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Though it wasn’t really meant to work out this way, a sequence of test footage for Tim Ollive‘s amazing-looking steampunk sci-fi comedy 1884 has started to wind its way across the internet. You will find a good quality version linked after the break. Prepare to be hooked.

Ollive is a renowned model maker and long time collaborator of Terry Gilliam‘s. Way back on Life of Brian, Ollive was not only the fabricator but also one of the operators of the alien puppets seen in the space craft. I’m told he also built the neon sign that provides Gilliam’s Brazil with an opening title. Suffice to say, he has some serious skills in design, manufacture and puppeteering – all of which are shown to awesome effect in the test footage below.

Olliv’es co-screenwriter on 1884 is Dennis DeGroot, a production designer with an incredible resume that takes in most of the outstanding UK comedy of the last decade or so and, way back in the mists of time, his own experience on the FX teams of Life of Brian and Time Bandits.

Click here to watch the video.

That whole sequence was filmed at very low budget and much of it literally on Ollive’s kitchen table (hence Horatio Kitchengame) and then painstakingly composited with some 2D and 3D CG elements. The initial idea was for the movie to be a CG animation with this reel put together just to show off something of the thrust and feel of the storyline and the general design style but plans changed when Gilliam saw the footage and told Ollive he was about to take a wrong turn, that the film didn’t need to be another CGI toon but that this handmade aesthetic was a far better choice. It definitely seems to me as though he was right – I can’t think of a better story to be told with this look, nor a better look for this story. Besides giving advice, Gilliam also came on board as an Executive Producer for the project.

At the end of the test clip you’ll have seen some more “highly colored” footage. Apparently this was not initially part of the test package, created instead to round it out and provide a more satisfying ending. Furthermore, though the actually movie is going to make some similar experiments with color we should be able to expect them to remain more consistent with the look of the rest of the movie. I’m told that the key reference point is going to be the auto-chrome photography of the Lumieres.

Here are more details from the producers’ pitch statement:

The film proper will retain the “clunky” charm of the original test material but will be produced to the highest possible standards.

The film will have its own model unit supplying the highest quality puppets, miniatures and scenic elements. The string free puppets will be skillfully modeled and boast real hair and intricate costumes.

Special FX will be state of the art in a clunky sort of way. Period photographs which will form the backdrop for the film will be supplied by the Hulton Picture Library division of Getty Images.

The required finance for the film appears to be coming together perfectly and production is slated to begin later this year.

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