These viral YouTube sci-fi films are 90% produced by a scientist, self-taught in VFX

Scientist turned filmmaker’s upcoming sci-fi film ‘Orbital’ shows ‘anybody can make a movie now.’
Paul Ratner
Orbital ring
Orbital ring megastructure from the upcoming film "Orbital"

Credit: Hashem Al-Ghaili 

The creator of the recently-viral Sky Cruise video, Hashem Al-Ghaili is back, and this time with a feature science fiction film called 'Orbital.' The new film is about the construction of a massive ring around Earth and is due to be released in 2023.

Like most of the Berlin-based biotechnologist's short videos on science breakthroughs that have racked up billions of views online, the majority of the new film is being made by Hashem Al-Ghaili himself. The development underscores how digital creators of the 21st century can uniquely tap into the breadth of tools available demonstrating that 'anybody can make a movie now.'

You can read Interesting Engineering's exclusive and wide-ranging interview with Hashem Al-Ghaili here.

Al-Ghaili does more than 90% of the work on the film himself and involves his friends in the script review process. After on-location filming, which takes just several days, he spends the rest of the time by himself working on the impressive Hollywood-style visual effects (VFX) which he learned how to develop in mostly free, online courses.

The reviews of the VFX in the first trailers have been extremely positive -- viewed by over 1.2 million fans on YouTube, with commentators comparing them to top-notch studio sci-fi extravaganzas.

He also had a tremendous response to his post of a 360 model of an orbital ring he created and shared on his Facebook page (with 33 million followers). The outpouring of support in the form of over 100 000 likes inspired him to make "Orbital" -- a feature film on this topic.

What are orbital ring megastructures?

Orbital rings are at this point hypothetical structures that would encircle a planet. Actually constructing one would involve staggering material deployment, sky-high costs, and impossibly long construction durations.

The upside? These massive rings could rotate, counteracting the force of gravity. This would allow for great advantages in launching space vehicles and transporting materials from our planet to space, bolstering our efforts towards living in space.

In Hashem Al-Ghaili's film, a conflict arises between the population of Earth and the inhabitants of the enormous rings.

Then novel film-making approach taps into the power of the internet to save on costs

Al-Ghaili explained to IE that the editing VFX creation process certainly takes a while (over a year) — and the film is not yet fully finished. Still, by doing all the VFX online and utilizing connections that can be made over the internet, the film-maker saves a lot of time and money.

For example, the creation of the documentary-style film meant that some scenes had to be shot in different locations in the world. Al-Ghaili hired freelancers in different countries to film them and send it to him digitally.

Realism of the scientific ideas important

It is also very important to Al-Ghaili to get the science right. He considers himself a proponent of "hard" science fiction, where realism of the scientific ideas and approaches is important to achieve. "Hard science fiction is going to try to stick to science as much as possible," as he shared.