Last stand on Ménez Hom - Part 2/2

Note: This short story was originally published on September 29, 2019 in the political ecology magazine Uneven Earth, as part of the Not afraid of the ruins collaborative writing project. If you've missed it, Read part 1.

*
“Ready for what?”
“To make a stand, on the Ménez Hom.”

*

It didn’t take more than a week for word to spread, and soon Alwena was running around trying to explain to hundreds of Zadists how to build the greenhouses without harming the land. But that wasn’t why most people showed up. They showed up to defy the state’s authority once more, showing that another way of life was possible.

Alwena was torn, she resented Wassim for bringing all these people to the fragile landscape of the mountain. She changed her mind when someone working in l’Île Longue leaked the construction plans for the radar. They were going to dynamite entire parts of the mountain, drain out the marshes to make roads for armored transports.

Alwena had studied the plans and leaked photographs of the base, too. L’île longue was built on the side of a massive cliff, and the eastern side facing the Channel and the Atlantic was virtually indestructible granite. That also came at a big disadvantage; from inside the base, you couldn’t have a line of sight on enemy aircrafts coming from the west. The base was constructed before AI drones, assuming that a pilot couldn’t possibly fly below radar line of sight, or handle the g-forces from the hard turn required to strike the eastern side when coming from the west. This meant that enemy drones had a limited window to strike without being detected.

That was the flaw the Cog wanted to patch. The Ménez Hom had a line of sight over the entire peninsula, the perfect place to install surface to air missiles and radars pointed at the sea.

Alwena knew that none of that would save the country from starvation. The role of the Cog was to preserve the old world; its states, armies, and national identities. While many around her still believed in the concept of “the army” fueled by the passion of nationalism, for most people there was no choice but to feed the Cog in exchange for protection. More and more unemployed young men joined the military each year, when what the country needed was an army of farmers for the war effort of healing the land.

If they are going to destroy it all anyway, Alwena thought, might as well highlight the potential we’re losing. 

She was surprised by how quickly the militants made caring about the mountain a social norm. Marginalized people who came to challenge the state stayed for the learning, food, and community. Alwena had always dreamed about this; a technological dystopia merged with a social utopia. The opposite of the world she resented.

Months passed in a blur, rhythmed by the attempted expulsions conducted by riot police. A trampled sign lay in the mud, it read “build farms, not nukes”. The riot police was ordered not to use tear gas or mortars up until that point.

Then came one day she could never forget. An early morning in August 2044.

*

The escalation of international nuclear threats eventually meant the end of roundtables and compromises. The Cog needed the mountain.

Alwena had heard rumors that local garrisons were ordered to finish the expulsions of militants and Zadists once and for all. Everyone shared one last beer and laughed nervously awaiting the deployment of more than five thousand men and armoured transport. This time, there was no way out.

One common tactic for Zadists was to chain themselves to a heavy object—a tree or metal pole—with handcuffs. She argued in vain with Wassim to not tie himself to that wooden beam. He tried to hand her the keys to the handcuffs but she refused, hoping that would dissuade him. Instead he gave the keys to a friend causing Alwena to instantly regret it.
“…Plus it’s stupid, they’ll just pull you off the beam and then you’re just handcuffed.”
“Good point,” he said, looking around him to people preparing for the expulsion, “Hey, you over here with the hammer! Mind nailing this plank up here?” he said, pointing to the top of the wooden beam.
Alwena stood there arms crossed while he was getting attached. Wassim was like the little brother she never had, always getting into trouble.
“Wait, where’s your mask?” Alwena asked, “You need to protect your eyes.”
“Oh shit, it’s in the greenhouse. Can you get it for me?”
Alwena instinctively dropped to the ground after hearing explosions in the distance.
“No time, take mine,” she said, fitting her gas mask onto his face.
“What about y…?” he tried to say before his voice became inaudible through the mask.
“I’ve got spare glasses,” Alwena said after taking out safety goggles from her vest, “They never use tear gas here, I should be fine.”
And before anyone could heed the screams of warning, mortars sprayed a barrage of tear gas canisters.

It all happened in a few seconds. Alwena groaned in pain as a rubber bullet hit her flank. She collapsed, out of breath under the impact. A canister fell near her and she saw the dry shrubs combust. Panicked, she looked side to side as she saw many more projectiles land in the shrubs. She ran towards the smoke grenades and threw her jacket over one of them to squelch the fire. She had begun to choke on the tear gas when sound grenades detonated. 

Flashing images of heavily armored figures charged uphill and downhill in blinding coordination. It wasn’t just the police this time—the operation started with military precision.

She tried to look for Wassim but was already becoming disoriented. When her hearing finally returned, all she could hear were screams. Flames had quickly spread causing a wildfire that burned resistance and police alike. Those who chose to barricade themselves inside the greenhouses were caught in the fire and burned alive; others died after breathing the fumes of burned plastic. The finished greenhouses were completly fire-retardant, but many were in the middle of construction.

Alwena turned around and saw Wassim burning alive on his cross. She screamed as she was dragged away by the firefighters and handcuffed by the army. There was nothing she could do to save him. Neither the firefighters or the army managed to stop a small group of photographers from immortalizing the scene. 


Alwena couldn’t witness any revolution from her prison cell, but she could hear it. The voices were loud, but that wasn’t enough to stop the Cog.
Then, the food simply stopped coming. Alwena heard it on the radio: A general food strike. All farmers would simply refuse to give, or sabotage any food meant for the military, even under threat of death. Any acts of brutality from the local garrisons or the Cog would paint them as they really were: a mafia at the nation scale, offering protection in exchange for food but destroying anyone who declined the deal.

Alwena ripped open the last emergency ration package with her emaciated hands when she heard the announcement that a garrison flipped. They made a deal with the local farmers: the garrison would continue to receive food, but in exchange they would receive orders from a citizen assembly and reject the Cog’s authority. One by one, not without its shares of skirmishes and scare-tactics, every unit, battalion, base, and vessel turned peacefully against their central command.

“Drink! This might be your last one” a guard said, his gaunt face startling her.
She took the glass and watched the bubbles.
“Champagne? Where did you find that?”
“It said ‘for a special occasion’ on the label, so we saved it until now,” the guard said with a faint smile crackling his lips.
“What’s the occasion?”
“We’ve been told there’s a submarine in the roadstead of Brest, with tactical nukes aimed at whoever flips.”
“…And?”
“We called bluff, so we’re flipping,” the guard replied, clinging his glass against hers.

*

Not long after that, she was free. A newly formed 6th republic built by Zadists and the food-strikers called for her help, to be a symbol against COGs and military rule in other countries, but first, Alwena wanted to see the Ménez Hom again.

A lot had changed in five months.

With streaks of burned earth barely visible under the layers of flowers, it seemed as if the surface of the mountain had already forgotten. The wind was ruthless and her locks were a tangly mess, but she felt alive. She placed blue thistles by a commemorative plaque. Red and blue wildflowers were scattered all around the base of a statue.

Wassim on the cross, a martyr in granite.

At the top of the Ménez Hom, between the earth and the sky, history had displayed the ability to repeat itself.

Granite remembered, as always.

*

In memory of my great-grandfather Jean Guennal, résistant on the Ménez Hom.


Last stand on Ménez Hom - Part 1/2

Note: This short story was originally published on September 29, 2019 in the political ecology magazine Uneven Earth, as part of the Not afraid of the ruins collaborative writing project.


Last stand on Ménez Hom

At the top of the Ménez Hom, between the earth and the sky, history had displayed the ability to repeat itself.

by Efflam Mercier

Alwena walked along the black scorched hillside of the Ménez Hom. In the distance, she could see dark clouds accumulating over the Crozon peninsula. The constant rain that used to be so emblematic of the region had become increasingly rare. Each droplet was a welcome relief.

As a mountain, Ménez Hom did not impress by its height, but by the fact that it completely dominated the landscape. One could stand at the peak and survey a large amount of the north-western French coast.

The Wehrmacht, having observed that during World War II, built a large radar and artillery base on the peak. The French resistance paid a heavy price to take it back from the fifteen thousand German soldiers sworn to defend it with their lives.

Alwena walked slowly over the small path of sandstone and inspected the fire damages. There had been fires before, but each year they were more frequent and destroyed more of the ecosystem. She remembered the landscape of peat and marshes, with wildflowers that added bright red and purple over brown like a painter’s brush on canvas. It was left dark and fuming now. Droplets of rain freckled her skin as the unpleasant smell of wet ash reached her nose. It wasn’t her first survey; the scent had become familiar.

A patch of colour caught her eye. Right in the middle of the devastated landscape, in the ruins of a bunker, Sundew was growing back. Alwena approached and reached down to examine the small red plant. She smiled at it. “Brave little one,” she said, “I don’t see any insects left to catch.”

After a few hours of searching for surviving plants by the mountain side, she noticed a pattern. June 11, 2043. Sundew survived on N flank but only near or inside bunkers, note: investigate passive cooling of concrete, she jotted down on her notepad with a pencil.

The wind picked up and ash flew into her eyes. It reminded her of tear-gas. She started to cough and cursed herself for not bringing a mask. She ran back to the surveyor’s van, trying not to trip among the spiky shrubs as the winds began to whip around her. The van was almost out of gas and not going anywhere, but it made for a perfect base for the surveyors. The sliding door opened and they shouted at her to get in.

When her eyes adjusted to the dim interior, she could see the faces staring at her.“You ok?” Wassim asked, handing her a wet towel. She looked for a clean corner and wiped her face and eyes with it. It came out grey.
“I’ll be alright. That came out of nowhere,” she replied, “Find anything interesting?”
“Some traces of a mudslide, heather and gorse is growing back, sphagnum moss isn’t. You know… the usual,” he said with a sigh, “How about you?”
“Somehow sundew survived, near the bunkers.”
“Who would have bet that out of all plants, sundew would outlive buckwheat.”
“I’m going to look into how that happened though, maybe what worked for the sundew can work for the wheat.”
“Maybe,” Wassim replied. She couldn’t tell if he was lost in thought or simply disinterested as he stayed silently looking out the window.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Uh…? Oh. I’m… I’m losing hope.”  
His forced smile barely hid his despair.  
“About the crops?”
“Yeah, I mean, the weather. One second it’s calm, the other there’s a storm. It’s probably what they felt like, in cities during the war.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re waiting for the airstrike, it could happen any time so there’s no point in hiding in a bunker. Same for the storms, the floods. It could happen anytime. Life has to go on, but deep down you know. You’re at the mercy of the climate, and the climate is at the mercy of crumbling ideologies.” 

Life has to go on, but deep down you know. You’re at the mercy of the climate, and the climate is at the mercy of crumbling ideologies. 

As a Zadist, Wassim spent years trying to build anarchist utopias while being under constant threat of expulsion. He knew what it felt like to keep hope when things could end in an instant. He had been labelled an extremist when he blocked airports and oil pipelines from being built. Now, years later, throwing a wrench in the gears of civilization was the new norm for young people. Quite often Alwena would get swept up by her group of friends into more trouble than she signed up for. She grew up in a world where she saw the damages of climate change in the news. They were raised in a world where the school’s cantina occasionally served moldy EU humanitarian aid rations.

Another surveyor in the van spoke, “Yeah I’m struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel here. I used to be an optimist like you, Alwena. I thought we could exit the system. Live on our own, demonstrate the alternative. But now with the floods and shitty soil, we can’t even do that anymore.”
Alwena took a deep breath. Outside of the van, the storm was raging. A small burned twig impacted the window and startled her.
“Guys, my optimism is fueled by the reality of the crisis. Yes, dozens of millions are going to die from famines, I know that. But when that’s done, the old world dies. I can guarantee you that we won’t be able to find a single person to defend industrial civilization when shelves and stomachs are empty. All we have to do is prepare to survive the next ten years.”

They waited for the storm to pass and rode bicycles down to the little town of Argol.

*

Alwena spent the next year down a rabbit hole to find out why the sundew survived in the bunkers. She obtained approval for the construction of multiple test greenhouses sunken ten feet deep in the limestone of the Ménez Hom. For Alwena, the way out was underground.


She walked down into the greenhouse and felt a strange satisfaction as she shut the door behind her. The carefully tended piece of microclimate was her pride. Many came to visit, perhaps to find hope. The fresh air almost made her shiver, or perhaps it was excitement. Many endangered flower species bloomed on the twenty meters of ground, while tomatoes grew on the side wall. The whole scene bathed in a serene and diffused sunlight.

The system was fairly simple and didn’t require any electricity. A few well-placed earth tubes would exchange warm air for cold using the massive thermal inertia of the mountain, smoothing out the sudden heatwaves. Alwena’s latest experiment was to tap into the cold air from the underground bunker complex. The structure of each greenhouse was twenty meters long but was almost invisible from the outside as it blended with the slope.

Alwena often called the greenhouse her “time-machine” for transporting crops to temperatures from before the Anthropocene. A time where scientists could still use radiocarbon dating to figure out the age of fossils. Alwena was still young, but the carbon isotopes in her bones appeared decayed, as if she were born nine hundred years ago.

She kneeled on a pad of wool and looked at the sensors. Temperature, moisture—she would record it all in a text file on her phone. Alwena angled the LCD screen towards the light to read the text better. “Phone” might be an overstatement—a mere hacked calculator capable of transmitting radio signals—but somehow it was so solid and the battery lasted for so long that she preferred it over anything else. 

Just as she was about to finish reading all the sensors, she heard footsteps approaching.
“Is someone inside? We’re looking for Alwena Bihan,” a voice said from the outside. Through the blur of translucent plastic, she could see the silhouette of a man and a woman.
Alwena stood and opened the hermetic door. A camera and a notepad: news reporters. A large number of them showed up during the food shortages, but they soon lost interest in Alwena’s project.
“Yes?”
“We’re looking to get a few words from you about conservation efforts in light of the recent developments.”
“Sure… But first, get in there! I’m losing fresh air,” Alwena closed the door behind them.
The man threaded carefully through the plants to get both her and the reporter in the frame.
“What recent developments?”
“The construction of a phased array radar system on top of the Ménez Hom?”
“What… Why?”
The camera man lowered his camera, and the woman laughed nervously.
“We thought you would know. Since you’ve been so invested in the site. The radar and surface-to-air missiles will be part of the new nuclear security reinforcement program.”

“So, do you want to comment about how the construction might affect the biodiversity of the Ménez Hom and your food security experiment? We’ve also seen a large mobilization of the green resistance on the internet after the announcement, what do you have to say about that?” She said, inching the microphone closer to Alwena’s face with every word.
“No, sorry. I need to think about it,” Alwena said, holding her head in her hand, “Please leave.”

Once the door closed, Alwena lowered herself to the ground. She had heard that countries throughout the world were boosting their anti-nuclear defense in preparation for famines. All the leading game-theorists said that it would end in threats of annihilation, or protection in exchange for food and oil. They said it could only result in the four biggest nuclear arsenal countries—France being one of them—dominating the flux of food and energy and escalating tensions. She didn’t think it would impact the Ménez Hom. 

The vibration of her phone took her out of the storm in her brain. Wassim.
“Have you seen the news?” he asked.
“I heard it from some reporter who showed up just a second ago. It’s crazy. Does this have to do with L’Île Longue?” Alwena asked, fearing the worst.
L’Île Longue was the biggest stockpile of nuclear warheads and submarines in Europe, and it was right in her beloved peninsula.
“Exactly. The army wants to put some anti-air stuff, and an observation tower on top of the Ménez Hom.”
“Wait, it’s a protected site! I remember when I was a kid the regional government didn’t even authorize the army to install a mobile base for NATO exercises. How can they build a permanent base? That makes no sense.”
“Times have changed, I don’t think they care anymore. Countries with empty stomachs and an obese nuclear arsenal is not a good combo.”
“Also, are we talking about a local garrison or… the Cog?” She asked.
“The Cog, it’s the real stuff.”
Alwena’s head was spinning. What started as an ecological conservation experiment now put her in the centre of a massive conflict. Continuation of government or, as they called it, “The Cog” was both the boogeyman and the saviour. A plan originally designed to keep critical functions of the government running through any crisis. A plan that turned into a second government, operating in some secret bunker with no oversight. The Cog was always silent, but it sure kept the engine of the old civilization humming. 

Continuation of government or, as they called it, “The Cog” was both the boogeyman and the saviour. 

“So what’s your plan?” Wassim asked her.
“My plan?”
“Yeah. We’re not going to let the army build the base, are we?”
“I… I don’t know. Maybe Paris will see that prioritizing military security over food security is a self-fulfilling prophecy. But what can Paris really do?”
“But right now your thing is just an experiment, how many greenhouses do you have? Three?”
“Yeah three.”
“So we need to help you scale up then. It needs to become the embodiment of biodiversity, food security. Like a symbol, you know?”
“We?”
“The whole Zadist crew is talking about it, we’re ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“To make a stand, on the Ménez Hom.”

*

Read part 2 

Post-collapse futurism : phase I

Before I get started, I would like to thank you all for following me along on this journey. I know that what I write is not necessarily comfortable or nice to hear, so I really appreciate the time you take to read this. 

At the time of writing this post, there are now 20,000 of you, thanks for the support!

Post-collapse Futurism : phase I

Around Christmas time last year, I tried formulating the problem by writing Your 2050 dystopia is weirdly optimistic, and invited artists to create art that better reflect the challenges of our time.

But before urging everyone to join this art movement, I had to try and define it better. It took 4 months of reading very depressing scientific papers about energy supply, solar radiation management side-effects, and the climate feedback loops before I could come up with any ideas worth painting.


One of the important steps in defining this project was to talk about what makes post-collapse different than post-apocalypse art. While the difference between the future I imagine and the one sold to us by silicon valley Billionaires is obvious, the difference between the collapse of civilization as we know it and a nuclear wasteland is harder to define.

I'm not going to attempt to create sharp razors for now, I think it's a fuzzy border, (Waterworld could fit in, for example). What I can think of however is a list of checks:
Does your collapse lead to more than 90% of the world's population to die? If yes, it's probably post-apocalypse, not post-collapse. Is the problem the same everywhere? Or is each region affected by different problems and reacting differently? etc.

This chart helped me a lot in defining what types of images I would or would not paint. I will not for example paint extreme sea level rises where the top of the buildings is underwater. I think it's been done really well before, and it's the middle-left of the futurism spectrum that is more interesting to me. Future pathways where it's not the apocalypse, but humanity is definitely not handling the involuntary de-industrialization well.

In a nutshell, my working definition was:

Post-collapse futurism is an art movement  focused on showing the policy and cultural failures of today manifested into the hardships of tomorrow.


It’s upon the completion of the third painting that the path forward cleared up a bit; With this type of artwork, I had the potential to start conversations that are usually uncomfortable or showcased as a partisan issue when explored by media outlets.
I think Cli-fi as a definition of sci-fi focused on climate change is a great start, but it looks like it's mostly confined to the writer spheres at the moment. I also think it's a bit limited in it's own brand, since the climate crisis is only one out of 10 different major challenges facing humanity in this century. If the climate crisis barely gets any coverage, It's even worse for the 10 others. For example, I could barely find just one good article about topsoil depletion outside of academia.

I realized that I also had the opportunity to plant the flag, to engage other artists in creating this kind of art, and lowering the barrier of entry between caring about climate change and having a finished piece.

Phase I is about planting that flag. I would say I’m just at the beginning of this phase but it’s already pretty promising. I'm lucky to have incredibly supportive friends and family who helped me trough depression and at the earliest stages of this project.

Here’s some of the things in the works for phase I:

  • Creating 10-20 post-collapse pieces (in progress).
  • Making a website to feature post-collapse artists and their art (I was trying to learn HTML and do it myself, but an artist reached out to help. Thanks a lot, Maxi! The website could come up online in 3-4 months).
  • Once the website is running, inviting other artists to send artworks that fit this theme of post-collapse, to build an art movement.
  • Writing a statement to go alongside the art, as well as a biography tailored for people not familiar with my work, or even concept art in general (a very supportive friend who is also an Editor helped me write it!).
  • Defining post-collapse futurism in a press release (I can start, but honestly it will be people, from artists to viewers to journalist, who will define what it is).


Artist statement

We often think of disasters as isolated, one time events: brief trials to be overcome, that humanity will bounce back from, stronger than before. Rarely do we imagine disasters or states of crisis to be our new norm. In my work, I explore what that existence looks like. One where there’s no disaster relief team coming to the rescue, because the slow global collapse of civilization is the disaster itself. Like time travelers, this series lets us take a peek into a very likely version of our future. If we don’t like what we see, we need to change our present, now.


Due to the inertia of the fossil fuel infrastructure the world relies on, our planet is guaranteed to increase temperature by another 3°C. Unless governments change their priorities or economic growth grinds to a halt, this future is already history.


If humanity’s “Plan A” is to solve our current challenges of global structural failures and systemic problems through infinite growth of technology and energy with no compromises, the intent of my work is to highlight our total lack of a “Plan B.”


My hope is that exposing the fragility of industrialized countries and painting their future in a state of post-collapse will increase our empathy for those suffering from disasters today and help people visualize what life looks like, not so very far now if we won’t strive for change together.

Time travel with me now, to the not so distant future, where we will visit our world as it’s currently on track to become.


Welcome to this historical retrospective of the late 21st century.


Short Biography

Efflam Mercier was born and raised along the coast of Brittany, France. After working on 3D animated films in Paris, Efflam moved to Los Angeles to design the fantastical, imaginary worlds of video games -- from dragons to shipwrecks, scavenger cultures to risen dynasties. Yet, however fun dreaming up the wild and thrilling landscapes of fictional, escapist worlds might be, Efflam’s heart has always been deeply concerned for this world. Our world. The world you can’t change with a brush or photoshop. The world that can’t be reimagined or rebooted if we don’t like what we see. The world we can only change if we all pull together. 


So he decided to paint a different kind of future -- not scifi, not fantasy -- but the very real future we all might face if things don’t change. This series is Efflam’s way of starting a conversation we all need to have now. There is much to fear about our future’s prospects. But there is much to take hope in, as well. That hope starts with each other. So let’s step into this version of our future together, take a look around and discuss if it’s the history we want to paint ourselves into.

Efflam usually paints digitally using open-source softwares, however he recently switched to traditional mediums like oil and acrylic, fearing that digital art will not be archived if industrial civilization collapses.



Thank you for reading this post. I hope the statement and biography helps explain why I'm doing this Painting series.
If you started following my art for the dragons and the knights doing knight stuff, I'm sorry to disappoint, but I will probably not paint any more in my free time for as long as the urgency of the climate crisis supersedes my desire to draw fun escapist things.
I found my calling with this project, and I'll pursue it no matter the personal cost.

The way I rationalized staying in the entertainment industry is that it will allow me to make no compromises and pull no punches when I do my personal paintings. On the other hand, if I went and did those paintings full-time, I would probably be biased over time to make art that is safer and more decorative in order to sell, and I would end up hating it. This is why you can still expect me to post fantasy and sci-fi art from the games and movies I work on, so stick around!

PS: Did you know The royal baby Archie got more press coverage in a week than the climate crisis did in the entire year of 2018? Let me know your thoughts below!

Your 2050 dystopia is weirdly optimistic

TLDR: I urge everyone to join the conversation on how we can create art that more accurately reflect the challenges of our time.

Picture this: A sprawling megalopolis covered in smog. The faint glow of neon signs and giant LED screens displaying the latest advert for the latest high-tech drug. Constant aerial traffic of flying cars and a spaceship is now boarding for the moons of Jupiter. Police wearing full body exo-skeleton armor patrol the crowded, lively streets. While underground networks of ultra-libertarian hackers fight for the rights of the digital commons, religious sects try to outlaw consciousness transfers.

Sounds familiar? It's basically every other sci-fi world imagined after Blade Runner.

I'm allowed to talk crap about this image because I painted it.

Here's the thing, Artists have a huge role in influencing the subconscious narrative of humanity
we got into Art because it was fun, for some of us it's also how we make a living now. 

Problem 1: It's rooted in the (mostly) outdated challenges and imaginary of the 80's

Good sci-fi is usually a projection of human challenges and moral/philosophical dilemmas projected into the future. But did you ever notice how most old sci-fi looks very dated?

This comes from the fact that human imagination is usually locked by our surroundings. For example with this electric scrubber: mass produced mechanical parts were the new hot thing in 1900, so it makes sense that a "cleaning machine" would extrapolate based on this. What most people in 1900 couldn't imagine is that sucking air is way more efficient, but they couldn't think of it since there were not much pneumatic technology around the life of the average citizen.

So here's my problem with almost every concept artist (including me!) loving Blade Runner so much ; It's reinforcing an 80's imaginary of the future. Meaning it's the future, but viewed from 1968-1980.

I will separate the imaginary from the challenges.
The imaginary is my personal analysis of science-fiction from the 70's and 80's, while challenges are the historical accounts of challenges that the authors of science-fiction from 70's and 80's were having at the time. Note: all challenges are sourced at the end of the article using the [source number] tag.

Imaginary: 

  • "We went to the moon, now it's time to colonize the solar system"
  • "We're going to colonise other planets once earth is overpopulated"
  • "Flying cars are just around the corner"
  • "The use of robots are going to raise ethics questions very soon"
  • "The USSR will live on forever. The cold war is here to stay."
  • "Japan's economy is going to surpass the USA"
  • "science and industry will keep making more and more powerful machines"
  • "Humanity is the center of the economic universe" 

Challenges: 

  • Pollution at the city level was a major concern in the 1980's as car traffic increased and photochemical air pollution was getting worse.
    At the time of the making of cyberpunk dystopias like Blade Runner, air pollution was actually at it's peak in many cities. For example, air quality in Los Angeles slowly got better with the introduction of the clean act in 1970 and 1990 [1] 
  • In the 60's, the population growth rates of India and many other countries were absolutely out of control [2] , leading to widespread fears of overpopulation from the scientific community. In 1968 Paul R. Ehrlich, (a Stanford University biologist) published “The Population Bomb," an apocalyptic vision of an overpopulated earth and mass starvation. 
    You can see that the peak of the growth rate matches with the birth of the fear of overpopulation. I highly recommend reading NYT's article titled "The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion". We can safely assume that most fiction written around that time was influenced by this challenge.

    While air pollution is still a concern in large cities, it is a mostly understood and reversible phenomenon, and the ethics of robotics is still very much a philosophical debate rather than a software engineer one.

    Now let me attempt to define the imaginary and Challenges of 2019 onwards. This is no small task and of course my list is going to be incomplete, inaccurate, etc. This is more meant as a conversation starter to move towards a more up-to-date vision of the future.

  • Imaginary: 
    • "Humanity is fucked"
    • "We'll be fine, we'll go to Mars haha"
    • "Technological singularity is coming soon"
    • "Nuclear Fusion is coming soon"
    • "The economy can keep growing forever"
    • "This is all going to crash soon"
    • "Developing countries are going to provide 2/3 of the GDP growth by 2040"
      (Note : taken from an actual sustainable development investment journal)
    • "Renewable energy, yay!"
    • "Renewable energy is a leftist conspiracy"
    • "The scientists are going to save us all with some breakthrough technology"
    • "Dude, where's my flying car?"

  • Challenges: 

I'm going to focus on Energy, because most other problems are a result of this.




Remember those memes about graphic design/art? Where you can't get it all at the same time?



We basically have the same challenge, most of the world population think we can still have it all.

Look at the correlation between energy consumption and CO2 emissions:

According to a 2015 paper titled "Causality among Energy Consumption, CO2  Emission, Economic Growth and Trade" by P. Srinivasan  Et. Al. "the study detects one-way causation that exists from energy use to CO2  emission and trade" [3]

A one-way causation is a pretty big deal in Science; it means one thing directly causes another.

To simplify: energy used = CO2 emitted.


Wait, what about renewables?


Well first it's important to understand the difference between electricity and energy. Electricity is an energy in the form of a flow of charged electrons. Oil is an energy in the form of a high density fluid fuel that can be ignited, releasing heat and pressure.

Usually when we talk about renewables, we are actually talking about Biofuels, Biogas (organic matter to liquid fuel), or energy capture devices that transform mechanical energy into electricty: Photons to electrons (Solar PV), air flow to mechanical to electrons (wind)


So if you take a pie chart of electricity generation, it looks promising! Hydroelectric is at 17% for example. [4]

But as you take a step back, and you include all types of energy that are not in the form of electrons, you end up with this much more depressing chart:

And even worse, look at how renewable energy barely keeps up with the growth rate of fossil fuels:

To summarize:  if we care about the planet, we are running out of energy, if we care about energy, we are running out of planet, if we want carbon free energy, we should have started 100 years ago.



Okay, but what does all of this has to do with our cool dystopian sci-fi stuff?

If Sci-fi is a way to explore pressing issues by projecting them into the future, I believe we are collectively under-utilizing the medium.

Based on what we know today, the dystopias and utopias that we draw should look much different.

Don't get me wrong, spaceships and sprawling polluted megacities are very cool to paint. But I think if we care about science fiction as an art form, we should try to understand the world a little bit better.


To me, science-fiction is a what-if? engine, and what makes it so great is that you try to portray everything normally past the first what-if?

Then you develop your story around it and make it look cool, congratulation you made a sci-fi film.


So here's why your 2050 dystopia is weirdly optimistic:
If your dystopia focuses on a repressive totalitarian government in a super technological mega city you are assuming that we are going to solve the energy/climate dual problem. That in itself is already science fiction! So now it's not "what if x" It's "what if x AND we solved the climate/energy problem". Same thing with interplanetary travel, you are assuming that there will be a sufficient civilization and investment to support such an industry.

Physics and engineering today tells us that your mega city in 2050 is either:

Powered by coal and divided over the issue of what to do with the climate refugees, they camp outside of the city's makeshift walls, constantly - under the watch of the super armed state police.
Powered by coal and slowly sinking into the sea. Most of the poor people live on platform boards or use briges to cross over crumbling high rises while the rich live on the hills.
Powered by renewables but only the main systems of the city are operational, hunger drove most of the population out of the city and back to the farmlands. Buildings are abandoned, cars are stripped of their engines to power agricultural machines on rudimentary biofuels. buildings are stripped of their copper to make motors for home-made wind electricity generators. The few that stay in the city are organized in Organopónicos, a system of urban agriculture that was developed during the fuel shortage following the fall of the Soviet Union in Cuba.
Powered by nuclear but it's actually one of the last operational city on earth. The population is growing concerned about the supply of Uranium and Thorium, some even say the government is hiding the fact that there is only 10 years of fuel left as the rest of the world placed an embargo on Uranium.

All of these examples are world-building based on ONE of the challenges of our time, there are many ethical, social and technological challenges to explore. That said it's clear that energy is the cornerstone of civilization, so maybe we should link it.
• What are the ethics of climate accountability? Who is going to pay for the damages? Are hordes of hungry displaced civilians going to siege the fossil fuel billionaires's doomsday retreats and hunt down their yatch around the world's acid oceans?
• What are the social implications of an energy descent? How would cooperation triumph over egoism? Would a low energy world be more or less democratic? How would a woman living in France see her sister across the Atlantic Ocean once all fossil fuels are banned for civilian use? Would Sailing make a comeback? In that case, wouldn't piracy also make a comeback?
• How would small communities share and access knowledge trough technology? Will they repair phones and turn them into simplistic low-energy web servers? Will human-powered velomobiles deliver news from town to town on broken roads?

I've been researching the energy/climate problem extensively for the past few months, and let me tell you; there is no miracle solution.

I'm very concerned that our imaginative output as artists almost never reflect this impending energy descent.
I'm wondering if it's because few people are aware of the problem, or is it rather that we don't know how to portray it?
I think I'm in the latter category, I want to make art that reflect this post-carbon vision of the future, but I wanted to make sure to do my research first.

How do YOU imagine 2050 to look like? 
Permaculture Utopia? Thermonuclear weapons aimed at the biggest Co2 emitting countries? Desperate measures like dropping sulfuric acid in the atmosphere [5] gone wrong?

Let me know in the comments below!



Sources:

[1] Arthur Davidson  Photochemical oxidant air pollution: A historical perspective (Studies in Environmental Science Volume 72, 1998, Pages 393-405)

[2] Up to 2015; OurWorldInData series based on UN and HYDE, after :UN population division (2015) - Medium Variant projections 2015 to 2100

[3] Causality among Energy Consumption, CO2 Emission, Economic Growth and Trade, 2015

[4] The Shift Project Data Portal

[5] A Cheap and Easy Plan to Stop Global Warming

How I discovered my love for cinematography

In 2013, last year of high-school, I was in a learning spree.

At the time, I wanted to become a 3D lighting artist. I was E-mailing industry professionals all the time, asking for advice, etc.
I didn't get replies all the time, but some artists really helped.

Benjamin Venancie is one them. He is a lead lighting artist at Dreamworks and I had just asked him something along the lines of:
"On an artistic level, how does one learn about lighting? Any books or methods to recommend?"

I'm going to try my best to paraphrase and translate the answer, in a way that can help others develop their taste for cinematography.


  1. Photography: 
    Being a good lighter, it's first of all about a global understand of images, not just the light but also the composition and everything that has to do with the camera. A good way to understand the basics is to practice and study photography. It enables you to "train" your eye and taste, meaning when it's time to make a call, you can make good choices for the lighting.

    Recommended readings: The negative, The camera, and The print by Ansel Adams. (Note: very long and technical, but it covers the fundamentals of photography). Photographing Shadow and Light by Joey L. (Behind the scenes and lighting positions diagrams)
    Additional links: Guess the lighting, this website describes the lighting positions diagrams of fashion and editorial photographs.
    LightFilmSchool channel on YouTube to know more about light placements for film.

  2. Films:
    Benjamin gave me a list of movies that impressed him from a cinematography standpoint.
    I will now list every one of these movies and what I learned, how my taste evolved from watching them.

    Barry Lyndon (1975) directed by Stanley Kubrick.

    What I learned:
    Practical vs Natural
    From a cinematography standpoint, the interesting part of this movie is that it was entirely shot using natural light.
    You see usually when there's an interior shot, and say people are gathered around a table, on the table is a lamp.
    That lamp is called a "practical", but most of the time is just there as a "motivator" (reason why) that justifies the existence of a huge fresnel lamp off camera, pointed at the actor's faces. The reason why this is done is that the practical lamps often don't generate enough light for the sensitivity of the camera.
    What that does, is that any interior shot before recent groundbreaking ISO sensors has been "faked" with various levels of success.
    Compare two master of their craft Stanley Kubrick (and Larry Smith), and Roger Deakins.


    In this shot from the movie Skyfall, you can see Deakins uses the restaurant's table lamp as a practical to justify the lighting on the actress.
    A common practice is that the lamp should not be blown out white, as it's considered ugly. From a natural lighting perspective, this shot is unrealistic though, as the light would have to be blow out to light the actress that much. My guess would be that there is a diffuser hidden under the table, the angle and softness is slightly off. The image looks pleasing, but you know you are looking at a movie.

    Instead in this shot from Eyes wide shut , the practical is the sole light source on the actor's face. It is blow out to white because of the intensity, you can hardly see the actor... But doesn't it feel much closer to the feeling of being inside of a busy restaurant with Christmas lights?

    Bravo for practical lighting! If you want more information on Kubrick's use of practical lighting, check out this excellent video.
    (I think both options are perfectly valid, but as artists, we should know when we are breaking the laws of physics, and what we are trying to achieve by doing it).
    I will now post more of my favorite shots from Barry Lyndon:


      


      


      


      

    One of the reason I think the choice to go all-natural for the lighting of a period film, is that it feels familiar due to the fact that the classical painters had no other tools than the the sun, the sky, windows, and candles to complete their masterworks.
    Bonus : It's kind of obvious, but ominous skies as a foreshadowing device is really effective.

    In the Mood for Love (2001) by director Wong Kar-wai


    What I learned: Poetry within Chaos
    Christopher Doyle has to work fast. The productions are low budget, most of them shot on real world locations and in tiny cramped apartments. The director has no script and decides what to shoot right on the spot. Whoever thrives in this environment has to acquire a taste, an eye that can detect beauty within urban concrete jungles and neon lights.

    I really did not expect to like this film.
    In the following shots I want you to pay close attention to 1) the unexpected color choices, 2) the use of frames, windows, mirrors and pure black to create negative spaces.




    Now let's contrast this poetry by making a 180 degree turn to look at another movie with Christopher Doyle as DOP

    Hero (2002), directed by Zhang Yimou.


      


      


      


      


      



      



      



      



      

    What I learned:
    Simplicity is key in composition; Central compositions and symmetrical designs make the visuals stronger.
    Go bold with color. If you stick with mostly earthy/desaturated tones, reintroducing a single color color at a time makes for very bold images.

    Skyfall (2012) directed by Sam Mendes. Roger Deakins as DOP.

    What I learned:
    Silhouettes silhouettes silhouettes.
    Leading lines.
    Selectively lighting a part of an actor's face.


      






    The Fall (2006) directed by Tarsem Singh. Colin Watkinson as DOP.

    What I learned:
    The Fairy Tale Aesthetic
    Transitions (as seen below from a butterfly to an island)



     




  

What's really interesting in this movie is the juxtaposition of seemingly disparate elements to highlight the creativity of the young girl who wants her stay in how the fairy tale unfolds. Beautiful movie, I highly recommend.

On Benjamin's movie list was also Blade Runner, but I think we don't need any more Blade Runner inspired concept art these days :D
That's why I refuse to show it, however cool it looks like!

Overall, watching these movies and paying attention to the craft of cinematography set me on a watching spree, studying many other films and absorbing on-set dvds about lighting. I think you need to have watched a lot of good films to know what your taste in films is.
The same goes for painting, drawing etc.

I think I also need to stop there because I'm not sure the Arstation Blog feature was meant to handle 100 images.
I will leave you with the short film The bloody olive, I think the exaggerated lighting effects make it a great case study.
As a final note, I would like to thank Benjamin, and all the people who take the time to reply to emails to help people out.

What's your favorite film or short from a cinematography standpoint? Share in the comments below!

The list of cool stuff for learning [updated]


I get asked pretty much every day about what resources to use, which videos to learn from, etc, so I decided to compile a list of the stuff that really taught me a lot :

BOOKS:

The art and science of digital composting 2nd edition  (Ron Brinkman)

A huge, complex but complete volume on anything digital composting ; history of VFX, computer graphics math components, the nature of digital images, signal, all the way to production breakdowns of some of the most groundbreaking VFX shots of the last two decades.
I think I read it about 4 times, one of my friend borrowed it but I forgot who that was, so I'm probably going to order it again, just to have it in my library :D

Framed ink  ( Marcos Mateu Mestre)

Practical examples of framing, lighting and storytelling  (comic book oriented).
Cheap and good .

Framed perspective ( Marcos Mateu Mestre)

Great book on perspective drawing, I also recommend Framed perspective Vol. 2

Alla prima II  (Richard Schmidt)

A must have for every wannabe painter, you can easily apply that stuff to digital painting.

The Color Correction Handbook (Alexis Van Hurkman)

This book goes really in depth about color grading for cinematic images, but it drops some little gems of knowledge about human perception of colors, temperature and contrast along the way.

The VES Handbook (visual effects society)

If you thought the other books I mentioned are in depth, here comes the winner!
This books covers the entire  visual effects (VFX) production system down to the last polygon, it's organised by chapter, each one being a discipline / role in a VFX studio,
prepare for an avalanche of information!

COURSES:

Schoolism:


They just recently started a new subscription model, for a hundred bucks  you have access to all the courses (1$ to switch, hehe), it used to be like 500$ a course when I started out , so you guys are so spoiled ! Here are a  few that I recommend :

Lighting fundamentals (Sam Nielson)

This is the courses that transformed me into a lighting geeeeek, I just loved his scientific approach to a seemingly abstract topic, this is a really complete course.

Designing with color and light (Nathan Fowkes)

Listen to this guy's smooth voice as he explains lot of cool stuff about light and composition, great for beginners.

Painting with light and color
 (Dice Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo)

I was quite surprised by this one, I was expecting to be a bit bored since I learned a lot about lighting already, but they have some interesting way of explaining things, and also the way they use digital life painting to explain is great.

EdX : (website)

EdX is a online learning platform hosting various MOOC (massive online open classroom).
I think platforms like these are the future of scalable, high quality education.
You can get free courses from MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley.

FXPhD: (website)

Same kind of subscription  deal  as  schoolism, y'all lucky!
The website is focused on technical VFX and 3D animation training.

I recommend you start out with :
History of visual effects , I promise you'll have 10.000 more questions by the end of lecture, this is the perfect place to answer them :)
I recommend any courses by Matt Leonard or Mike Seymour, (especially on math stuff), if you want to go deep into software training, they got you covered!
Also they have theses great breakdown and blog post about news and technology advancement.

YOUTUBE / FREE VIDEOS:

Free doesent mean bad ! so here's a list of good ones:

Cinematography Database is a YouTube channel dedicated to explaining cinematography and cinematic lighting techniques trough 3D rendering and how it translates to a real world movie set. ( Thanks to Marek Tamowicz for the suggestion )


Illustration vs concept art (design cinema EP 53)

Visual library (design cinema EP 52)

CTRL PAINT this Matt Korh dude put so much work into making this library of free videos, high five!
It can cover you from total noob to beginner in digital painting.

FESTIVALS / WORKSHOPS

THU is a crazy awesome festival that happens in Portugal in September,  but it's also 50 hours of kickass content for about a hundred bucks. The conferences are really packed into content so it's definitely a good one if you're short on time! btw fuck you Andre <3

IW  is a ton of cool workshops happening  in London also in September, like THU,  it's getting better every year, like a bottle of wine.

IFCC Was very interesting too. It's happening in Zagreb, Croatia.


I will keep adding things as I probably forgot a lot of cool ones, but this is the list so far, I hope you are hungry for knowledge, because dinner is ready !