Size 3 of Love, Death and Robots It covers a lot of land: exotic landscapes, scary realistic sea monsters, and a cute zombie apocalypse. But, even then, one episode in particular managed to stand out: “The Machine’s Extreme Pulse.” It’s a beautiful, lonely animated movie about an astronaut named Martha (Mackenzie Davis) who gets trapped on Io, the deserted moon of Jupiter, while likely communicating with the moon as well—or maybe she’s just hallucinating. Depends on A short story of the same name written by Michael Swanwick It is characterized by an artistic style clearly inspired by the late French artist Jean “Mobius” Giroud.
After the new season premiere, I had the opportunity to talk with Emily Dean, who directed the episode, about how the images came to be, the challenges of adapting the short story, and why she found herself walking around the beach in motorbike clothes. also, Spoiler warning: We discuss the end of the episode and what it means at the end.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
What was your first contact with this short story? Did you know about it already?
I was invited by Blur Studio to read a bunch of short stories they were thinking of for the second volume. I read a lot of them, and smashed on the “Pulse Machine.” I fell in love with the story from the start.
What stands out about it? Was there something you thought would make it work especially well for a conditioning like this?
I was really drawn to the psychological element of the story and the idea of this astronaut being stranded on this moon trying to survive. I really liked the female point of view, but I also loved the conversation this character was having with this anonymous entity throughout the story. And I thought that was very existential—not just because of the physical nature of trying to survive on a desolate moon, but, you know, in conversation with something greater than self. I found that very interesting.
It seems that some of these things can be difficult to translate into animation. In the short story, there is a lot of internal dialogue. How did you deal with this psychological element via a visual medium like this?
So Michael Swanwick, the author of the short story, admitted that this was a very difficult story to adapt into a movie. Much credit goes to Philip Glass, the screenwriter who wrote the screenplay for this short story. Because, in the short story, there’s kind of a bit more interior to the character, and it’s very hard to portray that in the third person way of filmmaking because you’re outside of the character watching the character go through these struggles. . So that was a huge challenge. We actually had to cut out a lot of the dialogue and gossip etc, and let out a lot of the inner feelings that Martha was feeling. And a lot of that came from the performance of Mackenzie Davis and really put a lot into this voice work — and also in the animation of the character struggling in this environment and at the height of actual dangers and making the world feel so dangerous.
I think you saw Blog post by Michael Praising this adaptation. How did you feel? He seemed really excited about what you guys did.
Honestly, it was a great honor and a nice surprise.
Going back to what you were talking about with voiceovers, how did you decide how you wanted your Io entity to sound? In my head, the sound was less human and more ambiguous.
In animation, in the storyboard stage, when we put the animation together, we do what’s called scratch singing where we test different readings. And at first, we had a monotonous robotic voice the whole time. But we found it was very dwarfed and we felt like we weren’t getting through the poetry and movement and rhythm of the whole story. So we ended up with [Holly Jade] She was absolutely wonderful.
How did you settle on the visual style? I feel it could have turned out to be a darker, darker visual pattern unlike Moebius, which is a very bright poppy.
My personal style is very Mobius influenced, and I love colours. But, from my first presentation, I came and said, “I’d like to send a love letter to Möbius.” And I felt, not because he’s exactly an unknown sci-fi hero, but I did, with Love, Death and Robots – Because of his relationship with heavy metal magazine – It was a good place to try out his style on screen, which I haven’t really seen in a long time. From the first presentation, I presented a lot of artwork that brought back Möbius. And I said, “I believe in this story because of its psychological elements, because of its connection with the outside world,” which is a kind of theme for Moebius and his work, especially 40 days in the desert. It gave way well to this psychedelic visual style.
How was it kind of like coming up with some of those hallucinatory scenes?
There was a lot of brainstorming. In my first pass, I pretty much stuck with Michael Swanwick’s story, and we found it to be quite time-consuming. And second, we wanted to push some of the elements a bit more to make the gist of the story, more so than a literal translation. So, in the subsequent passages, I would go into the editing area, close the door, and just paint; Turn on the music and just draw whatever feeling I get from the story, from the text, and then put that into the storyboards. There were a lot of crazy ideas, like gigantic astronauts wandering. Eventually these thoughts were pared back, and you’ll see few of them in the hallucinatory sequences.
But for me, I really wanted to capture that feeling underwater. Because, for me, growing up in Australia, I’ve been going swimming, and I’ve always been amazed at how much life is underwater and how different I was and how you have a surface layer of the world and then an underground layer. And this whole story, to me, was about how things aren’t all as you see them on the surface. It could be a desolate moon, but below, there is life thriving.
Remember any ideas that were a little weird enough to make it into the final product?
There were some technological limitations. At one point, I imagined Martha was completely melting, and her body was just melting in this numbing way. And she was continuing to walk as little bits of balls were falling, floating from her body. And it proved very difficult to do so. But we also felt that, creatively, we might have been straying a bit from the story.
I’ve worked with Polygon on this. Were there any special challenges in translating the Moebius style into 3D?
So it’s great in the pictures of Polygon in Japan. I give them an incredible amount of praise for their hard work. But they come from an animation background, and so, introducing this completely different style, and it’s very French, we actually had to work with some French artists to do some concept art at first, just to show the difference in feel. From a creative point of view, there was kind of this training of the studio team in this new look, which really meant going back to the basics of art, which was really fun because I was teaching the alternative. So that was kind of fun for me.
And then, technologically speaking, that was also very difficult. I think Polygon had to build a whole bunch of new tools into their software and reconfigure their pipeline in several ways to accommodate this project. To go back in a bit, I first pitched this project in the summer of 2019 with the idea that this piece would be part of a second volume. But because of the pandemic, and also because of the technological difficulty of this piece, it was pushed into the third volume. And so, there was a lot of delay in things like where every line should be on Martha’s face, the line weight of everything, because it’s very easy when you have a lot of lines all over the background and on the character to lose focus or become the visual elements Too busy. Then merge the character with the environment.
Color was also a big conversation for us. I am very proud of the colorful work done on this piece. Solid sulfur is yellow, and when dissolved, this type glows an iridescent blue. Thus, we used that as a template for the entire color text. And the whole story journey through color is the color palette from midday to night, which I wanted to do because I wanted to show how, when you see it from a different perspective, you’ll see it completely differently. What looks like a desolate sulfur moon is actually teeming with life.
Aside from settling those technical and technical details, were there any other ways I took advantage of that extra time?
I was supposed to go to Japan to work with the team at Polygon, but obviously no travel. And animators needed a reference for how the astronaut moved through the desert in space. So I went and put on a motorbike helmet and motorbike gear and got a weight and belts and went out to Santa Monica Beach and pictured myself pulling what would be the standard of a dead body on the beach and falling down and doing something myself. Basic stunt work, which was a lot of fun. But it was intended to show the weight of the body, how the body gets tired of dragging a heavy weight on a sandy surface. We also had conversations about how the gravity on Io is different than on Earth. But we wanted to go with something believable. So we chose to go with something a little closer to Earth’s gravity.
In both versions of the story, the ending is very ambiguous and is left to the reader or viewer. Do you have an opinion on what happened to Martha?
I chose to go to the end a little further than Michael did in his short story. In the short story, you jump and fly, and that’s all we know. However, I wanted the satisfaction of seeing what was under that lava and what was below the surface – or a hint of it, at least. And so, we follow Martha as she descends into the depths. And in my opinion, she’s merging with IU. The question I wasn’t really focused on was whether it would merge with Io. But, more than that, if she merges with IU, is she still Martha? This is what I wanted to leave the audience with.
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