Media & Tech / News & Opinion
by Lack of Lepers
It's been almost 3 months since a fan video featuring SCP-3000 was released, and it has amassed half a million views.
Forlorn Foundry is a duo of science fiction and horror Youtubers based out of New York whose work heavily revolves around SCP Wiki material. Their products (not for children) are mainly videos, ranging from a little over a minute to over an hour, released as a web-series anthology with the project title "The Foundation". Premiering on 7/31/2018, the anthology initially featured live-action renditions of SCP works, featuring such classics as SCP-087 "The Stairwell", SCP-294 "The Coffee Machine", SCP-1074 "The Painting", among others. Their video about SCP-504 "The Critical Tomatoes" was shouted-out on the SCP Wiki official Twitter. A retro-dreamwave-decorated subseries "Now Vending" revolves around objects dispensed from SCP-261 "Pan-Dimensional Vending".
Forlorn Foundry describes themselves as:
... a 2-man team, supported by a rotating roster of skilled freelancers. Actors are cast from a variety of professional networks, while crew, VFX artists, editors, and musicians are all volunteers. Locations, props, gear, transportation, and food are all additional factors and expenses that go into producing our films.
Their work, like SCPs themselves, seem to have experienced the most notoriety early on, with the video for SCP-294 resting at a cool 7 million views, and SCP-1074 at 9 million. A steady stream of SCP-based live-action shorts follow these, until about a year after launch, when the artists experience burnout and didn't post to the channel for about a year. This silence was broken with the announcement of a Containment Breach film. At this point in its development, the channel branches out into confic-adjacent material, such as a (well-done) Sirenhead fan trailer, and an original found-footage film titled "The Witching Hour" (which is marvelously creepy).
The channel's silence in its two major hiatuses prompted some fans to question whether or not the channel was dead, as their goal had been monthly videos; a worry that one of the channel's representatives shares for the future of the project in an explanatory video. This video explained that the project was undergoing a dramatic molting away from live-action and towards wholly CGI products, this at least partially achieved via the freeware Blender. Two months after that, their first wholly CGI product was released. This was the video for SCP-3000 "Anantashesha", here re-titled "The Unending Serpent".
CGI had been a component of the channel prior to this -- for example, the Doorman in the SCP-303 video or the Eatmees of a disturbing "Now Vending" short -- but these always played a supportive role. The SCP-3000 video is a milestone in that it flips this orientation and then crushes it; there are no live-action shots in "The Unending Serpent"; it's all CGI. The skills acquired and progression obtained here are quiet, but impressive: the team learned Blender from scratch only a year prior to releasing this video, something that anyone viewing or criticizing the SCP-3000 video should have the context of.
The video took 9-10 months to produce, constituting reportedly hundreds of hours, with many participants working under-paid, or strictly as a passion project. Many models were built from scratch, including their rigs and textures, some of which were done by mouse, and the animations seen are hand-operated; no motion capture (I'd like to take a second to appreciate the details on the flippers of the divers). Once all was said and done, the video render took 12 days. (Can you imagine the patience, the frustration when the computer freezes, or a fractional second's brown out wipes out 10 days of computer processing?) The eel itself is a near-flawless and satisfying portrayal that seamlessly blends the anatomy of a moray eel and a mosasaur (of Jurassic World fame).
The move to predominantly CGI is a tricky one, but the benefits from a production and creativity standpoint are obvious. First, the 2020 COVID 19 pandemic made live-action sequences complicated, and this stalled nascent and promising projects like the Sirenhead video and a Containment Breach-based project given the title "SCP Purge". Second, the technology would open up production to SCPs that were heretofore infeasible, like the immense scales of SCP-3000.
It's tricky though because the tech grab comes into some friction with a philosophical statement from their Patreon:
In adhering to the standard of quality that we've set for ourselves, we refuse to adapt an SCP if we can't do it justice.
So the question looms large: Did Forlorn Foundry do SCP-3000 justice?
To answer that, we need to focus on what Forlorn Foundry does well. In general, Forlorn Foundry melds the passion of an SCP fan with the gusto of a filmmaker, with some resourcefulness and some well-measured movie magic thrown in. For example, a clever moment is in their first video, on SCP-087, where in order to determine the depth of the anomalous staircase, a D-Class personnel drops a quarter through the stairwell gap. The sound of the quarter hitting the floor some reasonable distance below is edited out, leaving a surreal and unnerving impression on the viewer.
With just a dark stairwell, a flashlight, and some mundane video editing software, Forlorn Foundry bring SCP-087 to life and communicate in a very visceral way how unsettling the experience of it must be; especially regarding the callousness of the Foundation command, who implores the D-Class to continue further and further. The end, showing the shadow of a reaching figure over the D-Class's collapsed body, is delightful.
The hits keep coming. SCP-294's reproduction prop is convincing and simple, and the video utilizes a small cast with a nice narrativic pressure point (the researcher has a cold and is forced to recruit the security guard for "olfactory and gustatory" testing). The acting here is better than expected and serviceable, at times outright enjoyable. Small touches are what make the production, like the disorderly spraying of felis catus urine (cat pee) from SCP-294 as opposed to the previously controlled flow. The epistemological implications of the "OUT OF RANGE" function are exploited well, with an inspiring sense of wonder, horror, and humor by the end.
SCP-1074's portrayal is likewise effectively simple; with just an unseen canvas and some skillful (one-take?) acting, the viewer is guided through the psychological unpeeling of a troubled but increasingly sympathetic D-Class. SCP-1080's gist is captured in a nauseatingly effective way (I say this as a parent!). SCP-1562 capitalizes on the claustrophobia of the anomaly to deliver a convincing portrayal, the task achieved by nothing really but a repetition of already-recorded dialogue. SCP-504's video is just plain charming. The rendition of SCP-4999 is respectfully reserved and well mooded.
What this spread of strengths amounts to is clever use of a leveraged minimalism, good casting, good scripts, good camera work (like the long-intro shot on the SCP-303 video), and judicious selection of SCPs. Their reach into hiring actors (feeding them at least I presume) is also a well-placed decision and use of resources. I particularly like that they do not always select the most obvious and numerically popular articles as well. Forlorn Foundry is best when it skillfully uses what they have within their means. This has historically been relatively simple SCPs that make the most of just a few ingredients.
We can see then the tenuous territory of an SCP-3000 production; most of these strengths listed inherently aren't present in a fully CGI render. It's as if the premise of the project is upon a tightrope with the balance bar significantly reshaped. Does the project move forward in this, or take a step back?
As endeared as I am to Forlorn Foundry after pouring through their videos in prep for this article, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't bring what I believe are shortcomings to the fore. After all, the spirit of "crit" at SCP is what has made the articles good enough to make compelling movies out of, no?
The SCP-3000 video does have some near-instant, auto-pick-me-ups that tilt it towards positive reception. It features known voices in the SCP YouTube space, such as SCP Illustrated (Command) and DrCimmerian (Diver 3), who they have a history of interacting with, on the Special Containment Podcast. Hardcore fans may be able to pick these out during a viewing, and will surely love to catch the cameos.
However, the voice acting of Christopher Morris ("DrCimmerian") does not mesh into the more talented and crafted actors of previous videos. It almost sounds, once you hear it, like the last person who would be on an underwater dive in an SCP scuba suit. The voice screams "I should be behind a desk". This does the until-then eerie vibe no favors. I hate to think it, but part of me wonders if the decision to include DrCimmerian instead of a more trained voice actor (as in the case of other Divers) was a marketing one meant to marquee popular names in the media space. (The overt inclusion of SCP Illustrated and DrCimmerian's names might suggest as much.) What is gained in views, I believe, is lost in professionalism and impact.
Likely because this was an independent compositional effort on the part of the filmmaker -- that is to say, removed from the supportive peg of SCP author's text -- the dialogue lacks the charm and spunk of prior videos. On top, of course the acting has no room to shine given the circumstances. Lines like "Uh, whatever" (03:10) are awkward and immersion cracking. Some shots, such as the camera matched lateral to a diver seconds after this line, reveal some illiquid and stiff animation. A portion of this can be excused, given that this was done in Blender, a sub-industry-standard for physics and movement animation. But at the same time, this rears its head at the worst times; like when Sam (DrCimmerian) is devoured. Sam is about as life-like as a discarded lego man. This continues for the second vore scene, however, I'll say that the effect of the headlamp across the impending teeth of the serpent is a nice touch that is terrifying to imagine yourself in the first-person perspective of.
Some of the scenes (like this same one) last a tad too long, with the pacing fumbled to an arrhythmia in the building tension. At times, one wonders if these are simply stills. One of these is the introduction of the serpent itself, a moment that should be absolutely gripping. Instead, the diver casually and suddenly comes across its pale eye in the same way a child's plushie would be sat down to a tea party. The frequent cuts to black screen interrupt the immersion and add confusion to the vibe, which is the strongest thing going for the film up until this point. While this is surely a nice breather for the animating crew, one can't help but see it as a lack of stamina.
So does "The Unending Serpent" capture the vibe of SCP-3000? Yes. It does. But not in a great way, I think.
The filmmaker is taking notes from the spectacle of the anomaly here, and not the actual article or writing. To be clear, these individuals we see diving are not supposed to be MTF members attempting to manufacture amnestic chemicals, or the characters we know from the article who are experiencing the gaslighting of a Hindu god. This film is the terror of the eel removed and seen in a casual encounter; the saturation divers you see are civilians trying to fix something on the rig, and nothing in this besides the anomaly as an extracted object are Foundation-inclusive.
In fairness, there are impressive things about the spectacle of the anomaly. For one, SCP-3000 -- being in part written by djkaktus, with largely underrecognized but pivotal co-authorship by SCP authors A Random Day and Joreth -- excels at atmosphere and mood, exploiting the very human fear in scales that dwarf humanity; something absolutely nailed by the film. From the opening scenes, the massive rig sets the tone of a staggering scales. This continues until the end, with the guttural, crowd-pleasing vore of SCP-3000 devouring its played-with prey. It hits all the crowd-pleasing moments.
But, after listening to the Q&A live stream for the project, SCP-3000 was seemingly chosen by the filmmaker strictly because of that massive scale and, perhaps in an excited fashion, also an ambitious opportunity afforded by the new horizons of the CGI direction. It's in this way that we see the school of writing at SCP -- tentatively dubbed Colossal Containment Fiction by the Confic Wiki -- and its engineered purpose for commercial application; compositional decisions that aren't exactly like writing with the idea of an anomaly showing up in Containment Breach, but certainly that same motive and impetus now aged 10 years older.
In retrospect -- something certainly visited by the filmmakers at some point after being well in the direction of this project -- SCP-3000 may have been too ambitious of a first wholly CGI product. Hell the concept of a CGI, never-ending, and massive serpent is a computer processor's worst nightmare. Because of the constraints the new CGI medium placed on the potential for script allowance and article fidelity (the work it takes to make even seconds is agonizing), we get the most superficial and lowest-common-denominator components of SCP-3000. The nuance of the writing, the richness of the religious inspiration, and the lasting terror of it -- the psychological torment -- is totally excluded by necessity.
The oddest and most off-putting part of the YouTube video has actually nothing to do with Forlorn Foundry; it's the sponsor that shows up in advertisement at the end. The sponsor is "Escape from Site 19", which is a card game that on the surface of things might approximate something like D&D only in the SCP Foundation universe. Described as a "roleplay heavy board game", the ad features shots of three white dudes holding hands around a board, the SCP-logo-shaped (and lit) candle between them only adding to the loloccult like vibe going on here. You are also apparently supposed to burn the cards, and I don't know if you are truly supposed to ever escape (Site 19 or the game), and might not have the opportunity to play it a second time. (I guess that's pretty smart if you think buyers will really like it and spend more money to purchase more flammable cards to play with.) Anomalies featured in the game include the shamefully designated "SCP-0001". It's enough to question the motives of this game's creators. Also, I don't know why a scene previously witnessed in the actual film suddenly punctuates the video after this ad, as if to remind viewers that they were initially watching something much cooler.
Thus, "The Unending Serpent" in my opinion falls as short from doing SCP-3000 justice as promised, and as much as the video's title is inferior to the lovely onomatology of "Anantashesha".
That does not mean this effort is a miss. I would not expect these shortcomings of "The Unending Serpent" from soon rising to the creativity and artistry that Forlorn Foundry's oeuvre has conditioned its fans and viewers to expect from it in excess. This film was the first of its kind, after all; the first of a kind that we are very excited to see more of. The filimmakers are well-aware of these shortcomings and would likely be the first to echo or endorse them; they did the best with what they had and should be appreciated and cheered for it. At some point, you just have to deliver on what you can. And in that context, this film is an offering worthy of celebrating.
The Forlorn Foundry project has overcome more formidable struggles than a transplantation into an entirely new visual medium. Some of these challenges were early on despite the YouTube channel's apparently explosive success. In 2019, YouTube denied Forlorn Foundry's channel monetization due to "reusing content", under the mistaken impression that SCP material was copyrighted intellectual property, the distribution rights of which were protected and not released under a CC license. They appealed this and won, evident by the presence of ads on their videos. However, the uphill press continues, as YouTube severely penalizes content creators for lapses in production, certainly one as long as the Forlorn Foundry channel has experienced. (The commentary about whether or not YouTube should algorithmically penalize its supposedly valued content creators for taking a break or pausing for necessary creative repletion is left aside as beyond the scope of this review.)
Despite this setback, Forlorn Foundry has a healthy intake of monthly donations via their Patreon page, and we look forward to more of their productions. The artists behind the project have publicly stated that if the SCP-3000 video was a success, which it unquestionably is, they would likely start a KickStarter to fund future projects, the one on deck being a short film about SCP-106.
We thank them for their contributions and eagerly await the next CGI installment.
Visit ForlornFoundry's YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/ForlornFoundry/featured
See the SCP-3000 video here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zI4KA6wGLH0&feature=emb_title
Support ForlornFoundry on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/ForlornFoundry
If you'd like to follow ForlornFoundry's Blender learning experience and tutorials, you can check them out on their second channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCz-18QDZY2x5_5rIDucHWmA
Forlorn Foundry's Discord: https://discord.gg/s7uMtjzs8N
© Lack of Lepers © Confic Magazine