Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Animata Research Proposal - For MA at RMIT

Title of program:

Organic animata: explorations in the junctions between animated and natural environments

Summary of project

This research program will investigate how biological determinants and environmental rates of change can function as time bases for animated environments. It will study the relationships between organic, manipulated and simulated forms of nature and movement, and will research the implications of co-existence of these forms within a single constructed ‘world’, such as an animation. The objective of the research is to produce a set of experimental artworks that explore these relationships and their implications.

Brief description

According to the eminent Archaeobotanist Prof. Gordon Hillman, the manipulation of nature in one form or another by Humans began 13 millennia ago(Hillman). As we arrive into an age where complex computer animated realities and simulated environments are in wide use, the manipulation and simulation of nature takes on new implications. Baudrillard defines simulation as:

“The generation by models of a real without origin or reality; a hyperreal…. To simulate is to feign to have what one hasn’t.”(Baudrillard)

Based upon our ongoing predilection to manipulate nature in ever expanding, and usually rather empirical ways, some interesting questions arise at the meeting point of organic and simulated nature, and how these two versions of reality might intertwine.

Animation is the process of creating a series of images (frames) and displaying them back in sequence. For the purposes of this research program, time base will be used to refer to the rate of change, or time, that is chosen to govern the rate at which frames are captured, and henceforth the rate at which the animation emerges.

The purpose of this research is to investigate, construct and document some of the different ways that different biological and environmental factors (such as rate of plant growth, the passage of a day, or the turning of the seasons) can be used as time bases for animation. In addition to adhering to time bases selected from the natural environment, these animations will explore the use of both natural (found/already growing/pre-existent/incidental) and animated, actively introduced (placed / constructed / simulated/ intentional) factors in order to create animated ‘environments’ which are neither wholly real, nor wholly simulated, as they contain elements of both.

Aim of the research

The aim of the research is to investigate the possibilities of adherence to natural time-bases within animation, and the implications for the co-existence of organic and simulated elements within a single animated ‘world’.

Research questions, issues and problems

∑ How can adhering to a natural, independent time-base (i.e. the rotation of the earth) within an animated world inform and influence the resultant animation?

∑ By what techniques can incubated organisms and plants co-exist in real time with simulated animated elements in order to produce a single, cohesive ‘environment’? What are the implications of this co-existence with regard to the boundaries between the organic and the simulated?

∑ What are the implications of utilizing the growth-rate of propagated elements as the time-base within a stop-frame animation involving other moving elements?

End product of research

The objective of the research is to deliver, through research and direct experimentation, a set of animated proofs and an exegesis that examines the questions outlined above.

Location and resources

The research will be based in my studio in Fitzroy, Melbourne and in the Animation and Interactive Media Centre, RMIT.

Rationale for program:

Since the onset of cultivation of nature for reasons of survival, it is perhaps through the cultivating of nature for reasons of pleasure, in the form of the garden, that we can best trace humanity’s evolving perception of the natural environment, and the larger world. Carl Jenks notes

“Japanese Zen gardens, Persian paradise gardens, and the English and French Renaissance gardens were, in some respects, analogies for the cosmos as then understood. They also told stories of physical and cultural evolution.”(Jenks).

What we perceive as nature, and therefore what we perceive as ‘natural’, in terms of context, form and movement, continues to change. The onset of wholesale simulation of natural environments for purposes ranging from science through to art can be seen as further manipulations of our perceptions of nature. And it could be said that only when attempting to simulate natural environments that their complexity is fully realised (although seldom fully understood)

The world of animated simulations of natural environments has at its core a fundamentally predictable relationship between maker and work – even where outside data-sets are at play to define various parameters, the behaviour of a natural simulation system is necessarily bound by the parameters of the program and the imagination of the maker/s, resulting in an outcome that is the sum of its mediated parts. At the same time, simulation necessarily segregates the work from the maker to a degree – the maker obviously does not engage with the growth of a world at the pace at which it is perceived to have been constructed.

This research program seeks to investigate methods that are, in some ways, at the opposite end of simulation – by electing to be bound by metrics held within biological systems, this research program will explore simulations directly influenced by algorithms of nature. Concurrently, these experiments will contain organic elements as central visual aspects of the works, utilizing propagated growth of plants, wilderness landscapes and terrarium environments to explore different scenarios where natural rates of change and growth could co-exist with constructed and simulated elements. How do working within these parameters inform the overall result in terms of both concept and process, and what are the implications for the resultant works, which have (un)simulated realities at their core?

This research program will result in the widening of the knowledge base which concerns the junction between fabricated and organically created environments in an animation context, and will contribute a range of studies within an area largely consigned to simulation. This research will explore some of the ways in which adhering to the constraints of real-time parameters of growth and natural rhythms can affect and inform a larger work, and ways in which these constraints can merge with new media works to produce results that have facets that are simultaneously anticipated yet unexpected, and reveal further insights to our perception of nature.


This research program will be undertaken as described below and will require 2.5 years to complete, based upon my attendance as a part-time student for 2006, and as a fulltime-student for 2007 and half of 2008

This research program will aim to explore the questions outlined above via a process of scholarly research coupled with hands-on experimentation, which will result in a series of animated proofs. It is envisaged that the experiments will be based upon a series of ideas and techniques at the intersection between time-lapse and stop-frame animation, simulation and site-specific installation.

The three methods of investigation will be;

The use of small-scale, incubated environments consisting of plants and organisms as viewable, real-time facets of an installation concept in which real and simulated nature attempts to co-exist and overlap to create a larger, cohesive 'environment'.

Site-specific, stop-motion animation incorporating landscapes of constructed elements in concert with the environment, whereby the rates of change in the natural world create the time base to which the overall animation is recorded

Investigation of propagated (i.e. grown) environments as the central subject of a stop-motion animated world, whereby the biological determinants (which may be able to be semi-controlled) govern the rate at which the other factors within the world may be animated

Research schedule:

1. July 2006 to December 2006

Research into incubation techniques suitable for creating a small terrarium-like environment

Research into the background of simulation of natural environments, and co-existence with organic elements

Production of incubated environment in the form of a terrarium-like chamber based upon research into appropriate organisms and plants

Construction of simulated environment in the form of a screen-based work, which can interact directly with the incubated environment via datasets yet to be defined (movement, temperature, humidity) and via techniques yet to be defined (video analysis, thermometers feeding maxMSP).

Construction of installation environment in which the incubated and the simulated environments can be overlaid in order to gauge perceptions and implications of resulting co-existence.

Present installation to selection of peers

Consider result and impressions of audience
Production of paper documenting research, process and findings, to form part of the exegesis and to also exist as a publishable document.

2. February 2007 to June 2007

Secure gallery or exhibition space as appropriate for presentation of entire project in March 2008

Research into propagation within both controlled and semi-controlled environments, and into plants appropriate for propagation over timeframe of experiment

Research onto stop-frame animation techniques

Define propagated elements to be used, experiment with possible time bases
available to experiment,

Define other introduced elements to be animated as part of the piece

Design ‘world’ of piece, giving consideration to necessary constraints of propagated elements and chosen time base

Animate piece

Consider result

Production of paper documenting research, process and findings, to form part of the exegesis and to also exist as a publishable document.

3. July 2007 to December 2007

Research into time-lapse techniques

Define site for site-specific landscape animation – research parameters inherent to the site of weather, aspect, and any other considerations

Define time base(s) to be used based upon location and parameters of site

Define introduced elements to be animated, their placement within the landscape, their ‘behaviour’, their materials, again based upon research relating to the site

Produce animation

Consider result

Production of paper documenting research, process and findings, to form part of the exegesis and to also exist as a publishable document.

4. February 2008 to June 2008

Review completed experiments and collate process writings

Preparation of completed works for project presentation

Preparation of exegesis

Complete exegesis

Present project of completed works in exhibition or gallery space

Annotated Bibliography

Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994.

In this text Baudrillard explores notions of Simulations from a cultural viewpoint, describing Disneyland, for example, as one of the ultimate simulations of reality, by his definition of Simulation. This text is useful in the range of cultural objects and scenarios that are presented for consideration as simulations and simulacra.

Berger, John. Ways of Seeing: Based on the BBC Television Series with John Berger. London: British Broadcasting Corporation, Penguin, 1972.

Berger’s most familiar text, accompanying the television series of the same name, looks at the impact of visual art on what we regard as image, memory and perception. This text is useful in providing a viewpoint on the ideological and technological conditioning of our ways of seeing both art and the world.

Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. Steven Rendall: University of California Press, Berkley, 1984

With particular reference to the chapter ‘Walking in the City’, this text explores the experience of the everyday, and in particular the relationships between individuals and the meta-organism of the city. This text is useful in that it explores and regards urban landscapes and cities as organisms, and the implications of the effect of components behavior upon the whole could be likened to any other natural system.

Dorin, A & McCormack, J. "Ways of Seeing: Visualization of Artificial Life Environments." Beyond Fitness: Visualizing Evolution. Ed. Bird Smith, Bullock: MIT Press, 2002.

This paper looks at cultural assumptions in relation to visualizations and simulations. It is useful in that it provides a short overview of notions similar to Berger’s regarding cultural conventions of seeing and visual representation, however this text also touches upon Artificial Life environments within the same context.

Forbes, Nancy. Imitation of Life: how biology is inspiring computing MIT Press, 2005

Forbes is a scholar in Physics and Humanities, and currently a US government analyst in science and technology. This text looks at ecosystems within the computer and what can be viewed as ‘alive’ within such an environment. It is useful in its detailed references to how science is simulation nature as a model and a metaphor for new generative processes.

Goldsworthy, Andy. Hand to Earth. London: Thames and Hudson, 1990.

Of all Goldsworthy’s texts, which usually accompany his lushly produced, large format books of his artworks, this text is the one I find the most detailed and insightful regarding the concepts and processes behind his site-specific works. This text is valuable in its ruminations upon time and the natural world as governing factors in the creation of site-specific artworks incorporating natural materials.

Hillman, G & Harris, D R. Foraging and Farming: The Evolution of Plant Exploitation. London: Unwin and Hyman, 1989.

This is one of Hillman’s earlier texts on the history of agriculture within the discipline of Archeobotany. It is useful in that it explores the emergence of cultivated nature by humans from the point of view of the plant species involved, rather than the sociological implications of farming-based societies, and looks at the implications of the impact of this on plant diversity and evolution

Jenks, Charles. The Garden of Cosmic Speculation. 2003. London: Frances Lincon Ltd, 2003. 2005.

This text, by a noted architect, describes a long-term personal project – the formation of a garden dedicated to representing various ideas and theories about the cosmos and human perception in the form of a formal garden. The text is wide ranging in what it covers as ideas and concepts behind the garden’s construction, and provides a very personal view on the relationships between natural forms, architecture, and man’s manipulation of nature.

Kastner, Jeffery and Wallis, Brian. Land and Environment Art. New York: Phaidon Press Inc., 1998.

This text is an extensive survey of Land and Environmental Art from the 60s to the 90s, with a slant towards American Artists as the founders and lynchpins of the movement. Despite notable exceptions (who were not American), this resource contains a great amount of detailed information about the psychology of Land Art, and although it does not provide a range of views to counterpoint the glowing canon of American Land Artists, it is an important overview of a large sector of the scene. This text is useful in that it provides photo documentation of a broad range of approaches to artist’s working in landscapes in a variety of ways

Maeda, John. Maeda@Media. London: Thames & Hudson, 2000.

This mostly pictorial text is a plethora of Maeda’s designs, plans, doodles and commissions, dealing with a range of concerns through design of various online applications, graphic design, programming and exhibitions. The text is useful in various passages ruminating on calendars, perception of time, and simulation.

McCormack, John. "Evolving Sonic Ecosystems." Kybernetes.32 (2003): 184-202.

This paper investigates one of McCormack’s works, Eden, an ALife (Artificial Life) environment. It is useful in that it examines the representation and simulation of a ‘natural’ system in abstract terms and physical presentation.

---. "Turbulence - the Beauty to Be (Exhibition Catalogue)". Melbourne, 1995. PDF of catalogue. Ian Potter Gallery.

This Catalogue essay for McCormack’s 1995 work, Turbulence, is interesting in that it draws together various threads regarding natural forms and systems into what McCormack calls an ‘inscape’ of nature – a digital nature of human design. It is useful in that I feel it sums up a period in new media art looking at natural systems as structures to be departed from into ‘impossible natures’, which is relevant to my research, although I do not intend to follow that perspective.

Solnit, Rebecca. Wanderlust, a History of Walking. London: Verso, 2001.

This text, by a historian who has also covered such topics as cultural perceptions of being lost, and Earthward Mobridge’s impact upon the American notion of technology, looks at the history of walking since its inception as a pastime rather than transport, from the industrial revolution. It is a useful text in its history of the garden and the evolution of the perception of the ‘outdoors’ from wilderness to mediated space; this in turn reveals many things about how we view nature and landscape, and what we have come to ‘expect' from nature

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