Who/what are your science fiction influences?
When it comes to films, it’s definitely Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, James Cameron’s TERMINATOR 2, Steven Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, John Carpenter’s THE THING, and the Wachowskis’ THE MATRIX. I love the way Neill Blomkamp is able to bring a level of grunge yet grounded reality to sci-fi.
I also love anime and manga. The ones that inspire me still today are AKIRA and GHOST IN THE SHELL.
What inspired you to move into writing/directing your own films?
Throughout my VFX career, I realized that VFX is part of the storytelling process. And I think the storyteller inside me was bursting to come out (like the chest burst scene in ALIEN!). I was familiar with scripts, how they are broken down, and all the main departments required to making a film—so it was a good chance for me to make a short film or two.
My first attempt was creating an animated short film called FUBAR REDUX. I basically used photos I had taken of miniature military toys on blue/white screen along with images of cats and dogs in a compositing 2.5D animated environment to create a satirical, animated, action short film.
FUBAR REDUX was selected to be shown at the 2012 Cannes Short Film Corner. And it landed me a gig with Universal directing an animated prequel short film for the launch of their tent-pole film, 47 RONIN, starring Keanu Reeves.
How has your VFX experience influenced your choices in terms of directing?
Having spent a lot of time in a dark room “fixing stuff in post,” I knew when I was directing my films, I would do my utmost to avoid this. So, I do prep work beforehand and get as much in camera as possible. I use previsualization (previs) to plan things out.
Because I’m a hands-on director, I use my VFX skills to create mood boards or test sequences which help communicate the vision to the team and the actors, so they know what I have planned.
Your sci-fi short films deal with the challenges of technology. Would you say that’s a theme of yours?
Ha—well spotted! I am a complete nerd. I read anything I can get my hands on when it comes to technology, but what interests me most isn’t the tech itself, but the effects it has on culture and our world.
FUBAR REDUX was a political satire set in an alternate world of cats and dogs at war with each other. It was like my ANIMAL FARM, using visual metaphors to paint a picture of the atrocities of war and politics.
PROJECT KRONOS focuses on the technology of sending human consciousness into space and making first contact and sending back alien memories as a reply to us.
My third film, I.R.I.S., looks at the dangers of fully automated drone technology connected to a smart, self-thinking A.I., and how that would affect us on a global scale.
My most recent indie sci-fi short film, SYNC, is about a not-too-distant future where large corporations and the government are fed up with using online data networks due to cyberterrorism, so they use robots on motorcycles called SYNCs to transport their data. These SYNCs will do whatever it takes to deliver the data. But what happens when a SYNC is compromised?
All of these short film ideas started off with the question I ask myself all the time—“WHAT IF?”
THE BEYOND is the first feature-length film you wrote and directed. What’s it about?
THE BEYOND is best described as a cerebral science fiction film that blends the realism of documentary with the fantastical, ‘big idea’ nature of the sci-fi films of today.
It chronicles a ground-breaking mission which sends astronauts, modified with advanced robotics, through a newly discovered wormhole known as the Void. When the mission returns unexpectedly, the space agency races to discover what the astronauts encountered on their first-of-its-kind interstellar space journey.
What inspired the concept behind THE BEYOND?
The idea for THE BEYOND came from many sources of inspiration.
First, I grew up watching sci-fi films such as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, ALIEN, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, CONTACT, and lots more. They resonated in me massively throughout the years, so it was important for me to make a film about humanity making first contact with intelligent life and the future of hope with our planet.
A second aspect was the idea that our consciousness is part of the construct of our universe. A lot of research papers have addressed this concept over the years.
And then the Arthur C. Clarke quote—“The stars are not for man, that is, not for biological humans 1.0”—was a big inspiration to creating human 2.0s in THE BEYOND as the next generation of astronauts, able to handle interstellar space travel.
What’s the news on your most recent release, 2036 UNKNOWN ORIGIN?
My second feature film, 2036 UNKNOWN ORIGIN, was released recently in the U.S. It will be released in the UK and Europe on August 13.
It’s a sci-fi thriller about a human and an A.I. working together to solve a mystery involving a large cube on Mars. I wrote the story, co-produced and directed it. I got to work with Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica, Chronicles of Riddick, Longmire and Flash).
I was very hands on with this one too, when it came to the VFX. But this film had a much bigger budget than THE BEYOND, and the team was bigger too. We also got to use Territory Studio’s amazing VFX team to create the robot, ARTI, and some other insanely awesome sequences.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished directing an eight-part action comedy TV series called FAST LAYNE for Disney. It involves an A.I. smart car, that’s all I can say! We are currently in post-production, and it’s looking like it will be released in the fall of this year.
I am also currently developing a bunch of new feature film and TV projects via my production company HAZFILM. We have a great team of people, including my co-producer and business partner, Paula Crickard, who recently was involved in Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.
Hasraf ‘HaZ’ Dulull is the co-founder of the production company HaZFILM. He is represented as a director by Hollywood agency APA, and managed by Ground Control Entertainment. You can follow HaZ on Twitter: @hazvfx and Instagram: @hazdazzle.