Just two weeks ago, Kaleb Lechowski popped up on the Internet radar everywhere (that is important to filmmaking) with his short film R’ha. Set on an alien planet where the machines built to serve the residents of the planet revolt and begin to destroy their creators. As usually happens in stories like this, some of the residents escape. So the scene that plays out in this intense, vividly detailed, and stunningly animated short is an interrogation sequence.
As we hurtle towards the stunning conclusion of this short it is hard not to feel respect for the army of animators, colorists, sound designers and technicians who made this film possible. So imagine mine (and the film world’s) surprise when it was discovered that Mr. Lechowski did all the animating work himself. Over seven months. In fact he is still studying.
So check out his short film here and then scroll on downwards to read an interview with the filmmaker.
What led to your designing and animating R’ha all by yourself?
I´m studying Digital Film Design at Mediadesign Hochschule in Berlin. After school I wasn´t really sure what I should do after civil service. I decided to study Transportation Design but switched to Product Design. Due to the application deadline I had to wait about one year until I could apply. During that year I did a lot of personal art like building life like insects and building the Hydralisk head, which you can see on my blog. When I was able to apply, they sent me back asking me if I would not rather try something around film making. And I thought, yes, of course, but I didn´t think it was realistic.
So finally I started to study in October 2011 and went to make R’ha as the first 3D project in the second semester.
How did you come up with the idea for R’Ha?
I´ve had a lot of ideas about an intelligent alien race, which was the source for the R’ha. When I wrote the story for R’ha, I wanted to do a sci-fi interrogation sequence, with an alien and a machine.
How long was the process of making the film?
It took seven intensive months.
Was it always intended as a part of a longer story?
There is a lot about the universe. I already had much information before even starting to write for the short. I really wanted to do a sequel or anything with that, but I was not sure if I would have the opportunity to do it.
How did you settle upon the creature designs? Was there a lot of trial and error?
The basic shape of the head was already quite clear two years ago. I did some more concepts about that and the arms and then I just started to model it. This is when I defined it. Same with the machine, I made a concept and some scribbles for the installation in the room, then I modeled it.
The humanoid creature has a very striking appearance. Yet his movements are not entirely human. They seem true to the nature of whatever he is. How did you develop a motion vocabulary for this creature?
Some of it comes just by how he is designed. I think he just looks different and moves a little bit slower than we do because he is very tall. I aimed for realistic movements, where each action has an impact on the whole body, yet it should not seem over-animated and too fluent.
The concept of machines revolting has been part of the mainstream lexicon for a few years now, were you making a conscious attempt to tell your story from a different point of view?
I definitely want to do it different than it has been done before. But I don´t think I could have added more distinctive elements in the short.
What hardware and software did you use to make R’Ha?
I had 19 computers at the university. Every shot was rendered on one machine. For most of the 3D work I used Maya, except for a lot of modeling, which I chose Blender for. It´s very fast and I´ve been working with that for about 8 years now. I sculpted high detail in zBrush and composited in Nuke and After Effects.
The film has gone viral, many influential blogs and industry websites are linking to it…has it all sunk in yet for you? Are Hollywood studios expressing interest?
The reception was really great and it´s an amazing experience. The attention from producers and movie studios as well as from the people around the world exceeded my expectations. Thank you for that!
How has life changed for you after the release of R’Ha?
There´s a lot of possibilities ahead and I am currently working on the story of R’ha as a feature movie. So far no one has recognized me in the streets, so it´s not too crazy yet 😉
Do your friends and colleagues treat you differently now that you have this hit short film?
In general they congratulate me and are interested in how this is developing.