Romain Demongeot’s new CG animated film explores the role of religion in our world’s future, and whether people can exist without icons and gods.
Romain Demongeot, executive creative director at global production studio UNIT9, has shared his latest film, The Last Prophecy, a 3-minute short that explores the role of religion in our world’s future, including the possibility of artificial intelligence acting as a “savior” of sorts. The film, a sort-of trailer for the director’s planned feature film, examines a world confronting ecological, health, economic, political and identity crises, where religions admit failure and send what’s left of humanity on a journey through space with a neutral Artificial Intelligence leader. It questions whether people can exist without icons and gods, and what a leader without prejudice can do to humanity.
Demongeot is known for his dystopian sci-fi films that focus on deeper questions about humanity, including Love 2062, a tale about pollution, and Krokodil Requiem, which raised awareness about the scourge of hard drugs. Describing his new film’s futuristic world, Demongeot says, “To find new solutions, we must look at the world’s troubled history with a fresh pair of eyes, free from prejudice.”
The Last Prophecy is set in a faraway future, where religious authorities have finally decided to hand over control to a neutral, history-free artificial intelligence. This admission of failure from the three main monotheistic religions allows what’s left of humanity to escape the dying Earth for an interplanetary journey. But on discovering that humans can love without boundaries and overcome dogmatic beliefs, the AI decides to put religions and their principles in perspective, before destroying itself. One question remains. Can humans live without icons and gods?
Noted for his obsession with stylistic and graphical excellence, the director brought together an international team to produce the film, led by Elvire Cheret (creative lead at UNIT9) for music and style, Sonia Presne (Love 2062, Krokodil Requiem) for art direction, and Sebastien Novac for the script. Artists, technicians, and graphic designers from across the globe were involved in the production. “The idea was to bring together creative people from all around the world with very different beliefs and cultures: Korea, Brazil, Russia, England, Bulgaria, and others,” Demongeot explains. “The Last Prophecy thus boasts a stylistic rigor born from the collaboration of artists that only ever met virtually, working together to bring to life a common vision. Supplementing the visual production is a 3D sound, specially designed for people listening through headphones as they watch the film online.”
“After doing Love 2062 in 2012, my co-writer and I decided to make a sequel,” Demongeot says. “We wanted to find a way to make all ethnicities be more tolerant, and we thought religion was the more direct way to do that.” After working for a year writing a feature, the pair met with producers, and quickly realized their film would be too expensive to produce. “We wrote a shorter version, but it was still too expensive,” he notes. “So, we waited to find a way to do it, and finally decided to reach out to designers and 3D artists all over the world, both to see if the idea was good, and if I could reduce the production costs by working with artists directly.”
After he shortened the film to 15 minutes in 2013, it sat until early 2019, when Demongeot picked the project up again, writing the trailer and bringing together his group of artists. Work on the film’s 3D and matte paintings, as well as live-action shoots of actors on greenscreen, began in February 2019. He describes, “Integration, animation, color grading… all told, the production took two years. I involved something like 20 artists for the visuals in a number of countries and time zones.”
“We found ZBrush specialists for the snake in Brazil, a Houdini specialist for the rockets in Korea, C4D specialists in Bulgaria, 3ds Max people for the robot in Russia, cloth simulation people in Spain, as well as MPS creatives for the ship,” he adds. “I did the film step by step, shot by shot, and two or three specialists worked on every one of the 54 shots. I had to match the team's time zones, meaning staying up late or waking up early to be able to talk to them. My role has mainly been a Maestro job: coordination.”
Demongeot took design inspiration from Neil Blomkamp (District 9, Chappie, Elyseum, and Adam, a real-time series on Unity): the dying earth, orange colors, metallic-looking ghettos styled like those in Africa. “Passenger, with Chris Pratt, was also a good inspiration for the ship and the holograms,” he says. “Of course, because mine is a church, a synagogue and a mosque, it is an exclusive design, but the overall shape and color was inspired by the film, as well as some shots like the couples at the window.”
For the robot, he looked at Instagram trendsetters, following the work of many character design artists. “For the colors in the ship, I was highly influenced by Ruppert Sander's Ghost in the Shell, a lot of complementary colors, like blue vs. red,” he states. “For Eden, I wanted a jungle with very weird colors, and Annihilation, by Alex Garland, was the perfect reference: lots of green mixed with purple, in an overwhelming light.”
The director, remarking that luckily, they finished their live-action work before the pandemic, says, “All that was left was digital work. As artists were stuck at home, many freelancers were happy to find a project to work on, because most of the agencies and production houses had stopped hiring outside people. I paid everybody quite well, according to their country's rates, so they took it seriously. Of course, some guys I tried did a bad job, and I lost a bit of money, as I was paying 50% upfront, but that's the deal / game, when you do this type of thing!”
Explaining the broader meaning of his work, Demongeot reveals, “My goal was to take a ‘social,’ or ‘political’ matter, and turn it into a sci-fi story, so that people that watch Avengers or Star Wars would be confronted with a real issue in a visual language they enjoy. I wanted to merge those two visions and see if the result would work. I don't know yet if it did. Christopher Nolan manages to get his audience to see films in an ‘entertainment-philosophical-social’ perspective. I have no idea if I succeeded in that with my film. So, I don't know if the movie will please design addicts, or if newspaper and religious associations will be more receptive than visual lovers. My personal goal was to tick all the boxes at once and make my aunt or grandma or little brother enjoy the film for either idealist / utopian or entertainment reasons.”
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.