The other day at the office I was talking with some friends about animation, art, code, math. You know, the usual stuff. The subject of beauty came up, and it occurred to me that beauty, in all of these different disciplines, is often associated with elegant solutions to problems. Beautiful math explains complex phenomena with simple formulas, while beautiful animation accomplishes rich and layered storytelling goals with seemingly simple actions.
A couple of days later I stumbled on Daniel White’s amazing 3D fractal images, via my friend Saschka. I’ve been a fan of fractals since reading Mandelbrot’s book in high school. The Mandelbrot set is this rare creature that’s beautiful both mathematically (an elegant formula) and visually (rewarding exploration with endless variety). Like everybody else, I wondered whether something as beautiful could exist in three dimensions (or more, for that matter!) Until recently, though, nothing had turned up. There were beautiful shapes made using complex formulas, and elegant formulas that made ho-hum images, but nothing as sublime as Mandelbrot’s set. This thing, though, looks very promising!
If you like math even a little bit, it’s really worth reading White’s account of how these images got made. The guy wrote his own renderer, for crying out loud!
Daniel White doesn’t seem convinced yet that this object is the “real” 3D Mandelbrot, and I’m inclined to agree: as stunning as it is visually, there’s something a bit unwieldy about the formula, with all its thetas and phis. But what’s wonderful is the way White and his colleagues are conducting their search. They’re not content with just one kind of beauty. It won’t be “real” to them unless it has both!
Christian Faur is an artist who makes these wonderful image-sculptures out of custom-cast crayons. The work itself is very Rungy Chungy and appealing to the eye. And Faur apparently has a thing for certain mathematicians. But it also turns out that he’s encoded synesthetic messages into several of his pieces:
Further, I have developed a mapping system that translates the English alphabet into twenty six discrete colors and I use these crayon “fonts” to add words and language to each of the pieces in the show… The direct representation of language in each piece further imbues the works with meaning and brings an aspect of color into each composition reminiscent of DNA coding. The alphabetic key at the lower left of each panel allows the viewer to interpret the individual words written throughout the various panels.
I gather that Faur does not actually have synesthesia himself, but this system makes perfect sense to me. If only he’d chosen his colors differently, I might be able to read the text straight up without the key! (Although it’s pleasing to note that his C, E, and Z are all perfect matches for my own.)
Today we went to the “Art of Coraline” exhibit at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum. It’s a fantastic show, full of gorgeous drawings, maquettes, armatures and full puppets from the making of the movie (which comes out next weekend by the way… we’re gonna try to catch one of the stereo 3D screenings, don’t wanna miss that!)
My personal favorite thing to see was a little black journal, chained to the wall, labeled “Secrets”. It’s a reproduction of the working diary of Jeremy Spake, one of the armature builders. Not only is it a beautiful object, but it shows just how experimental the process really is. Stop motion is still very much an evolving art form, and it’s the thought process of guys like this that keeps it evolving. Rock on!
Here are a few more photos from the show:
But it’s really worth seeing this stuff in person. The armatures and puppets are so detailed that no photo can do them justice. And strangely, a lot of the artwork in the show doesn’t appear in the only available “visual companion” book about the movie. So this may really be your only chance to see it. The exhibit is only up until February 15th, so try to get there while you still can! (And if Coraline ain’t enough for ya, there are two other exhibits at the Museum right now: the Totoro Forest Project, and a retrospective of the work of Gene Colan. Between the three of them it’s well worth the price of admission!)