A classic Sci-fi/Horror once taught us that ‘in space no one can hear you scream’ and it’s a lesson that served filmmaker’s well ever since. Transporting us to the International Space Station for his latest scary story, returning filmmaker Josh Tanner once again showcases a flair for visuals in Decommissioned, a science-fiction short created with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine.
“It continues our trend of turning bizarre true happenings into genre shorts”
Like Tanner’s previous S/W feature Wandering Soul, though his film is very much a fantasy, the inspiration came from an actual IRL event. “Old faithful Wikipedia led us to the real-life Suitsat experiment“, the director explains as we discuss the origins of his narrative. “We thought it was just too dang creepy not to craft a horror story around. Also it continues our trend of turning bizarre true happenings into genre shorts”.
Set years after the transmitting spacesuit was deployed in orbit around Earth, Tanner’s six-minute film introduces us to Commander Diaz, an astronaut currently inhabiting the ISS. While his fellow crew member’s sleep, Diaz is snapping photos out of one of the station’s observational windows, all is calm until his spots an unusual piece of “debris” floating towards them. Contacting Houston, the control centre see no evidence of the Commander’s sighting, but as interference starts to hamper their radio signal, Diaz starts to believe this might be the original Suitsat…but it can’t be, that original suit “re-entered the atmosphere and burnt up years ago”.
With previous short The Landing employing a “great deal of VFX work” to create its mid-west America setting in Australia and Tanner building a replica of the Viet Cong tunnels on a sound stage for Wandering Soul, the director has made a name for himself through a series of hugely impressive shorts boasting an aesthetic of feature quality. Though created through Unreal Engine’s Short Film Initiative, which funded films that utilised its games engine in production, don’t expect a video game feel to Decommissioned, as it’s use of physical sets and rear-projection (find out more about the production in this ‘Making of’ video) give it a classic sci-fi feel.
Aiming to “notch up the ambition” from the previous films, Tanner nad his crew wanted to take on another VFX heavy project so they could improve their filmmaking through the process. Though the filmmaker admits he didn’t have the resources of The Mandalorian available, through a workflow which involved piping Unreal Engine through rear projection they were able to create a production which employed “zero green screen during the shoot”.
With the games engine then employed to create the “100% CG shots”, Tanner credits the initiative, supported by Epic Games and Screen Queensland, and the monumental support from post-production facility Cutting Edge, who handled the virtual production technology and entire picture post-production process, for getting his project off the ground. “The script sat in a drawer for 3 years because we felt the traditional VFX pipeline would just be too expensive for a little short like this”, he explains. Adding that the filmmaking scheme helped him to see “the potential to make it with this incredible new technology”.
I concluded my write-up of Wandering Soul by mentioning it was ‘surely only a matter of time before Tanner’s flair for genre storytelling sees him helm his debut feature’ and Decommissioned surely backs-up this statement. With “a bunch of different genre projects in development”, it’s surely. only. a. matter. of. time.