All directors start somewhere. Whether it’s music videos, commercials or short films, the stepping stones for a filmmaker leading up to their feature debut can provide vital exposure and a hint of what’s to come. With our recurring article, The Early Works, we dive into the beginnings of a director who has a new film landing in theaters the upcoming weekend.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1979, Neill Blomkamp was, by the age of 16, already hard at work crafting 3D animation projects with his new friend Sharlto Copley. While it would take almost a decade-and-a-half (a short period, by most standards) for him to commandeer his own feature film with the break-out hit District 9, the talented visual artist had a busy number of years.

After he cut his teeth on animating projects such as Dark Angel, 3000 Miles to Graceland, and Smallville, he promptly jumped into commercial directing work, all while making his own short films. With his $100 million-plus budgeted Elysium arriving this weekend (our review), we’re getting you caught up with his early work in another edition of The Early Works, which begins in chronological order directly below.

Nike – “Evolution” (2004)

For his first commercial work, Blomkamp showed off some of the mutation that would later be prominent in his features. With a single shot he uses stop-motion to showcase a sneaker morphing into many different forms. For a 30-second tease, it’s a minor spectacle and ample hint at what’s to come.

Tetra Vaal (2004)

Blomkamp’s debut short film provides our first preview at what will be his third feature, Chappie. For his Elysium follow-up, he’ll be basing it on ideas formulated in this 2004 short, which follows robotic police in a third-world country. While very much laying out the aesthetic that would be present in his features, Blomkamp has said the adaptation of this short would be more comedic; with that aspect not apparent here, we’re looking forward to what’s in store.

Citreon – “Alive With Technology” (2004)

Ever wonder what it would look like if Blomkamp got the Transformers gig instead of Michael Bay? We imagine it’d be akin to something like these Citreon commercials, minus the breakdancing. The most playful of Blomkamp’s work, it’s quite impressive that this series of spots — which secured a VES award for Outstanding VFX — hit screens three years before Bay’s feature landed.

Alive in Joburg (2005)

If you’ve previously seen a Blomkamp short film, it’s likely this one. The basis for his Peter Jackson-produced District 9, this six-minute piece continues with Blomkamp’s documentary style and introduced star Sharlto Copley, alongside interviews with South Africans who discussed Zimbabwean refugees, here used out of context in regards to the alien invasion plot.

Nike – “Crab” (2006)

One only need take a quick glimpse at this piece to see Blomkamp’s fascination with advanced technology. Highlighted in a short ad for Nike, the director takes two crab-looking robots, throws his client’s famous shoes on them, and watches as they kick around a ball in a place that doesn’t look too far removed from his District 9 setting.

Tempbot (2006)

While his previously featured commercial revealed a take on Transformers, Blomkamp’s longest short provides a look at what his version of The Office might be. Featuring (surprise!) a robot, it follows our main character taking a temp job and falling in love with Lynda Carter.

Gatorade – “Rain” (2006)

Here’s another commercial from Blomkamp, which sees an evolving athlete emerge from a basketball amidst a torrential downpour to, of course, pound a Gatorade. It’s pretty and insubstantial, an analysis I imagine many will take away after seeing the Matt Damon-led Elysium.

Yellow (2006)

Three years before District 9 debuted, Blomkamp was commissioned by Adidas, as one of seven directors, to craft a short film based around specific colors. Returning to the well of advanced technology, this one follows… wait for it… robots. The story tracks one of his creations, who break loose as a manhunt concludes in Shanghai.

Halo: Landfall (2007)

Perhaps more publicized than his actual features is Blomkamp and Peter Jackson‘s failed attempt at a Halo adaptation. The director recently said that its collapse was a blessing for his career, but, if you want to see what one might have looked like, this 2007 short will do the trick. As promotion for Halo 3, the director embarked on three short films featuring intense action complimented by his handheld style, all of which can be seen above.

Elysium opens on Friday, August 9.

What is your favorite early work from Blomkamp?

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