Upgrade Required revels in a future where disabilities are rendered obsolete through technology: a SciFi actor, director & computer nerd rallies a global network of science and film geeks, to make a severely disabled fan’s dream of becoming a cyborg, a robotic reality. revels in a future where disabilities are rendered obsolete through technology: a SciFi actor, director & computer nerd rallies a global network of science and film geeks, to make a severely disabled fan’s dream of becoming a cyborg, a robotic reality.
Upgrade Required – Synopsis & Story Design
“I may have a disability but otherwise I am just human, and that is not enough anymore. An upgrade is required.” –Quinton ‘Q’ Fucile
Upgrade Required, the film, is a documentary about an unlikely friendship, forged inscience fiction and driven by the quest for a future where disabilities are rendered obsolete through technology. Upgrade Required is a film about hope and wonder. It is about the joyous process of invention and collaboration — with smart, driven people, bringing together disparate research and technologies towards engineering a better life and perhaps even a better human.
“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” –Stephen Hawkings
The heart of this story is the friendship between Quinton Fucile and myself. Quinton is a highly intelligent and ambitious 21 year-old with Spinal Muscular Atrophy type 2. SMA type 2 is a degenerative neuromuscular disease that has weakened Q’s musculoskeletal system to such an extent that he can now only barely move his fingers.
However, as the extraordinarily resilient Q sees it, those fingers can still move a mouse, and thus they can change the world. From a bed in the basement of
his parent’s house on Vancouver Island, Q posted a comment to me, a fellow SciFi geek, on my YouTube channel. Dr. Rodney Mckay, the brilliant, arrogant and sarcastic astrophysicist who I played on Stargate, struck a chord with Q and is a fan favorite to thousands of diehard science and SciFi geeks around the world. After a few months of chatting, I set out to harness the immense reach of the science fiction community and those it inspires. My goal is to confer and collaborate with some of the most influential voices in the genre; as well as scores of our planet’s brightest scientists, engineers, biohackers and robotics experts. I began documenting these conversations for my YouTube channel. It was then that my producer and co-director, Jane Loughman, suggested turning my adventure into a P.O.V. documentary film — and Upgrade Required was born.
You see, Q is not content to merely survive this brutal disease and endure the severe physical limitations it has forced on him. Q wants to be a cyborg… and that’s exactly what we’re going to help him become!
Q’s quest serves as the jumping off point for our exploration of the science and the science fiction behind the many radically different approaches, as well as the potential benefits and dangers inherent in bionics and human augmentation.
“We already all live a cybernetic life now, whether we know it or not. You have to be nearly Amish to not be impacted by some electronic adjunct to the brain.”- Eric ‘surf-ivor’ Valor
However, Q is not alone. In fact, he’s a part of what is becoming a global phenomenon. The reality is that many people are already living as cyborgs. One of the most fascinating is Eric Valor, a highly intelligent and talented IT professional, who has been living with ALS for over 10 years. Eric used to keep technology alive for a living, now technology keeps him alive: it has literally and figuratively saved his life. A ventilator handles Eric’s breathing, text-to-speech lets him communicate and an eye-tracking system allows him to access and contribute, via the Internet, to the collective knowledge of the human race. And technology doesn’t just keep him alive, it fuels his desire to continue living. Eric’s technological enhancements enable him to continue to explore and innovate as a valuable, contributing part of society.
“Technology is about augmenting our human abilities. Since that first pre-human used a bone or stick to augment its strength or dexterity, technology has been a part of us. The noblest form of technology is that which allows recovery of lost abilities and makes us whole once more.” – Eric Valor
As portable, wearable technology becomes smaller, cheaper and more powerful; hackers, hobbyists and citizen scientists are experimenting with ever more advanced and affordable forms of human augmentation. Upgrade Required
is about bringing these experts and technologies together with the people who need them. These independently developed technologies will allow the cyborgs of tomorrow to, not just contribute, but quite possibly usurp us mere humans as leaders, innovators, artists and explorers of the future.
“We are writing the pages of Science Fiction becoming fact. It is amazing to be a small part of it.” Eric Valor
Join us on our inspirational, SciFi inspired quest to become something more than human. A quest to give Q a taste of the mobility and freedom that so many of us take for granted.
Upgrade Required begins where it began for us, with a simple comment on a YouTube video. The genesis of Upgrade Required exists online in social media, videos and online discussions. As such, the initial look of the film will reflect that. Further information about our discussions will be available on UpgradeRequired.org. The site will become a vibrant, online community for further discussion and collaboration on assistive technologies, disabilities and the science fiction that inspires us to strive for better worlds. The site’s goal is to provide access to CAD files, tutorials and real-world expertise, live presentations, funding, sponsorship and more, for people with disabilities and the engineers, hobbyists, STEM classes and donors etc. seeking to improve lives through technology.
VFX and Animation
Animation plays a crucial role in every stage of Upgrade Required. The visual effects technologies available to filmmakers today are truly astounding. The film will harness these VFX tools to enhance our interviews with Q and Eric in the same way that bionics are enhancing their bodies.
These discussions will serve as the canvas for our VFX work. We will enhance our interview clips by adding animations and VFX that will visually augment their stories and ideas, transforming their severely limited movement into breathtaking works of art. More importantly, VFX will reveal the amazingly funny, fascinating, complex and intelligent minds trapped within the bodies that fail them.
To start we present a stylized, simplistic, desktop-like, 2D recounting of our meeting, animated with bright web-friendly colors and comic-book simplicity. Q and I connect over a shared passion for the science of science fiction and our belief in technology to improve the world and make us better humans. While Upgrade Required is not about the diseases responsible for many disabilities, we’ll use animation and VFX to create cool, beautiful and whimsical depictions of them — to give audiences an understanding of, and appreciation for, how SMA or ALS attacks its victims. The focus of the film, however, is on the inspired, passionate and creative souls who survive these terrible diseases. They are a new breed of smart, wired and tech-empowered human, forced to augment the bodies that have failed them.
The initial 2D filmic portrayal can no longer contain us. The flat “surface” world style breaks up and becomes the surface of a fathomless ocean of possibilities… and in we dive. As we move from theory to the physical cyborg build, the look and the feel of the film and the animation style changes. It becomes gritty and “real”, reflecting our more hands-on subject matter.
The film escapes the confines of the screen and dives into our attempts to create a practical robotic existence for Q. With prototype technologies in hand, I finally meet Q, in the flesh, for the first time. As I reach out for help in our cyborg mission, the film introduces a diverse cast of characters; brilliant scientists, engineers, writers, directors, inspired makers, philosophers, programmers and hobbyists and Sci Fi nerds. We have a really exciting roster of contributors including acclaimed filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, who I had the pleasure of working with recently. Del Toro has agreed to support Upgrade Required, and to talk about his extraordinary depictions of man and machine over his career, including his upcoming remake of The Fantastic Voyage, with fellow visionary filmmaker James Cameron.
Upgrade Required documents this “I know a nerd who knows a nerd” approach to harness the skills and expertise of a varied, strange and wonderful collection of talents, to create a team of geeks who revel in the merging of man and machine — and who can help make it happen.
While film is a good start, a rallying cry to audiences showing how they can become a part of this disability deleting robotic revolution, nothing beats face-to-face, hands-on collaboration. Part of the film will document our creation of the “Cyborg Circus” a live, festival-like, convention, promoting disability tech and innovation. The convention circuit is a wildly popular and vibrant part of the SciFi fandom and we want to harness that excitement for Upgrade Required. The benefit of a live venue is in bringing together people from all ages and walks of life, inspiring them with the possibilities of assistive technologies in a live, fun, community-building atmosphere.
The cyborg build has begun. We check in with our robotics experts and document the trials and tribulations inherent in pushing the bounds of available technology. We touch on the legal and medical requirements that come into play with assistive technologies and Eric explains his fight for change that would allow terminally ill patients the right to offer themselves as test subjects for experimental treatments.
As our ambitions, contacts and skill-set grow, the film introduces the VR gaming experience. This immersive Upgrade Required platform allows people with disabilities to experience things impossible for them in the real world. Another alternate version of the game allows the rest of us to experience what it is like to live with disabilities, learning our way to cyborg upgrades through mastery of assistive tech.
The cyborg suit is coming together. The eco-neck is functional and controllable via BCI and manual controls. We walk through the other cyborg components, camera mounts with robotic controls and a host of augmented visuals; sensors allowing Q to track and control his food-science projects from afar; robotic arms; a robotic hoist; telepresence robot with autonomous capabilities, to name but a few. There is still far to go.
Upgrade Required’s final metamorphosis is into science fiction, that first stage of engineering… dreaming. We see the prototype cyborg Q in action. Q hosts a pre-screening and mini-Cyborg Circus and meets many of the people who have made this whole adventure possible. The film takes flight once again, this time off into the visual spectacle of Science Fiction, beautifully rendering possible futures where breathtaking feats of technology will truly render disabilities obsolete.
The Cyborg Circus Live!
The Cyborg Circus is a live, hands-on, robotic festival, convention and educational adventure. We will create an inspiring, entertaining showcase for presenting assistive technology, and its potential, to a wider audience. The show combines a series of dynamic presentations, mind-blowing feats of robotics and engineering ingenuity, Hackathons and demonstrations. Upgrades’ Cyborg Circus presents Q (live in suit or via telepresence robot), myself and a host of SciFi celebrities together with robotic and biomechanical engineers, sharing the latest technologies and resources designed to further our merging of man and machine. The Cyborg Circus is a fantastic opportunity to inspire local schools, communities, celebrities, corporations, governments and organizations to take action and get involved. Creating an Upgrade Required community out of entrepreneurs, engineers, citizen scientists and people with disabilities; sharing ideas, insights and excitement about what is needed to move technology, and with it, humankind, forward. The Cyborg Circus will invite local artists, experts, builders and tech companies to share their expertise, inventions and experiences, creating newsworthy buzz and exposure to the cyborg cause!
UpgradeRequired.org will serve as an online community where people with disabilities, makers, engineers, scientists, artists, programmers and Sci Fi fans can plot, scheme and collaborate with each other. The site will host assistive and robotic tech news and articles, as well as how-to instructions, CAD and 3D printable files and sample code, everything needed to make these technologies a reality. It will also inspire SciFi fans to band together and make things happen; inspired by, or even in partnership with, the source of their favourite fandom. The goal is to get people talking and working together towards a better technology and a better world.
Upgrade Required is about integrating humans and technology. Robotics will play a huge role in, not just the creation of assistive technology for people like Q, but in embracing robotic filmmaking tools and technologies in the story telling process. The idea is to utilize existing robotic and computing innovations to create visually stunning sequences far beyond what our limited crew could do without them. Aerial, sea and land based drones, autonomous vehicles, as well as articulated robotic arms, cranes, face and motion tracking, and control technologies are just a few of the tools and techniques we will harness throughout our adventures. The hope is that many of the inventions, innovations, cheats and techniques we employ in making Upgrade Required can then be engineered to work for people with disabilities: providing them with new tools to express themselves and contribute their own artistic filmic endeavours.
In tandem with the film, we’re developing an Upgrade Required VR gaming experience. My recent collaboration on the VR game, Caretaker, was a geek’s dream come true. The independent game designer, Byron Atkinson Jones is an inspiration. He’s a thoughtful and generous programmer, VR and gaming expert, who loves giving back to the community. As an independent game designer, Byron is excited to team up again for Upgrade Required. The project begins by trapping the users in Q’s severely disabled state and then, through a series of puzzles and the mastering of accessibility tools, enables them to unlock a world of dreams and possibilities. In an increasingly expanding VR environment, users configure and utilize robotic exo-skeletons; witness the world through the eyes of swarms of tiny globally connected insect drones; and a host of other intriguing cyborg interactions. Users float, hover, soar, or dive deep into the oceans, mastering control of the near limitless possibilities as human machines… finally venturing out into space, living Eric’s dream, to explore the stars.
We have spoken to a number of crowdfunding experts, including one of Kickstarter’s own film liasons out of New York. His experience suggested that the social good, science fiction and technology themes inherent in Upgrade Required had proven very successful in the past, and that combined with our active scifi fanbase we’d be well positioned to succeed in a crowdfunding campaign. Quinton and OpenBCI have both completed funding campaigns on Kickstarter. We will be picking their brains about how best Upgrade Required should approach this exciting funding opportunity. Their experiences will help us to position ourselves and best prepare our crowdfunding strategy and campaign so we can make the most of our fanbase and hard work.