New techniques

This article introduces the animated encaustic painting technique Theodore Ushev developed to animate his latest film, The Physics of Sorrow.

He has made a practice of using a new technique for each of his short films, a challenge which I respect greatly – pushing past the comfort zone and allowing each story its own visual language.

Based on Georgi Gospodinov’s novel The Physics of Sorrow, Ushev translates and presents the story as a time capsule of his own experiences.

Ushev writes, “The first ever time capsules were the Egyptians tombs. And they had these beautiful, realistic portraits on the cover of their sarcophagus, created with encaustic painting. Made of melted beeswax and color pigments, they stayed absolutely intact for 20 centuries. So I thought this would be the perfect technique to employ for my film.”

This meant he not only had to learn the technique, but also a way to animate the frames…using different kinds of wax to layer the paintings, he was able to add animation just to the moving figures on the top layer, a kind of stop motion approach to painting.

It’s just debuted and is making the festival rounds – I’m keeping an eye out and hope to see it soon!

Fortune-telling vs. crafting the future

Our futures are being influenced, if not developed, by artificial intelligence. Behavioural-targeting algorithms on social media, on the surface used to ‘tailor’ our feeds, but too easily abused by bad actors to manipulate our feelings, alter our beliefs, undermine democracy and keep us trapped inside filter bubbles that reinforce our biases and tell us what we want to hear.

Jordan Harper, Creative Review

Our society’s future – really, the global future – is being built on these big-tech influenced platforms. Chase recently signed a five-year commitment with Persado (a.i. created marketing). Ads created by machine learning were clicked on more than ads written by humans…words chosen by generative machines are now more appealing than those from humans.

Is this really because they sound better, or are we just taking the bait? To quote Roy Amara, a researcher on futurism from the 70s, “It is the decisions we make now that do more than anything else to shape the future that we end up in.”

How can we use artificial intelligence responsibly…embrace emerging technology but also help navigate the best ways to apply it?

There is a responsibility in art, but (there should be and I wish there was) also in advertising and entertainment, to keep the focus on creative…to not follow the formulas for success or consumption, but to push the boundaries of what is possible. And it should be about compassion – to keep checking the pulse of one’s own humanity. Fight the power.

Later, bots – I’m signing off…I’ll stick with reading Janelle Shane / AI Weirdness!!

Boardwalk shop

This is a great way to use the power of advertising – and art for that matter…it asks for user interaction in a natural way. Within that interaction the advertising needs are met, and vice versa.

NYC-based artist BuffMonster was asked by agency TBD to create a large summer-inspired mural “as part of the Brazilian flip-flop brand’s marketing push to help raise awareness in the U.S.”

It was printed on soft material similar to Havainas slippers – passersby were encouraged to shed their shoes and “Step Into Summer.” To make the interaction experience even more fun, they used Google Vision technology to allow consumers to “shop” at the mural.

AdAge details the setup: “Consumers could aim their phone’s cameras at the mural’s different patterns and embedded Easter Eggs to shop products with their respective themes. The site not only took them to the point-of-purchase, it also offered styling tips from celebrity stylist Tara Swennen on how to wear the sandals with outfits from day to night.”

There was a recent call for mural ideas where I live – the design they picked was fine, just not especially inspiring, certainly not interactive. I’m for seeing more work like this – let’s bring the best of art and technology together, with advertising money, for the good.

That (Yorkshire) Sound

Currently I’m developing an animated portrait series – audio interviews, recorded soundscapes, drawings and forms assembled as experimental animations. The visual language and vocabulary will vary to best describe each person.

I just watched this beautiful short film, That Yorkshire Sound, by Marcus Armitage. The visual style is varied but weaves the story together.

I love the way the short audio clips are brought to life with his evocative drawings, or sometimes the other way around. Both sound and visuals complement one another in a way that doesn’t always happen.

The presentation reminded me of why I also loved animated Marfa by The Brothers McLeod…like looking through a sketchbook, we experience the hints of narrative as an environment of visual and sound bytes, and the overall interpretation stays up to us.

SWOON: deep dive

I first began noticing SWOON‘s artwork on the streets in Brooklyn in 1998? 99 – beautiful intricate art pasted to buildings, on walls and in doorways. Her installations have also long been an inspiration, and now I’m loving seeing her new experiments with animation.

The short stop motion pieces are featured mostly on her instagram page… facebook too I think.

An excerpt from an article in Juxtapoz magazine:

“[stop motion] opens up so much potential for the creation of meaning and narrative. And because our thoughts and dreams unfold over time, I really get the sense that time-based mediums speak to the subconscious in unique ways, which I’m enjoying playing with. It’s so much fun to take a deep dive and learn something solo, from scratch.”

So good to see new experiments and here’s to all those pushing themselves (and their work) onward.

Knot theory

The mechanics, mathematics, and ancient technology of knitting is the subject of a new study, “What a Tangled Web We Weave,” by Elisabetta Matsumoto, an applied mathematician and physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

This great New York Times article describes her study in greater depth.
Knitted fabric is also a metamaterial. A length of yarn is all but inelastic, but when configured in slipknots — in patterns of knits and purls — varying degrees of elasticity emerge.
“Just based on these two stitches, these two fundamental units, we can make a whole series of fabrics, and each of these fabrics has remarkably different elastic properties,” Dr. Matsumoto told the audience.

Myself, I am no knitter – my mother and sister are, and many friends – and now I am more intrigued to learn. I experiment with paper and its own structural and elastic properties when folded and manipulated – those models can often be extrapolated and used with other materials. If you don’t follow Kelli Anderson‘s work, you should – so cool.

I wonder at the crossover applications with fabric analysis. The article mentions applications in game engines and animation software (also check out this amazing organization in Africa using knitting to teach coding), but I wonder at applications even in cell regrowth and larger scale constructions.

Imagining the future

Certainly it’s time to admit that our current setups (transportation, housing, energy) are no longer viable and need immediate restructuring from the individual to largest scales…so imagining what the future of cities might look or sound like is important work.

Sounds have not been exploited to the extent our visual landscapes have been modified and structured, as host sites for advertisements and explorations of themes. But can they be used in a similar way?

This CR article brought up some interesting ideas…I especially liked thinking about how music can affect one’s mood “Interactive sonic façades on the side of public buildings could be designed specially to enhance the mood of the environment whilst also tempering background noise pollution.” Also, thinking about how sound can inform us, “…as we move into a screenless age where visual interaction is losing ground to voice recognition, the audible ‘earconography’ of the city will become ever more important. These will be short, nonintrusive and aesthetically pleasing sound sets that let consumers know they are interacting with or travelling through a certain branded or public space. “

food for thought-

By Design

Take the 20 minutes needed to watch this film, “Segregated by Design.”

Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, narrates the visuals designed and animated by Mark Lopez of Silkworm Studio.

It’s a good reminder that our current pres may be the face representing ugly truths about this country, but that the depth of prejudice and oppression against minorities, specifically African Americans, in the United States, has a long and powerful history of deliberate design.

Red zone property values, highways designed to interrupt African American neighborhoods, and other unconstitutional policies exploiting and targeting people and neighborhoods, preventing economic advancement.

You probably know about these policies already, but lest we forget – similar policies of systemic oppression are designed, delivered, and enforced, in current times. Watch – listen – learn – fight the power.

On behalf of our government, we must change to make things better.

Powered by Honda

The new Honda ad from Digitas UK is striking in its style and pace.

From the first frames, the ad plays like a Transformers sequence – 2D lines and bold swatches of color, racing quickly by the viewer. The ad showcases a variety of Honda vehicles (including planes + speedboats), and closes with real footage of racing vehicles.

It’s not the first Honda ad that has carried a unique style – this one by PES is still one of my favorites.

It’s All a Process

I’m at a point in my career – and life – where I’m trying to redefine the nature of my role. It’s all a process, and I can see the path behind me, what brought me here, all the times I started something new…and I enjoy the adventure of not quite knowing how the rest of it will be.

Henrique Barone’s recent post on Motionographer beautifully describes his own path, from TV animation to school in Canada, to years working with Giant Ant, and then with the birth of their daughter, how he and his wife had to adjust their “keystone”, their commitment to their professional life, with one more focused on flexibility for their child.

He writes “Having kids it’s the only real and unbreakable life long commitment someone will ever do. Everything else, every other commitment or agreement can be either undone or broken but, from now on, Fer is a mom and will forever be a mom; I’m a dad and will forever be a dad. This is our black and white spot in a grey and ever-changing world. A solid point on our liquid lives. That is our new, and stronger, keystone.”

I made the same choice when my son was born – leaving a job that was really fulfilling – to work freelance. And with the birth of my daughter three years later, I knew I needed to keep flexible hours to be there for all the infinite things of the early years. I have continued to work and experiment on my own work and as a freelancer, but in the last year I wish for a taller platform from which to share my work. Or a larger network – I’m not sure the right solution. More creative input, not just production skills. The older I become, the more certain I am that there is not one right answer. It’s all a process. One must revisit and revise. I have this quote from Antonio Machado in my sketchbook: “Traveler, there is no path…the path is made by walking.”