Bolt from the Dark
The concept of this short film revolves around surrealistic art and fantasy. Surrealism is a movement that began in the 1920s and which has been expressed in art, literature and even politics. WWI had a profound effect on Europe, and many people believed that the conflict was a result of excessive rational thought, and the materialistic values of the middle and upper classes. Artists of this belief were known as Dadaists, and they embraced chaos and the irrational. The Surrealism movement focused on these ideas of chaos and unconscious desires in an effort to dig deep into the unconscious mind, to find inspiration for political and artistic creativity.
The main character in the video is represented by a female body made out of dark wood. In place of a human head is a cube, with one out of the six sides connecting to the body. She is also holding two crystal eyes. The character does not represent a human form. She reacts to sound as conveyed by the movements of the cube and the way it lights up with the beat. Instead of her facial features – which he does not have – displaying emotions, her gesture translates her feelings. She holds her crystal eyes in her hands, and thus controls and manipulates her surroundings.
In contrast, an organic character is introduced. A “Wyvern”. The legendary bipedal, winged, dragon, usually depicted with a tail ending in the shape of a diamond or arrow, is a popular creature in European literature, video games, and modern fantasy. The Wyvern in heraldry and folklore, is rarely fire-breathing, unlike the four-legged dragon. It frequently features in modern fantasy fiction, though its first literary appearances may have been in medieval bestiaries.
In the video, the Wyvern’s poisonous breath is represented by fire, which can be equally as destructive. It also appeals to the sense of touch. The concept of the video originated from a desire to take the viewer on a journey of transformation, beginning in darkness and reaching for the light. However, it also serves as a metaphor for the recent events that have touched us all. Before the pandemic, we were living life without a care for the little things that seem so precious today. It has shown us how fragile our community is, and the subsequent chain reaction that will occur if one single aspect of our society falls. Unfortunately, given our innate habit to downplay more traumatic events, as life gets back to normal, we will most likely forget just how much the pandemic affected us personally, and we will eventually ignore the things which we learned. As human beings, we are motivated to see the bright side and do our best to forget the bad.
This story also demonstrates how people around us play an important role in changing who we are and vice versa. The healthiest option for anyone, is to be surrounded by people with rational thinking, who have the ability to consider the relevant variables of a situation and to access, organize, and analyze relevant information (e.g., facts, opinions, judgments, and data). This is not a skill one can just master. Unfortunately, any rational person can fall into the darkness, through mistakes and harmful influence. It is by definition what it means to be human. For example, at the peak of the Covid-19’s first wave, death and the ever-present threat of an unseen enemy pushed many people to find an escape. While some moved towards a more positive way of dealing with the issue, many fell prey to irrational thinking, tumbling deeper down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, thus wiping out the rational thought process of what is to be believed.
The story begins with the character, emerging from the darkness and reaching a platform, from which she can observe her surroundings, seemingly filled with dragon eggs. The dragon egg symbolises a beginning. An empty mind searches, as it needs information, direction and knowledge so it may begin its journey. As the egg starts hatching, it now sits on the platform where the character was. A dark dragon tracks her and she is surrounded by others like her. This represents the pressure of our society and the need to be accepted. However, she continuously resists, attempting to escape the grip of darkness while the dragon follows her. She sees glimpses of light, and tries to look at the world from the point of view of the stars. Still the darkness inside her pulls her back. As peer pressure intensifies, she feels increasingly uncomfortable, but she is not alone burdened with this feeling. Many in the community feel the same. As the video progresses, she finds her strength to get out of the darkness. She can feel it in her heart, which is filled with energy to spare. Her heart is pumping, and the darkness slowly lifts. Still, she finds herself surrounded by three dragons. Afraid, in pain and exposed, she shares the pure energy in her heart, the light spreading to everything that surrounds her. Their heartbeats synchronise, and the character transforms into the brightest being there. This pivotal point of the story conveys a moment of change for the better. As bright ideas and joyful thoughts destroy the darkness, she is lifted up, finally free from the burdens of negativity. At the end however, the choice is hers as doubt can send her spiralling back down to the darkness once again.
The idea of this video sparked mid-April 2020. Back then, the concept was vague, with little detail. However, moving forward, the idea evolved into a more focused concept, filled with meaning. Using surrealism to express the idea was quite challenging. The concept at its core was always the same – a surrealistic character in a fantasy environment. In the very early stages, I initially had the character performing a contemporary dance, with disjointed movements. The dance would slowly evolve into ballet, with soft movements while the environment changed to brighter colours. While I abandoned this concept, the idea of journey from a place of torment towards the light is still the main focus of the final video.
The inspiration of the character’s pose, presentation and animation came from the amazing artist Donald Glover and his music video “Childish Gambino This Is America”, directed by Hiro Murai, a Japanese-born American filmmaker based in Los Angeles. Glover’s dance moves are a bit uncomfortable to watch, as it is mostly a distraction from the background violence in the overall concept. Dances tend to be associated with frivolity (lack of seriousness) and vapidity, despite the fact that dancing has always been a communicative art of great cultural significance, spreading joy through movement. On the contrary, Glover’s movements represent a lack of seriousness, liveliness and animation.
In order to develop the character, I designed several 3d models from head to toes, and took multiple references for the character’s dynamic pose. The end result which represents a strong female character, is satisfying. As a non-organic rigger, I hired a freelancer to rig the character with the specifications I required for the dragon. Initially, the first end result of the character’s overall look did not match what I had in mind, and had a significantly high rendering time of 6 hours per frame. Therefore, I went back to the drawing board and simplified the design with the help of another artist, thus separating the render into multiple stages.
Initially, the project was divided into 50 shots which were then filtered into 30 shots maximum. I began rendering the shots in house in early November 2020, as most of the budget went into purchasing assets and hiring freelancers. The majority of the render finished in early March 2021, after four and a half months of rendering. Patience is a virtue, and I found the overall look matched my expectations. After a private review of the short film, I collated feedback and polished the shots further.
Finally, regarding the name of the character Astrape, it was taken from Greek mythology. Astrape is a girl’s name meaning “lightning”. The twin sisters Astrape and Bronte were goddesses representing lightning and thunder. They would carry Zeus’s thunderbolts. Thus derived the name “Bolt from the Dark”.
The audio was composed by Greta Zabulyte and was first released on 19th of October 2014 via Record Union to different platforms. Recently, it has been scheduled for reupload as a new version, due to release soon.
About the artist: Greta Zabulyte is a filmmaker and a photographer. After graduating in Music Technology at University, she went on to work on a variety of different projects including film, short documentaries for artists, school promos, dance videos, stage performances and helping communities.