Sailors on a becalmed sea, we sense the stirring of a breeze.
Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
Have you ever felt the need to go beyond yourself? A need to explore, achieve, and persevere? Wanderlust is a feeling most people have had at some point or another. The need to go on a vacation, experience a new culture, or, at least, move into a new home. For others, like Carl Sagan or Erik Wernquist, the need is a bit extraterrestrial.
If you haven’t spent countless hours marveling at the vast darkness of the universe, the idea of space travel seems more sci-fi than realistic. Other than a few moon landings and space stations humankind has stood relatively still. We’ve traveled mountains and oceans, developed vast cityscapes and viewed foreign lands without ever leaving the couch. In a world that seems so small and globalized Erik Wernquist brings us Wanderers, the animated short that challenges us to leave low earth orbit (LEO).
Wernquist’s thought provoking and awe inspiring cinematic short Wanderers creates scenes from around our solar system from Cape Verde, Mars to an extraordinary view of Jupiter from Europa. The stunning digital recreations combines scientific concepts with photos and map data to bring an astonishing and realistic view of our nearest planetary neighbors. This video is guaranteed to encourage interstellar wanderlust in each of us.
Wernquist spends his days in Stockholm, Sweden as a graphic artist, making illustrations and animations; his making of Wanderers was a bit of a side project for him. He was able to mix his passions of amateur astronomy and planetary science with his love for science fiction to create a one-of-a-kind short film detailing our solar system in a way you’ve never seen it before: filled with humans. He “thought that a good idea was to show a few places from the solar system and put people in the visuals, or at least traces of people in the form of vehicles and buildings, just to get sort of a human perspective on it.” His addition of humans was to effectively scale the images and scenes we’ve often viewed from the perspective of a planetary probe.
Admittedly, Wernquist took a little bit of creative license with the addition of the structures but says they were all inspired by concepts created by science fiction authors and studied by engineers. (His primary influences? Kim Stanley Robinson, Arthur C. Clarke, and Chesley Bonestell.) Concepts like airships, space elevators, and gravitationally spun asteroids—all visuals inspired by concepts that were once bound to text—now visualized. The vocals of Carl Sagan reading his Pale Blue Dot was more of a spiritual inspiration and provided the appropriate romantic tone for the film. Many of the scenes in the film are based on real space images taken by various probes, all of which are in the public domain. Human settlements and actions in the film are based on scientific principle and theory to make the scenes as realistic as possible. From fighting urges to have the clouds of Jupiter swirl ferociously to being specific about how many stars to show, Wernquist represents the solar system in a way most sci-fi films struggle to do so: realistically.
His methodology for shooting the film itself is rather extraordinary; he used live action to shoot all the people in Wanderers. Low gravity is simulated by shooting at high frame rates and then slowing down the action. While some think the scene of people walking on Europa is too dramatized, Wernquist utilized a narrow frame lens to create the view of Jupiter filling the sky based on a photo of the moon Io on a backdrop of immense Jupiter. A shaky lens helps viewers to understand that this is not a human view, but rather a cinegraphic visualization.
Wernquist’s film has received a lot of notoriety among the space community to his surprise; even being contacted by “Alan Stern, who is [the] principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto, and he commissioned me to make a film about the New Horizons mission” he divulged. His concern with Wanderers was what he calls “nitpicking” or when hardcore space enthusiasts tear apart his rendition of the technologies of human space exploration and potentially even the space visuals themselves. While some critics had concerns about dirigibles on Mars and some of the other concepts, the majority of the criticism has been positive, “what has been very rewarding is that there has been very little nitpicking…I’m really happy that that was the case because I strived hard for making it as realistic as possible.” Wernquist’s other concern with the film is that he didn’t want people to think he didn’t care about the sacrifice we will make to venture the solar system: “I deal with basically nothing of the harshness and how dangerous any of this would obviously be, and I’m a little bit afraid that maybe some people seeing it thinks that it’s just a matter of, ‘Let’s go, why aren’t we jumping off cliffs on Miranda already?’” He emphasized that safety is the main concern regarding space exploration and understands the process is slow; he hopes to see people on Mars in his lifetime but not at the risk of human life. He stated “I’m extremely impressed with all the exploration that is going on, and I hope to see a lot more before I disappear…but when it comes to humans in space, we have to take it slow.”