Coming off his successful interview of Bruce Sterling, Gunhead has scored another interview. This time, an artist known as Max Capacity gets to play Q & A. Some of Max’s work is shown below as Gunhead felt they were relevant to the conversation.

If you want to see all of Max’s work, head on over to his Flickr page. Just make certain you have plenty of time to check his 4000+ pieces of work.

GH - First off, since we’re a pretty technical bunch at CPR, how exactly do you make this art? I’m seeing circuit-bent game cartridges, distorted VHS tapes, and pixel art. How did you end up settling on these media?

MC - I use lots of different techniques. For me, the most interesting part is the crossover from analog to digital and vice versa. Lots of my pixels start out on a VHS tape, which I capture digitally and then convert using mostly homebrew and open source software for converting things to old computer formats, like C64 and ZX Spectrum. Then I usually do some post processing frame by frame and recompile as a video or animated GIF. Then I might send that back out into an analog TV and record it to a VHS and then recapture that VHS tape and make a new AVI or GIF. the process is endless, and I get all sorts of interesting by-products along the way. the serial degradation is extremely enjoyable to me

the reason I choose these materials is mostly a budget issue, in the case of the VHS and video game stuff. Everyone is throwing away their old VCRs, tapes, Nintendos, and I can’t stand to see those things thrown out. Lately I’ve been lucky enough to have nice people sending me their old video tapes rather than toss them.

For pixels, I suppose it’s another lo-fi medium but in a digital environment. One fascination of mine is the (my) inability to rip the pixel data from the cartridges. I need to learn how to dump the rom chips from cartridges. But in the meantime, I use lots of emulators to source my pixels.

GH - Now this would all be fascinating enough, but you tend to choose some pretty interesting base material, like the 1995 Johnny Mnemonic film, and the subject of your “Degrading Sex” set. How do you choose which films to process, and what do you look for in a movie when it’s being considered for your work?

(caption: 0341 from Degrading Sex)

MC - I honestly don’t choose much at all. I process any tape I can get my hands on. I recently did Sleepless in Seattle. I might not end up taking anything out of a particular movie, but I almost always at least capture it. Sometimes I might skip Star Wars or something everyone’s seen a million times. My favorite TV and movies, I almost hoard and try to go through them when I’m really motivated. I’m always worried I’ll miss something great.

GH - You seem to have a dualism of styles, where one is the more popular, colorful retro style involving a lot of pixel art; and the other is the darker, more futuristic look mostly concerning tape manipulation. Is this a conscious difference, or just one that’s kind of developed organically?

MP - I think it was something of a divergence. I started out doing more pixel work, but that lead to circuit bending NES cartridges and consoles. Then I wanted to capture what I had done in a cleaner more efficient way than taking pictures of the TV. Someone suggested an analog capture card. So that lead to the VHS work. I guess it’s the aesthetic. Both in pixels and tapes, I’m drawn to the degradation and entropy. A glitched NES cartridge, or an old damaged tape. I end up mixing the styles and processes to some extent, but there is still that divide.

I guess maybe it’s the duality in me, or the duality of humans. I’m anxiously awaiting the downward spiral of human civilization, but at the same time I’m secretly optimistic about the future.

GH – Aren’t we all! Well, all of us here. So being a prolific artist and having contact with stylish, influential young people with great drugs, would you say that Cyberpunk Culture is exerting greater influence these days? If so, could you speculate on the reason for this?

MP - Oh definitely. When I was younger, the entire cyberpunk genre was like a vision of the near-future that I was really hoping would come to pass. And I feel like it’s all happening now. I mean, I’m pretty much doing the same thing I did when i was 15. Drinking and smoking in my room on the computer. But now everyone else is too. I’m a big William Gibson fan, and it seems to me like reality gets closer to his version of the world all the time. I think maybe it’s the stale economies of the developed world, and the growing economies of the developing world, and Moore’s law regarding technological advancement. I still don’t know how the internet became cool though.

GH – Lastly, we keep hearing about how popular culture has lost all originality and is instead settling for bad remakes and sequels. What, if anything, do you see as saving us from this terrible fate? Do you think we need to go around spiking producer’s Pellegrino with LSD, or will something show up on it’s own?

MP - That’s not a bad idea! I think that we’re probably doomed for now. But I figure there will be some kind of reactionary movement eventually. Like the way realism was a reaction to romanticism. It’s probably going to get way worse until it’s so bad it forces a change. One small positive sign I’ve noticed is that Netflix streaming has introduced a huge number of people to old science fiction and horror movies they might not have been aware of. I’m hoping that will increase the general appetite for genre movies (and books). Maybe people will stop going to see X-Men sequels because they’re not worth the price of going to a theater, and they could stay home and watch Mutant Hunt or Short Circuit. Then the money might talk the executives into taking some risks.

GH – I’ll definitely be looking forward to that day. Max, it’s been great talking with you, keep doing what you do and stick around on the forums if you have the time.

This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Review Exclusive, Cyberpunk Art, Interviews by Mr. Roboto.

September 6, 2006

Cyberpunk Artist Interview: Chad Michael Ward

Chad Michael Ward Artwork


Introduction: Chad Michael Ward ( is well known to some for his beautiful and eerie cyberpunk art, although leans on the macabre in 2D digital form. I met Chad Michael Ward around 2001 through some mutual friends, as well as my own perusing of local small underground art galleries. I had his work all over my walls, to inspire what echoed my life at that time. He is now putting his artful cyberpunk and gothic talents toward movie making while he still creates his 2D work on the computer. I still love his work and was honored to catch a bit of his time, and the people around him, such as Pearry Reginald Teo from Gene Generation, as well as others for this interview.


Chad Michael Ward


From his site:


“His work has been featured in dozens of publications around the world including NME, SKIN TWO, APHRODESIA, SPECTRUM, GOTHIC BEAUTY, TATTOO SAVAGE, CARPE NOCTEM, CLUB INTERNATIONAL, GALLERY, PIT, DARK REALMS and THE THIRD ALTERNATIVE and is frequently commissioned by musicians such as Marilyn Manson, The Cruxshadows, Fear Factory, Collide, The Blank Theory, Soilwork, Pissing Razors, Naglfar, and Darkane.”


~Netsui~ (


Chad Michael Ward Artwork


Netsui for Cyberpunk Review (CPR): Hey there how’s Hollywood treating you?

Chad Michael Ward: Hollywood is great. My career has exploded since my move to L.A.


CPR: Where did all this art making begin? And what were your first mediums?

Chad Michael Ward: I started this crazy art thing back in 1996 whenI got my first bootlegged copy of Photoshop.


CPR: When did you go to digital?

Chad Michael Ward: I’ve been digital since Day One. I’ve only now recently started exploring other mediums like oils.


Chad Michael Ward Artwork


CPR: Where and when did you start showing your work?

Chad Michael Ward: My first website went online in 1997. That was the first time my work was exposed to the general public.


CPR: How about the Cyber influence? When did this start, and from what?

Chad Michael Ward: I’ve been a Giger fan all my life. I think the cyber/biomechanical thing came into play pretty early on in my work. It was all Giger’s fault!


CPR: What are your favorite cyber movies? Comics?

Chad Michael Ward: I’m more of a horror movie fan than anything.


Chad Michael Ward Artwork


CPR: Did you learn from tutorials on how to make robotic parts or was this just your own discovery?

Chad Michael Ward: I’m completely self taught.


CPR: How did you find your models?

Chad Michael Ward: Originally I used my girlfriend, Danielle, and local friends. Once my work started getting noticed, I’ve had models contacting me by the hundreds to work with me.


CPR: What are the tools you most currently use with your 2D still art?

Chad Michael Ward: I use a Nikon D100, a PC with 1GB RAM, and a 6×9 Intuos Wacom tablet.


Chad Michael Ward Artwork


CPR: Can you talk about Black Rust? This book of yours seems to be most laden with cyber art.

Chad Michael Ward: BLACK RUST was an exploration into a near-future society. It was really a culmination of all my interests: sex, horror, biomechanics, etc.


NETSUI NOTE: A Quote from Warren Ellis introduction to Black Rust, with permission from Warren:


“Totally relevant to its place and time, it exudes a decadent SF that mainstream culture is three steps behind. Think about it for a second. Chad Michael Ward with his computer, his digital Gutenberg press, a hugely disruptive technology, using it to reflect back at the world what’s in his eyes and ears, using secret photographs to create a darkly infinite library of images that don’t exist. Something that isn’t real, but which he somehow lets you touch. Like black rust.”


CPR: Are you going for more of a look? Or are there messages you wish to convey through your art?

Chad Michael Ward: I think all my images have a message to them, though I’ll always leave it up to the viewer to decide what the message is or if one even exists.


Chad Michael Ward Artwork


CPR: Can you convey some of the meaning behind the common symbols used in your cyber work such as the dragons, angel wings, and suggested crucifixions, for the audience who may not know?

Chad Michael Ward: I’ve always been a fan of iconic imagery, so it tends to show up a lot in my work.


CPR: Are you interested in exploring the spiritual in regards to androids in your art?

Chad Michael Ward: I’m not a particularly spiritual person. I’m more about the flesh, which I think translates to my work.


CPR: Arms seem to be part of your cyborg looks, any comment? Or (if you send art that has more other cyborg parts just adapt this to talk about How you choose which cyber parts you make)?

Chad Michael Ward: I’ve had a long fascination with arms and necks. I don’t know why.


Chad Michael Ward Artwork


CPR: I remember when you got your arms tattooed of cyborg machinery, what inspired this?

Chad Michael Ward: Again, I’m a big fan of the biomechanical, so when the time came to get ink, it made sense to go with a biomechanical theme. My left arm represents life and death and my right represents Heaven and Hell. All 4 thigns are things that appear frequently in my work.


CPR: Although common in cyberpunk art, the subject matter is women, do you have any thoughts about this?

Chad Michael Ward: Everyone finds a woman attractive, regardless of our gender. It only makes sense then that the art I create oft times appears in the guise of a beautiful woman.


CPR: Your color choices are interesting we like the reds and the grays and darker colors. What drives you to experiment with those various color pallets?

Chad Michael Ward: I’m all about desaturated and earthy tones.


Chad Michael Ward Artwork


CPR: Have you explored 3D-sculpture related cyber art?

Chad Michael Ward: I’m not much into that kind of thing.


CPR: This brings me to ask about motion graphics and cyber art, have you explored this yet? And Do you work with After Effects? Any thing else?

Chad Michael Ward: While I’ve moved into directing, I’ve never had much interest in the design of motion graphics. For me, as an artist, I’ll always be 2D.


Chad Michael Ward Artwork


CPR: You did the poster art for Gene Generation promo poster?

Chad Michael Ward: Yeah, I did about 5 different GG posters, including the one that’s being used on all the marketing materials at the moment.


Netsui brief interlude with Pearry Reginald Teo:


CPR: Want to say anything about Chad’s 2D artwork?

Pearry Reginald Teo: “His 2D cyber art has actually been a strong influence to my upcoming work, ‘Exsilium’. Politically it has a nice drunken clarity to it, don’t you think?”


CPR: Tell me about your involvement with the Movie Gene Generation?

Chad Michael Ward: “I was the concept artist and production designer on THE GENE GENERATION’s reshoot. Basically, I came on after most of the movie had been shot and created a bunch of stuff for some additional scenes. It also led to me partnering with the film’s director, Pearry Teo, to form our own production company Teo/Ward Productions ( Right now we’re working on our next film, MORTEM, which I’m directing and he’s producing.”


Chad Michael Ward Artwork


CPR: I see you have begun video direction! Are you going full force into this arena? And will this effect your 2D computer art?

Chad Michael Ward: Directing has long been an interest of mine and I finally got the chance to do some directing on a few recent music videos, including one for Billy Idol and Slash. I love directing, and hope to do more. I don’t think it really affects my 2D work other than taking up more of my time.


CPR: And your plans for the future?

Chad Michael Ward: More directing! I’ve got plans to direct a feature length horror film from a script I wrote earlier this year.



We LOVE Transmetropolitan here at Cyberpunk Review. Do you have any comments on your recent work with Warren Ellis?

Chad Michael Ward: Warren’s work never ceases to amaze me!


CPR: What color pony would you want if they were only in RGB?

Chad Michael Ward: Black, of course!


Netsui™ 2006

This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Art, Interviews by Netsui.

Fragile Machine Screen Capture


Introduction: A few weeks ago I had the immense pleasure of spending over an hour talking with Ben Steele, the director of the indie cyberpunk anime, Fragile Machine. Ben Steele, Darren Dugan, singer “X” and the rest of Aoineko created a very creative, wonderfully rich anime that deserves significantly more attention than its gotten. I refer to it as a cyberpunk operetta due to the intense interplay between the music with the visuals.

In any event, after doing the best I could at writing up our conversation, I sent this to Ben, who along with a brief read through by Darren, provided the responses you see below. This is my first of (I hope) many interviews, so I hope you enjoy.



Fragile Machine Screen Capture

Ben Steele (Director, Writer, Music) on the left, Darren Dugan (Writer, Editor) on the right


Cyberpunk Review (CR): So how long did Fragile Machine take to make?

Ben Steele: Far too long! When I started doing animations back in 2000-2001, one minute would take me 5 months! By 2002, a 2 minute clip would take me about 4 months. Fragile Machine was planned to be three 3 minute music videos, based off a web project of mine called “Sentosa Mikano.” I thought it would take about a year. It just kept growing and growing, to the point where the finished film was 34 mins. We sped up as we went along though. In doing the film, it was a far more organic development process as opposed to a straight forward, scripted process. And I guess that while it took 3 years in total, I’d say the actual serious production time took about 19 months.


CR: How did you get into directing?

Ben Steele: I started off in visual design, and sort of went form there. Back in 2000, Aoineko was doing works for museum exhibitions, including a project called “subterranean” which was shown at the Biennal de Valencia in Spain and the National Museum of Art in Rome. Then “superelectronic” was shown in Tokyo as it had won honors in the Canon CDCC competition. As a result of that win I was featured in a national print campaign for CDCC, which was cool. Superelectronic was also exhibited at UCLA and NYU. Sentosa Mikano was produced for Ars Electronica, although apparently the picked the videogame “Rez” for inclusion instead of us (those jerks. :-P). The next project was “Living Spaces” shown at the Mugler Gallery in Paris and most recently, a very high profile event – IDN DesignEdge in Singapore. From there, we got into music videos, and eventually to animated films. Although I studied at film school, I annoyed the teachers by doing everything differently. I think this! helps in that it has allowed me to take a unique approach to film making that perhaps I wouldn’t have done had I accepted the rules of that formal training.

Aoineko came together when X and my friend/guitarist Garth started working with during superelectronic. Years later, Darren Dugan joined on, and Garth’s brothers Cliff (guitar) and John (drums, flute) both helped on Fragile Machine.


Aoineko Subterranean Show Screen Capture

A page from the Aoineko Subterranean Museum exhibition in Spain


CR: What are your (or Aoineko’s) major anime influences?

Ben Steele: From anime, it would be Oshii (Ghost in the Shell, Innocence, etc.) and Watanabe (Cowboy Beebop), but also I was influenced by some of the classic Japanese film makers like Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu. I don’t really differentiate anime film makers from live action directors. If the film is good, it can influence the direction you take. One movie that influenced me a lot was Giants and Toys by Yasuzo Masumura (1958). This film is bright and colorful with lots of satire that really captures the nuclear family idea. Another anime influence would be the composer Yoko Kanno, who is consistently inspiring to me musically.


CR: In terms of themes and visuals, there seemed to be a number of linkages to Oshii’s work. Not only the soul (ghost) within an android body (shell), but there seemed to be some linkages between your use of the elephant (which seems to represent Mary Nea) and Oshii’s use of a dog.

Ben Steele: That’s an interesting parallel because I’m actually using the elephant in my next movie as well! This blue elephant was a favored stuffed animal I had when I was a baby in my crib. I think they stand for different things, but yeah, as a convention there are definitely similarities. Though I must say, I thought the dog was a bit overused in Innocence. I found its subtle expression in the first GitS film to be more satisfying.


CR: I’m interested in this whole phenomena we see with Indie animation. Talk about the difference in making an Indie animation versus a large scale animation? We haven’t seen too many productions like Voices of a Distant Star make it big. Are we seeing this trend more favorably now? What were the key limitations you had to work around and how have you marketed Fragile Machine?

Ben Steele: Obviously the whole distribution aspects are a big challenge. But we’ve done really well targeting advertising towards niche markets. For instance, if we spent $1000 dollars on advertising Fragile Machine, we’ll always get back at least $1500 in DVD sales. But truly, most of our advertising is word-of-mouth type stuff. People don’t stumble upon Fragile Machine unless they’re already looking for something different. For those that have found it, we’ve had had a great response.

And while you don’t have the flexibility and capability as some of the larger production houses, the indie approach gives you incredible freedom in how you create your movie. I would like to see the market for these type of films increase, but mostly I’m just grateful that it’s large enough already to give me the opportunity to focus on my work completely and live the life I want. Interestingly enough, Darren Aronofsky was only paid $50,000 to direct Requiem for a Dream, and since I was also functionally the executive producer of Fragile Machine, I made a comparable amount even though the number of people who’ve seen it is about 1/100th of that who’ve seen the other film. Though I would hope he made an additional amount on royalties as well.


CR: Fragile Machine doesn’t at all “look” like a US animation; if I didn’t know where the director was located, I’d guess it was Japanese. How would you characterize an anime versus most US animated movies?

Ben Steele: The visuals in Fragile Machine overall come a mixture of the Eastern artistic tradition of Minimalism combined with the Western Baroque and Rococo traditions of oil paintings. But yeah, the definitions of anime aren’t really agreed upon by all. Some see this as a style in animation whereas others look at it purely as animation coming from Japan.


Fragile Machine Screen Capture


CR: The visuals in Fragile Machine are absolutely breathtaking. I’d love to know the process that generates these. Do you storyboard or do paintings prior to rendering these?

Ben Steele: Nope, no storyboarding. Visuals are designed in various graphics packages including Lightwave and Photoshop. I’m also developing a proprietary tool called the Aoineko GL which is hard to describe, but should prove to be most useful. I have an idea of what I want, but then I just take it and play with it. We often will create layers over layers to provide a complex overall effect. The end result should hopefully look like a piece of art that we can turn and look at from different angles.


CR: Your cinematography approach seems to involve lots of sweeping pans across 3D environments from various angles - it almost comes across as a bullet-time type speed. Was this in part a response to your limitations in making smooth animation?

Ben Steele: Certainly. In terms of the quality of the animation in Fragile Machine, one problem we had was I was the only one doing animation. While I love doing some styles of animation, I hate doing character animation. I find it to be very tedious work. I might spent 20 hours rendering a small environment scene and then do an entire character animation in three hours! In our next film, we’re having a lot more people involved in this, so thankfully I won’t ever have to do any character animation again (Woohoo!). With each new project, we’re adding more people and talent, and this will show. Also, you’ll see a major step up in the quality of our animation. Over the next two films, by 2010 we expect our animation quality to be on par with Final Fantasy type Advent Children style animation. You’ll see some significant improvement in our next film, and then a bit more in the second one. We’re working on the character animation skin textures! , as well as cloth and hair dynamics, for instance.


CR: Where do the Visuals of the Cityscapes Come From? These seem very similar to other well-regarded animes.

Ben Steele: Regarding the cityscapes in Fragile Machine, I spent a year living in Taiwan, and Darren visited Japan frequently. We both really love Asia and miss it. The cityscapes are my attempt to get back to that and pay my respect to it.


Fragile Machine Singer X Taiwan Screen Capture

Fragile Machine singer “X” from a performance in Taiwan


CR: In looking at the integration of music with the narrative in Fragile Machine, clearly, a large part of the narrative is told through music. Describe this process if you could. Is this a case where you had the story first and melded the songs to accommodate, or was something else going on?

Ben Steele: Music is a big part of what I do. We’re all musicians and certainly see this as a big part of what Aoineko does. We’ve moved from music videos to animated films, but we still see the music as an integral part of the overall experience. And yeah, we certainly had an interplay between the songs and the film itself. Fragile Machine had 9 songs if memory serves. I think as we produced the animation we wrote about 30 songs and then picked the ones best suited to the story, adding emphasis to them in certain ways to compliment the narrative arc.


CR: The story comes across as more of a post-modern narrative similar to some of Chiaki Konaka’s stuff. Both the visuals and story seem to bounce back in forth almost in waves. What prompted you to use this method of story telling?


Ben Steele: We produce Fragile Machine very different from most animation houses. While we have a basic idea of what we’re shooting for, for us, the process of film making is very organic. We are constantly working and improvising with all of the scenes, and in the process of putting them together, we realize we either need more character development, more symbolic linkages or a different setting exploring some other aspect of the film. In this way, the film “grows” to become what it is. This is also reflected in the editing approach.

Fragile Machine really is a character study. It’s not story driven. This differentiates it from most anime which is mostly story driven with standard character archetypes. I really like watching classic character studies like some of Louis Malle’s works or Welles’ Citizen Kane. In putting together Fragile Machine, we really wanted to get into who she was, and what her motivations were.


Fragile Machine Screen Capture


CR: So do you actually consider this a post-modern method of film production?

Ben Steele: Yeah, we actually realized this midway through the process of creating Fragile Machine. In some cases this can make the process go far longer than a traditional approach. For instance, in the forest scene, Darren Dugan, who edited Fragile Machine, ended up having to edit it three times. He did it the first time, and while it looked really good, we weren’t totally happy with one of the songs in that sequence. Cliff Hockersmith and I came up with a song we liked better for that sequence, but once we put it together, it became clear that the film needed to be edited again to fit with it. After Darren did this, we ended up re-ordering the songs, which again caused Darren to edit it a third time! Which, was, ironically enough, the first song we chose after all. He was not too happy about that. While this is far from optimal, the approach does tend to make everything really fit together. You’ll notice the action in the animation mimics the rhythm in the son! gs, and often the words link up with the visuals. This would almost be impossible to plan. And truly, we find this method of free-form film making to be very liberating.

We liken Aoineko’s process of film making to be very similar to creating electronic music. Usually with rock music, for instance, there’s a structure to the song that most everyone adheres to, be it a three-chord progression, or some other format. With electronic music, you start off with a riff or a rhythm that you work into a sequence. Then you chop it up and play with it. Over time, the song “organically grows” in the process of recording and mixing. While Fragile Machine at a meta-level really follows Dante’s Divine Comedy (the android factory = hell; The forest = purgatory; the ending setting (heaven) = paradise), the story itself is very chopped up and augmented.

One post-modern character study I really liked was François Girard’s Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993). This movie deals with a real person, but tells the story in a series of vignettes, in a very post-modern way. Fragile Machine uses similar ideas in that the character study almost comes across as a series of disconnected vignettes, that, in total, gives you a sense of who Leda Nea is. We often looked at Leda Nea as being in a Diorama, in which we can see everything she does, but she often was completely in the dark. We can lift off the roof and look down on her and see what is really going on, even though she can’t see any of it.


CR: There seems to be an increasing number of post-human storylines in both movies and anime. Would you agree with this, and if so, what’s your thought on this trend, and how do you see it morphing over time?

Ben Steele: Yeah, absolutely. This is definitely an increasing trend. In real life we’re getting closer to actually experiencing this. 100 years ago, people were already thinking about this, with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, for instance, or Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) even when there was no chance of actually doing any of this. Now, it’s right around the corner. Examples are all around us, such as the very realistic android that came out of Japan recently. In the near-future, an android will be taking your ticket when you get on your plane ride. It will be fascinating to see how young artists in 50 years are dealing creatively with the technologies they’ve grown up with, ones which we can’t even conceive of today. And I would be very pleased if in my life robotics advances to the point where greater human interaction with them occurs. Asimos flipping burgers for example. ;-)


Fragile Machine Screen Capture


CR: Regarding the use of symbols, Fragile Machine seems very heavily symbolically laden to the point that the narrative cannot really be understood without paying attention to them. Some seem rather crystal clear, such as the challenging of God’s place (and ultimate folly of such action), fallen angel linkages, with the torture in hell type visuals, the crucifixion in nature (water) which seems to purify the soul, and of course the angels at the end. Others seem to require more thought such as perhaps the linkage of the swimming fish in the nature scene with the swimming face/data angel in the heaven portion. Others seemed like homages to other films (like the Planet of the Apes scene with the fallen face statue on the rocks being similar to the Statue of Liberty near the end). I’m really interested in the process you used for coming up with these visuals, and how this correlates to the narrative you were working to relate.

Ben Steele: It’s a natural and really fun experience. It keeps the filmmaking creative day to day. In doing the character study, symbols are a good way to show how everything fits together. The symbols really are a product of the spontaneous, organic film making process. For instance, the Tree of Life in the Forest scene represents heaven, which we see Leda Nea going towards after she leaves her body in the last hell scene. The swimming angel fish in the water mimics seeing Leda Nea as an angel in the later scene where she’s just a face with datastreams behind her, swimming in heaven. I often wish we could do a show where they have nine screens of Fragile Machine running on a constant loop because we have so many scenes and symbols that echo scenes and symbols later in the film, chances are, people would see linkages between the scenes simultaneously.


CR: The idea of embedding a soul within an android body has been the grist of a decent number of stories and movies, each one taking a slightly different tact. What attracted you to the idea of embedding a soul into an android?

Ben Steele: Part of this deals with the idea of relating a spiritual story in a completely different setting. I find it boring to think that we’re all there is, that there isn’t anything that happens after we die. Perhaps post-post modernism, whatever it will eventually be called, will be the “nihilism is boring era.” jk

But doing a straight-up realistic anime that deals with religious aspects could easily run the danger of coming across as preachy. In placing the spiritual aspects in the context of an android with a soul, we’re able to bypass people’s biases. Especially as our interest is “spiritual” rather than “religious”. Theology to me seems inherently limited, yet in a certain context it can be elucidating.


Fragile Machine Screen Capture


CR: Fragile Machine deals with some very interesting religious ideas. One musing I took away from this that was unique is if an android had a soul, what would happen to it when the android dies? If you could, describe the religious message you wanted to get across.

Ben Steele: Really, we’re far more interested in getting people to think about the same questions we have versus providing them with a message. In bringing up religious or spiritual themes, there’s always a danger of coming across as too preachy or dogmatic. We worked hard to avoid that, and were worried at times whether we would be seen as crossing some invisible line. For instance, when we inserted the comment, that Leda Nea was the “first person to made by man instead of by God” we had a discussion of whether this would offend some, but in the end, we decided it was critical for the story.

In terms of science fiction, we take a spiritual-humanist approach, which is actually very rare. Very few science fiction stories focus on anything other than living beings. Most seem to assume that this is all there is. Although the Matrix Trilogy certainly raises these questions, it does so in a metaphorical way, whereas we explicitly include it in the story. To me, I would see life as being kind of pointless if I thought there was nothing after we die. For instance, when I heard John Lennon’s Imagine as a child, I ended up thinking the entire message was kind of lame. Whatever it is, when we die, lets hope SOMETHING happens!


CR: What prompted you to decide to make redemption the central theme of Fragile Machine? Was this an upfront decision?

Ben Steele: Yeah. That’s definitely what Fragile Machine is about. This was something we really wanted to explore. In many ways this is a personal story about X, the singer for the songs in Fragile Machine. When she grew up, her mother was severely mentally handicapped and couldn’t really speak to her. X lost her mother and never really got closure. Interestingly, she had a very personal experience after her mother died in which she actually got to speak to her mother through a surrogate, and was able to come to closure. As many times as she’s seen it, X still cries when she sees the ending of Fragile Machine. In a sense, this was an opportunity for redemption for her mother, to set things right. Fragile Machine takes this same concept and reverses the characters, thus altering the context.


CR: Regarding future projects, what’s Aoineko working on now? Anything we might consider

Ben Steele: The next film is going to be more of a story driven approach, which will be a challenge from an organic filmmaking standpoint. Currently, its code name is “Charity.” I guess if I was pitching it to some Hollywood producer I’d say “It’s a futuristic slacker road trip movie!” but that is a pretty superficial description that wouldn’t do the emotional intensity of it justice. We’re not sure if Charity will be the final movie name as this would be similar to naming Fragile Machine “Redemption” instead. It’s not as dark a story as Fragile Machine is, but there are a lot of cyberpunk themes involved. Interestingly though, the future setting will be more background in that the characters will just be taking it all as a given instead of the “wow” factor some SciFi movies show. I mean, no one in the real world walks around thinking “wow, cars are so cool!” so how come in the sci fi movies the characters alw! ays seem to think the spaceships are so damn interesting?

Mixing forward narrative with organic growth or postmodern narrative requires a new type of structure but hopefully we can find a balance that allows us a good degree of flexibility in modifying and growing it as the production proceeds. We have an idea for the film after Charity, one that’s a bit darker and will deal with even more cyberpunk themes but I really don’t want to give anything away right now. You’ll just have to wait on that!


CR: Ben, I’ve truly enjoyed talking with you. Best of luck to you, Darren and the rest of Aoineko.

Ben Steele: Thanks again SFAM. It was a lot of fun.

This post has been filed under Interviews by SFAM.

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