Art & Science in Animation

Introduction

This project is an immersive animated film experience that explores the basics of quantum-theory expressing observations with design archetypes to shed new insights on natural phenomena. With this artwork, I wanted to go beyond the limitations of classical logic and use images as poetry to represent the quantum world metaphorically. Using design within the scope of ideas embraced by Mesoamerican thought, I try to create visual metaphors that explore, discover, and communicate the counterintuitive and contradictory beauty of quantum mechanics.

Quantum LOGOS (vision serpent), my primary question when starting this project was, how can I make this work relevant to my cultural background to conveying meaning through animation? I wanted to use generative-animation to delve into the science, exploring the challenging concepts of quantum theory, with a contemporary artistic interpretation. In this artwork, I want to convey the awe that I felt when seeking answers for questions like, “What is the nature of existence as determined by science?” I did not want to make a pedantic infomercial that would graphically explain ideas around Young’s Double Slit Experiment. My goal was to use a humanist visual language.

Mandala sequence & Derivative Touchdesigner Interface

A cylindrical stereoscopic and VR installation of Quantum LOGOS (vision serpent) in progress. at the Institute for Media Innovation “Reality Theater” Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, January 2020 ©Mark Chavez

The Interactive Interlude: fields of energy follow me

Imagined as a mystical Maya cenote in the Interactive Wave Sequence @ Ars Electronica Festival 2019, Deep Space 8k Theatre ©Mark Chavez

As an animation industry veteran based mainly in Los Angeles, California, my involvement with animation started with event-based laser animation. Then I moved onto interactive educational content, television, corporate video in Japan, console games, feature-based animation, digital sculpting, short-form character content, teaching, and research. I am currently exploring immersive interactive design systems in storytelling. Early on in my career, for my MFA at UCLA, I did an animated short in laser light called “Omeyotl.” At that time, I worked part-time for a company in Los Angeles, California, that did laser shows. A group from Mexico made inquiries about doing a laser show on a pyramid for a celebration in Mexico City in 1981. I furthered this idea and completed it in 1983. We projected the piece in laser-light onto the Federal Building in Westwood, CA, during the 1984 Summer Olympics. I also shot it on film. Since then, I have been interested in revisiting Mesoamerican themes and studying them as a hobby.

In my current work, Quantum LOGOS (vision serpent), though the design intent in the artwork has a Mesoamerican feel, the design does not use any iconography from the region. Instead, I use imagery to describe ideas as defined by contemporary Mesoamerican philosophers James Maffie in his book Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in Motion, (Maffie, 2015) and Alexus McLeod’s, Philosophy of the Ancient Maya: Lords of Time. (McLeod, 2017) These books offer a great analysis of the Mexica (Aztec) and Maya world view. They provide a great source of ideas based on Mesoamerican thought. While the imagery I use does not use historical imagery, it does use a rich template of imagined imagery derived from the Mesoamerican way of thinking, as discussed by these authors. My artistic goal is to detail ideas as a contemporary metaphysical naturalist might envision in a mythic, design-based animation based artwork. I discussed this approach with a small team of expert science communication and art academics to devise the solutions used in the piece.

Many philosophical questions arise in the context of our approach. Ideas raised by quantum theory, for instance, The Double Slit Experiment and Quantum Entanglement, otherwise known as “spooky action at a distance,” have long been of interest to artists. Many, like Roberto Matta, Hokusai, Dalí, and Henry Moore, among others, have used elements of quantum theory to inform their artwork.[1] The main pitfall in taking on this content is that it is all too easy to align with pseudo-science. Additionally, I did not want to appropriate cultural icons that, with our current scientifically-informed culture, we can hardly begin to understand in meaning, intent, and historical context.

Design Approach: exploring science with design archetypes

Quantum LOGOS (vision serpent) dynamically illuminates the challenging concepts in quantum science. With immersive real-time animation, I visually explore ideas evident in quantum theory, referencing cultural Mesoamerican design archetypes. These styles are favored because, while pursuing research on these topics, I discovered that there are similarities in the conceptual construction of their philosophical views with the current Metaphysical Naturalist (scientific) world view. The background research for this movie is an extensive analysis of Mesoamerican artworks, urban design, and the mathematical precision of their calendric studies. Moreover, I studied ideas manifest in the philosophical principals in the broader ancient world and sought basic concepts and patterns that are currently evident as proposed by quantum theory. In readings from the books of Maffie and McLeod, what stands out is that these cultures had a pantheistic world view where everything vibrates in a woven field of life.

Pantheism in the western world was first discussed in Spinoza’s Ethics, finished in 1675, two years before his death.[2] Outside of the west, it is one of the world’s oldest forms of spirituality. The Maya developed a highly sophisticated and complex belief system that posited time as an integral part of their understanding. For the Mexica (Aztec), Gods, or better put, expressions of spirit are an ever-dynamic part of everything, literally woven throughout every aspect of life. The indigenous peoples of Mexico had no word for god or goddess, so I interpret these as archetypal forces. The Mexica/Maya priest understands that the spirit body does not exist separate from the physical body. As an individual consciousness residing in the middle (of body and mind), we seek to understand these things further, to comprehend the nature of our world.

In this artwork, using what can only be leveraged by a fantasy-based palette rooted in artistic intuition, I have interpreted nature and existence with designs and artwork that reflect a collective mythic memory. In one sequence, I show the effect of the sun as a source of energy whose gravitational force warps fields of space around it and that through the quantum effect is evident in biological systems as the light of the sun sustains life in a tree through photosynthesis. I use visual metaphors to describe this effect from a contemporary perspective. In the interactive interlude, as with the Double Slit Experiment, I further this approach by taking waveforms to reinterpret the illusionary rippled forms they take. I expound on these shapes when they form crisscrossing interference patterns to suggest meaning. I create a pool of energy across the screen in blue that I imagine the ancient Maya may have witnessed when performing their meditative rituals in Cenotes (sinkholes that had reflecting pools at the bottom).

One of my primary goals was to create an artwork that told a story with imagery moving from design to design, guiding the audience through a visual forest that has a deeper meaning than static immersive visuals. Often interactive art is conceived as a fixed state with mostly responsive reactive changes. Although this is an exciting way to immerse an audience in an interactive installation, my interests were to take the viewer through numerous design-states that would create a visual story that elicits an emotional impact. Usually, immersive installations are static in design with a predominately single interactive narrative points. For example, waves that continually shift back and forth, where the audience can approach and move a particle effect back and forth. My primary goal in creating this artwork was to convey a story, limit the interaction to a specific moment. Then provide an interlude where the audience can immerse themselves into the movie to have a more meaningful experience.

Abstract animation is challenging to understand. The short film runs through a 10-minute 30-second abstract narrative and then opens up to an interactive interlude. To simplify the story, I decided to use the mountain curve as a template for emotional pacing related to movement, shape, and color design. These are Exposition | Conflict | Climax | Resolution | Epilogue, otherwise known as the arch plot, the universal story, mythic structure, the hero’s journey, etc. If done well, “universal story” creates a satisfying story experience where all the pieces seem to fall effortlessly into place. It’s clean. It’s inspiring.[3] For Aristotle, story structure is fundamentally guided by the generation and catharsis of emotions.[4] Oddly enough, using this pacing format gives the movie the feeling of an abstract creation myth.

Summary

Mesoamerican ideas concerning the nature of reality assert that reality is a woven fabric of intent. The individual takes an active role with the forces enveloping them, and that forms their existence. This project tries to understand different ways of thinking, ancient and contemporary. To consider modern ideas regarding Quantum Theory, that assert that physical reality as fields of different kinds of energy forms frequencies that ripple to construct what we perceive as reality and how this compares to ancient world views. Quantum LOGOS (vision serpent) focuses on the wave-like phenomena in a reactive narrative platform. It uses artistic concepts to illuminate scientific concepts about the nature of our world. This piece is a short time-based immersive artwork that attempts to use classic Mesoamerican and modern ideas as inspiration for the research behind it. In this piece, I am endeavoring to present new ideas with an ancient symbolic interpretation that attests to the timeless beauty of nature.

Project biography

My interests have changed over the years from feature-based character work and short-form content to surreal subjective narrative work to exploring immersive interactive design systems in storytelling. Recently my partner, Ina Conradi, and I were artist-in-residence at the UCLA Art/Sci Center, directed by artist Victoria Vesna and physicist James Gimzewski. Interacting with this inspiring duo and their colleagues, and living in Los Angeles in a pre-COVID time inspired us to take on artworks that examine science with a humanistic approach. In 2018, Ina and I set up a collaborative called Quantum Travelers with Bianka Hofmann (Creative Producer, Science Experience Specialist), Robert Kastner (Head of Candeed Cue; Vienna, Austria), and Dr. Rupert Ursin (Group Leader & Senior Scientist at the Institute For Quantum Optics And Quantum Information Vienna). We first met Ms. Hofmann during a presentation she and colleagues made at the UCLA Art/Sci Center, and Nadia Thalmann (Professor), Director of the Institute for Media Innovation “Being There Center,” Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Although I worked as the primary artist, animator, and director on this project and took needed advice from my colleagues on the content, where deemed necessary, in this writeup, I will use the personal form as to authorship.

For a post describing the research in detail follow the link above.

[1] Ball, P. (2008). Quantum weirdness and surrealism. Nature, 453(7198), 983-984.
[2] Levine, M. P. (2002). Pantheism: A non-theistic concept of deity. Routledge.
[3] Alderson, M. (2011). The plot whisperer: Secrets of story structure any writer can master. Simon and Schuster.
[4] Lloyd, G. E. R., & Lloyd, G. E. R. (1968). Aristotle: the growth and structure of his thought (Vol. 456). Cambridge University Press.


Trailer:


Quantum LOGOS (vision serpent), is currently screening as a short animated film at film festivals listed below.

Ars Electronica Festival Deep Space 8k 2019 — Special Dual Screen, Interactive Theater Event
Raw Science Film Festival — Industry Award, Best Visual Effects
Official Latino Film and Arts Festival — Official Selection/U.S. Experimental or Animation
Los Angeles Motion Picture Festival — Award Winner: Best Animation
BEYOND Film Festival 2020 — Special Screening & Presentation/July 2020
The Flight Deck Film Festival — Finalist: Short Films
Monthly Indie Shorts — Official Selection/September 2020 Edition
Synergy Film Festival — Official Selection/Experimental Film
Mosaic World Film Festival— Official Selection/Experimental
New York Animation Film Awards (NYAFA) — Semi-Finalist: Best Original Score in Animation Film