Animated Sci-Fi Short The Desert: Lonely Robots on Earth

A robot stares over a candle flame in a frame from animated film The Desert.

In a future where humanity has abandoned its home planet—or perhaps gone entirely extinct, as bits of atomic-bomb imagery suggest—robots rule, but it’s a lonely and strange existence. They’re drawn to things that remind them of the past, like libraries and TV sets, but also feel more primal urges, like the instinct to fight.

A Vimeo Staff Pick and Short of the Week selection, Michael Dockery’s The Desert has a simple logline: “Earth in a post-human age. Our creations left to wander in desolation.” There’s not a traditional plot to follow in the film, which runs just under five minutes, but it sets a mood that’s somehow both melancholy and hopeful. In keeping with those contrasting tones, the artwork is dark and apocalyptic before giving way to the warm colors of the sunrise. (Dockery also did the music and sound design, speaking of setting a mood.)

According to Short of the Week’s post on the film, Dockery’s influences and inspiration include “the literary dystopias of J.G. Ballard, the concept art of Ralph McQuarrie … and his own broad cynicism of modern A.I. discourse and fandom,” while also noting the piece took three years to make and that director is working on another short that’ll continue the story of The Desert, as well as a TV series in his native Australia.

What’s your interpretation of The Desert—does that beam of light from the starry sky (aliens or some other sort of cosmic creator?) mean that life will be returning to the planet? What’s that creature that appears before the kneeling robot? What are your thoughts on the world presented by The Desert? Share your thoughts below.

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