I have been writing for Rogue Cinema since the webzine first began, and I had been writing alongside the Rogue Reviewers for nearly a year before that. However, in all of that rich history, I don't think I have ever been sent an animated film for review. There is a very simple reason behind this, animated feature films require a considerable amount of time and money to make. Especially if you involve a digital production house to make the graphics for you! However, if you do all of the work yourself you can skate by on a more limited budget, however, the amount of work that you will put in will prove to be utterly insane. As anyone who has toyed around with After Effects, not even counting 3D Studio Max, for only a few minutes will tell you, computer animation is time consuming. One can easily spend several hours working on a few seconds worth of footage. When you stretch this concept out to a fifty or sixty minute film, then you are delving into an undertaking that few would have the courage to brave. Director Duncan Farnden-Marks just so happens to be one of those brave souls who would attempt to try such an outrageous plan, and his film turns out to be a gamble that pays off.
Desert Earth is an animated movie comprised of multiple webisodes. Made in a motion-comic format, this fifty minute feature showcases a future version of earth that has steadily moved closer to the sun. At this point, stepping out into direct sunlight causes immediate death. With this tremendous problem comes a need for order, and in this future society a government entity has developed a dystopian world of technology. Cybernetics have made a massive step forward, and robots are nearly as common as human beings. Our story focuses on a character named Soldier (voiced by Duncan Farnden-Marks, and featuring his appearance grafted onto the character) who is out for answers. Along the way he runs into a scientist who has a severe god-complex, and a powerful man who is grieving over the loss of his daughter. While these three come into contact, there is also an assassin who belongs to a organization called The Syndicate that is looking to take the Soldier down.
The animation itself is something that is going to be discussed in any mention of this short feature. A bizarre mix of aesthetics, the animation is a combination of 3D effects with 2D models. Although it isn't entirely like cell shading, the appearance is similar. Similar to many motion comics, the animation here is not fluid in the same way that one might see in a conventional animated film. Legs do not move when characters walk, hands do not clasp around objects when they are grabbed, and so forth. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but merely a stylistic choice. Unlike, say, The Watchmen animated comic, Marks' feature was fully realized by his own hands. Built from scratch in the digital medium, Desert Earth was built using a variation of techniques. With many 3D models rendered, many backgrounds obviously painted from scratch, and days worth of texturing, his work is certainly worthy of admiration. Although some viewers will no doubt see it and feel that it is lacking in many regards, but in my opinion it is a great example of an artist using what tools are at his disposal in order to craft a story that never could have been told in any other form.
The story behind Desert Earth is a peculiar one, there's no doubt about that. However, it has the "idea factor" working in its favor. I believe that most people would be open to the absolutely abundant display of unleashed imagination that the project unleashes. I can think of no better way to explain what it is that makes Desert Earth as effective as it is. Similar to a political drama amidst a future world that is rife with massive deviations from our modern society, this series/movie has a few different layers that should work for multiple viewers. The glass deserts and the strange clone army of children are part of the weird reality that this movie creates. Although the political intrigue at times seems a bit over-inflated and "soap opera"-esque in its tone, each segment brings with it a variety of new twists and turns that fill this world with abstract ideas that work for one reason or another.
Far from perfect, Desert Earth is just odd enough to pique the interest of a considerable number of potential viewers. The audio is mixed a little low, with characters often sounding as if they are speaking through oxygen masks, and some of the artwork seems too primitive to forgive. Still, there is an energy alive in this collection, and it brings with it the spirit of imagination. Overall, I enjoyed this experimental project, and I think many others would as well. You can get a feel for the movie yourself by visiting the official website located at: http://www.darkprojectworks.com/index.html