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Restoration is mind-bending Aussie sci-fi from the creator of Payload

Set in the not-too-distant future, Restoration explores the idea of consciousness as software -- and the body as a strange environment.

Stu Willis

In recent years, there has been a handful of Australian sci-fi projects that have really caught our attention; not the least of which is Payload by Melbourne-based Stu Willis, a desperate tale of survival in a hostile dystopian future, and the longing to escape to something better.

Nearly two years on, Willis has announced his next foray into the realm of science fiction: a three-part online series called Restoration, currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.

"The format of Restoration (three episodes of around 12 minutes each) is a direct result of making Payload," Willis told CNET. "We were blown away by the response when we put that film online. We never expected a dark 18-minute sci-fi drama to get the attention that it did. The conventional wisdom is that a short VFX-driven showpiece is the way to go. So Payload gave us the confidence to do something grander in terms of the story, knowing that we'll be able to find an audience for it online."

The story follows Oliver Klein, who wakes up one day at Restoration Life Services -- a company that downloads the contents of the human brain and stores them as a back-up. When a person dies, their consciousness can be uploaded into a new body to start again where they picked up. Klein tries to do just this -- but there is more than one Oliver Klein.

Stu Willis

Willis said that he deliberately sought to tap into uniquely Australian themes.

"Australia's myths reflect our cultural experience, which is about what is forced upon us... The Europeans were sent here against their will to a hostile environment completely unprepared (and that's to say nothing of what happened to the Aboriginal population). Even the Gallipoli myth is about us being sent unprepared to a hostile environment and just surviving, if that. For me many of the good Australian stories, from Mad Max to Animal Kingdom, are about the ways in which Environment is a character and it changes who we are," he said.

"In Restoration, that theme manifests itself in a very specific way. It is about having the hostile environment of someone else's body being forced upon your identity -- or, to look at it in another way, having a hostile identity being forced upon your body. It's being alienated from yourself. It's a form of psychological body horror."

We're not yet -- and may never be -- at the stage where an entire human consciousness can be replicated, stored then imprinted onto a blank brain. The power required to compute just one minute of one percent of the brain's activity is phenomenal. Nevertheless, Willis and his co-writer Matt Clayfield have done their best to try and make the science seem plausible.

"Matt and I both read quite a bit of non-fiction and that inspires our ideas. We'll often email articles that we find interesting to each other. Matt is also a 'freelance foreign correspondent' which means he reads pretty broadly as he travels. As an idea starts to crystallise into a story, we'll do more focused research -- although not specifically scientific," Willis explained.

"For us, Restoration grew out of reach into a few different things: Thinking Fast and Slow, cryogenics and the whole business of 'life extension', individuals suffering from various kinds of amnesia, body integrity identity disorder and probably many others that escape me. We're particularly interested in first-hand accounts, because while the science is there in the background, we're very much interested in how that impacts (for lack of a better word) the 'human condition'."

The team has secured the sound stage that has been used in feature films such as "Ghost Rider", "Where the Wild Things Are" and "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark", and is now seeking funding to build the set -- and also to reach a global audience that might not otherwise have heard of the project.

"We're fans of Kickstarter and crowdfunding. We think it is an awesome way for creators to find and build communities around their work," Willis said. "Australia, being a small country, is pretty 'vertical' in terms of audiences. Crowdfunding allows Australian creators to connect 'horizontally' to an audience across the globe and make things that would otherwise be impossible under the traditional funding models here."

Stu Willis

The project has also signed on some great Australian acting talent: Grant Cartwright of Death Star PR as Oliver Klein; Nadia Townsend of Knowing and City Homicide as Restoration Life Services technician Emma Laws; Stephen Carracher as Gavin Worth, the man whose body Klein is uploaded into; Rosie Lourde as Talia Klein, Oliver's wife; and Ailis Logan as Restoration Live Services' Doctor Francis Parr.

The series is due to start shooting in August -- all things going to plan.

"It is a bit hair-raising because it'll come down to the wire for us -- we're shooting in early August! If we don't raise the goal, we won't get the money and... well.... I'm kinda scared to think about what that means," Willis said.

"But the best part so far? We've been seeing backers get behind Restoration from around the world. It is actually amazing to know that people like your idea and work so much that they want to support your project in any way they can. It's actually inspiring. I think it'll push us to make something special because we don't want to let our backers -- our team -- down."

You can read more about the project and add your support on the Restoration Kickstarter project page.