The Creator of the Sci-Fi Webseries 'Mission Backup Earth' Talks Space Colonization and 3-D Printing Humans

Tuesday, 03 October 2017 - 12:18PM
Tuesday, 03 October 2017 - 12:18PM
The Creator of the Sci-Fi Webseries 'Mission Backup Earth' Talks Space Colonization and 3-D Printing Humans
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Image credit: Alex Pfander
The human race generally operates on the assumption that whatever ultimate doom the Earth meets, at least we'll be dead before it happens. Meanwhile, science fiction (and luminaries like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking) is already exploring what an exodus from Earth might look like.

We met Alex Pfander at the New York Sci-Fi Film Fest this year and saw a clip from his ongoing web series, Mission Backup Earth, on the big screen. Here's the official description:

Opening quote
In 2213, far sooner than anyone ever predicted, the Sun exhausts its hydrogen stores and evolves into a red giant.
Life on Earth is extinct. Humanity is doomed.
Exobiologist Jenna Brennagan is working on Triton when the disaster strikes. Together with the other survivors, she must face the threat of a massive blast of cosmic rays rolling through the solar system like a tsunami, contaminating and killing everything in its path. Jenna and her companions attempt to escape the deadly cosmic rays by fleeing deep into the Kuiper Belt.

Their destination is Sedna, a trans-Neptunian dwarf planet in the outer regions of the Kuiper Belt. Orbiting Sedna is a remote Spacedock. There, the SpaceTec Corporation has built the interstellar spacecraft "Backup" for a journey to the nearest habitable planet in the Gliese 581 system.
Closing quote

Backup has some resemblance to sci-fi shows like The Expanse and Star Trek, but takes the human colonization concept a step further by exploring the potential to "print" human colonists, rather than transporting them off-world. You can read our interview with series creator Alex Pfander below!

Outer Places: Tell me a bit about yourself—hobbies, passions, interests, fun facts, etc.!
Alex Pfander: I am married with two kids, I run a little business to pay the bills, and work on my free time on my films, specifically on Mission Backup Earth. So this keeps me quite busy, and with the little free time left, I like to play basketball, binge-watch series on Netflix, play computer games with my son, or hang out with friends. Reading a good book is seldom, [it's] mostly newspapers or staying up to date with my smartphone. You could say I am a normal cyborg that likes to drink beer ;-)   
OP: What films or TV shows inspire you as a filmmaker? Are there pieces of sci-fi that you think more people should see?
Currently I am watching The Expanse. I like that the show tries to stay in the world of physics. Also the setting is similar to Mission Backup Earth, with the difference that Mission Backup Earth is leaving the Solar System pretty soon. Other than that, I grew up and was surely inspired by classics like 2001, Silent Running, Alien, Star Trek, Star Wars, Predator, Terminator, The Abyss, you name it.  

OP: What was the genesis of Mission Backup Earth? What influenced the series, and what did you want to accomplish with it when you set out?
I was always interested in human spaceflight, astronomy, cosmology and the celestial bodies in our solar system. I find the idea of visiting another moon or an alien planet fascinating! In recent years, more and more exoplanets in other solar systems have been discovered, [and it's made me realize] that there is so much more out there, even in our solar system. Did you know that Saturn alone has about 60 moons?!

While researching ideas to do a sci-fi story about, mankind's journey to other stars and planets began to sneak into my head. Then I read a statement from Stephen Hawking saying that we can't have all our eggs in one basket, and that humankind must colonize space for long-term survival. This thought struck me, and the idea for Mission Backup Earth was born.
OP: I notice that you've made a strong commitment to making the science in the show realistic. Can you give some examples of how real science is woven into the series?
Assuming that we cannot fly faster than the speed of light, every journey to another solar system will take a very, very long time. This means any kind off interstellar flight is impractical if we can't work around the physics and create a warp drive like in Star Trek or fly through a wormhole like in Interstellar. Realistically, we have to go slower then light-speed. So either we send a generation ship, we find a way to put the crew into hibernation sleep, or we print people on arrival. Printing humans at the destination is the major plan behind Mission Backup Earth. And as crazy as this sounds, there was a statement from a NASA scientist in 2014 saying that our best bet is to print people.
In addition, we try to design the spaceships and space stations to be realistic, and we deal with the hazards of space like zero G, so our actors have to pretend to float around all the time.
OP: The CGI in the show is very high-quality for an indie series like this—what goes into creating the landscapes, ships, and effects in Backup Earth?
The CGI is achieved through crowdsourcing and online collaboration. We have a growing team of volunteers working on the CGI. 
The live-action footage has been shot entirely on green screens. We had no sets and very few props, so everything that you see apart from the actors has to be created digitally. This ranges from an interior set to an animation of a spaceship to zero G objects floating through the room to computer panel graphics. Everything you see is created for the show.

This is a very complex way to work, and it's very important to keep track of the CGI shots needed and to coordinate the team's efforts in an effective way. It takes a lot of management and an eye for the details to get this done. Luckily, I work with a fantastic team of talented people who think alike and share the same love and enthusiasm for the topic.

OP: A number of companies, including SpaceX, are looking toward colonizing other planets. What do you think are going to be the key challenges for colonization?
First and foremost, the will to do it. And with the will, we need money. 
If you look at the Moon program, these guys in the 1960s with computers that we can't really call computers, they went to the Moon. Did you know that Wernher von Braun already had a fully fledged plan to go to Mars next? Then the budget was cut due to lack of public interest and end of story. Now, slowly, the will to do it is coming back, but without the funding...I fear it's going to be postponed forever.
OP: Any fun behind-the-scenes stories or trivia you'd like to share?
In 2015, we attended a con in England. There I met David Prowse, best known for playing Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy. I asked him if he would be interested in doing a guest appearance in a little sci-fi web series. He agreed and two months later he came to Berlin and we shot some scenes with him and had some interesting days. As a Star Wars fanboy, this was a fantastic thing, and as a filmmaker it was a huge honor to work with the actor who played the biggest sci-fi villain of all time.
OP: What are you working on next?
We still have six episodes in post-production. As explained earlier, the post-production needs a heavy amount of CGI. And as this is a no-budget show, people including myself work on this in their free time. To increase the output and finish sooner rather than later, we need money (we have an ongoing Patreon Campaign where fans can donate) and more volunteers. If a reader wants to join the crew please contact us through my email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Besides Mission Backup Earth, I am launching the first and only science fiction film festival in Berlin, together with two associates (MBE Actor Anthony Straeger & MBE Assistant Director Jack O´Shea). The Berlin Sci-fi Filmfest will take place November 17th-18th in Berlin. You can check out more information at
Last but not least, there is a concept for a Mission Backup Earth TV series, based on the web series but with a whole new story and characters. I have a ready-to-go script for the pilot and a series bible waiting on my shelf to be picked up.

You can learn more about Mission Backup Earth and check out full episodes here!
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