Sunday, October 29th 2017
I started with the idea, sourced from Ian Cheng's Emissaries, of video games that play themselves.
That led me to a few, more formal domains circling around the same mediums as Emissaries: Systems and Simulations, Modeling Behaviors, and Artificial Worlds.
Catching Cheng's Emissaries before it closed at Moma PS1 in September started me thinking around systems, simulations, and storytelling through "winding something up and letting it go. I found his work gripping and multifaceted, while at the same time I felt like too much of the story lived in flavor text mounted next to the screen, detached from the virtual world we were actually looking at.
My first thoughts about exploring form, especially organic form, in 3D came about from watching Alan Warburton's Goodbye Uncanny Valley – a fantastic short documentary on the state of CGI in 2017. Warburton split the state of CGI into four areas: the uncanny valley, the frontier, the wilderness, and beyond.
Particularly effecting and interesting to me was the wilderness – a world of everything from gross-out 3D viral videos by Cool 3D World to impressionistic, semi-autobiographical psychosexual storytelling by El Popo Sangre. I was captivated by these images and the kind of work artists were doing with a medium I assumed was completely stale and profit-driven, the world of Avengers: The Age of Ultron and endless tech demos.
Watching Goodbye Uncanny Valley helped me define one more domain: The Groteque.
It was Ting reminding me of Luigi Serafini's Codex Seriphinianus in studio on Monday that began to bring everything together. I got a copy last year, and hadn't given it the attention it deserved, relegating it to the category of "cool coffee table books to look at while stoned."
The Codex is a profoundly weird book, an encyclopedia of an imaginary world documented extensively in an artificial language. It's filled with grotesque organic imagery, utterly unlike our own world but similar enough to evoke emotions from disgust to wonder.
The Codex Seriphinanus led me to my fifth domain: Imaginary Ecosystems.
I now had a set of domains to create a framework for my piece, from more to less formal:
I'm pleased with the domains I've driven out. There's room for technical exploration through algorithmic behaviors like crowd simulations or flocking. But I've also left space for pure aesthetic exploration, sketching and modeling objects and characters and imagining a virtual world to contain them.
One stretch goal style formal domain I might like to explore is sound design – both creating unique sounds for unique creatures, and procedurally creating sound based the modeled behaviors in this world, just like I'm planning to do via motion/animation.
Instead of digging up more information on these domains, I wanted to immediately dive in and immediately experiment. Adding more creative and aesthetic domains to my list helped me look beyond pure code experiments and algorithms – it got me thinking in 3D forms.
So I dove in, and watched twelve hours of 3D modeling tutorials, and then sat down to build some initial forms (grotesque humanoids derived from a simple base mesh I purchased online.) After several days of experiments I realized my ambitions far outstripped my abilities in 3D modeling. I wasn't able to create even the simplest forms, and manipulating existing geometry was far more complex and require much more finesse than I'm capable of.
I'm at a crossroads as to whether to continue to experiment in 3D, or switch to another medium. My next set of experiments might stick closer to forms I'm more capable in. Unfortunately, my 2D design skills aren't great either, so I'm currently unclear on the best way forward. I could do some experiments with sound generation next week, or dig in to another group of 3D modeling tutorials. I may have bitten off more than I could chew with Houdini – I was seduced by it's procedural tools, but it does have an infamously high learning curve based on my initial research.