We asked Mekanism if they'd create a show opener for CaT and its team, led by Emmett Feldman, motion graphics division head and creative director, came through in a major way.
The piece, shot on a consumer-level DSLR, combines stop-motion and a generative application to create a futuristic block village, building layers of shapes amid ethereal sound design before sprouting leaves and revealing the CaT logo. We spoke with Feldman and Mekanism EP Jason Harris to hear how they created the striking piece.
What was the initial aim for the piece?
Emmett Feldman: I think one of the initial ideas was Teressa really wanting something playful, and that kind was kind of a jumping off point to start thinking about the treatment, and how we might be able to go about doing it. That's where the idea of building blocks came in; in a way it's like the art of play. I think that all creative people and technologically minded people play with building blocks or some other sort of simple iconic toy. From there we wanted to meld the creative and technological feel in a relatively obvious way. The building blocks were a good jumping off point but we wanted to collaborate with some programmers who could create some generative visuals that would work as a foundation. A lot of technological stuff is like a bucket you can pour creativity into and stuff emerges from it.
How did the technology aspect combine with the stop-motion?
EF: For the generative visuals, we collaborated with this guy Gabriel Dunn [graphics/animation programmer], who's totally amazing, and in three days he built this real-time 3D visualizing application that we were able to capture the visuals off of and play them back out of this LCD screen while we were doing stop-motion on top of it. It's kind of a complex setup.
Jason Harris: Gabriel created this program that does all the LCD lines that you see, and Emmett put it on a flat screen in a dark room, controlled it with a keyboard to make the LCD move, then placed the little building blocks, the crystals, on the LCD and shot it frame-by-frame to give it the stop-motion effect. I think what's cool about it is it's this very rudimentary stop-motion part mixed with this crazy algorithm-LCD-3D thing that Gabriel built.
EF: It's one of those things that we had never done before, so we definitely wanted to experiment in a sense. There's multiple layers in terms of what we're seeing and how it was put together. A lot of it is taking a page from shooting things practically, that tactile movement that's going on right now, but using a different take in a way. Instead of having a flat screen with flat graphics we wanted to actually build in a sense of perspective, that there's depth to the screen, depth to these ideas. Another really important part of this is the whole nature of these blocks and how they affect the light below them. They really refract the light, bend the light, play with the light, and change what's there in a sense. What we're viewing and discovering underneath is definitely an important part of it.
What was the hardest part?
EF: The hardest part was actually the process of creating the right visuals that would be on the screen relative to the camera angle, making sure it all worked together. There was a lot of trial and error in terms of composing the LCD screen visuals and making sure that felt right with the angle we were shooting at and how to relate to the blocks. It's kind of a jigsaw puzzle in a sense, it wasn't something we could easily manipulate within the computer, you had to first animate something in the computer, capture it, bring it down to the screen, put it there, set up a camera, make sure angles look right. There was definitely a lot of back and forth.
How did you do the plants?
EF: Animating them was kind of sacrificing them, chopping them up and playing it backwards to make it look like they were growing. But the plants are really cool, it just added another organic matter in there that really felt right combined with all the electroluminescent forms. What was really interesting was finding out a way to light the plants, because the only source of light was from the LCD screen, so you needed a really strong bright white below the plants to show the translucency of the leaves, and you can really see that towards the end.
JH: I think we got overambitious; we were like 'We'll do some animations for your conference,' throwing it out there, then realizing the whole point of the conference was emerging technologies and how that helps and assists with creativity; Emmett took that approach and thought 'Let me build something that hasn't been done before and do a production in a new way.' So we kind of created this technique blending the LCD screen with stop-motion, and it ended up being challenging but right for the show.
To read more on CaT, check out the agenda, or buy tickets, hit the event microsite.