Een lege Wereld is the Dutch translation of and a project derived from a game concept called An empty World but evolved towards a post-game incarnation. We call it a film.
An empty World
An empty World was an idea for a game in which you play an ugly duckling who follows a river upstream and finds he became a swan when arrived at the source. The landscape below is filled with buildings and other human-made constructions that are decayed and overgrown with plants. But there are no people. The game does not explain why.
An empty World was designed for an easily accessible, uplifting game experience centered around seeing impressive vistas. After prototyping with a few volunteers, I submitted a grant proposal to a local government fund. When the proposal was rejected, I organized a pre-production period on our own expense. In this period I collaborated with Jessica Curry for the music, Marie Lazar as modeller, Laura Raines Smith for animations and above all Vicki Wong of Meomi, who concepted the visuals.
In my enthusiasm about the results of this phase, we published a teaser video.
In the mean time, government subsidies for games in Belgium had been moved from film to its own dedicated fund that subsequently rejected a request for funding the further development of such a non-conventional title. We had some conversations with Indie Fund but then put the project on hold because we had other productions to attend to.
Een lege Wereld
When I was liberated from the game industry, a new version of this idea came to me. Een lege Wereld would be an animation film that consists of one long camera travel over a landscape. Instead of a swan avatar, one would simply hear a voice-over narrating the story of how humanity solved all of its problems and created a perfect world of peace and harmony with nature. When the story gets to the part of how humanity ultimately disappeared, we have arrived at the source of the river and [SPOILER ALERT!] the voice breaks up and stops.
It is for the writing of this text that I have submitted another, modest, grant request. I should hear whether we will receive the grant early next month. I’ll keep you posted.
I see Een lege Wereld primarily as a film (Koyaanisqatsi is a huge inspiration) because of the ease of distribution of digital video and the potential of finding new audiences (I’d love to show it at film festivals!). But I also have a few ideas for very light interactivity. Nothing gamelike. More like playing with the dynamics of film (the player might control the progression of the film by swiping or scrolling for instance). I think this would make a perfect tablet app.
I’m also considering to create the whole thing in 2D, so we can use Meomi’s drawings directly instead of translating their style to 3D.
This project, as is often the case here, is based on earlier ideas. I’ve long wanted to create something around common concepts of absolute beauty. Not the deep, contemplative beauty that I usually deal with (and that we hope to address in the Kijkdoos project) but the every-day “easy” beauty of epic vista’s, impressive clouds, sunsets, waterfalls, rainbows, dolphins, unicorns, and so on. Things that are often rejected by intellectuals as cheesy or kitschy but that nevertheless make our hearts flutter whenever we encounter them.
There’s many examples in the reference collection for this project: anemptyworld.tumblr.com
I want to explore this tendency in humans to be enthralled by the grandiose beauty of nature. Precisely because it can work as an antidote against the bitterness and cynicism that governs our societies today. Personally I get my kicks from Bach, Bernini and Botticelli. Many people don’t or can’t for whatever reason. But nobody is immune to the sight of glittering sparkles on the surface of a lake, rays of sun shining through the clouds, butterflies fluttering over a field of flowers, and so on. I suspect it may be more important that we experienced the joy of beauty than what exactly triggers that experience. And by “more important” I do mean politically, socially, ethically, and so on.
And for myself, next to excitement about inventing a Utopian planet, I just want to indulge in these easy pleasures for a while. Not that I expect that the triggers for these pleasures are simple to create. But there’s a lot of reference material out there! Humans love beauty.