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Viva Paci

Images from the Future: Lost and Found in the Images du Futur collection

Sunless Images: 3D Animation (part III)

Xavier Duval, Jérôme Estienne, Xanadu City, 1992 (video)
Xavier Duval, Jérôme Estienne, Xanadu City, 1992 (video)
John Berton, Rolf Herken, Mental Images, 1987 (video)
John Berton, Rolf Herken, Mental Images, 1987 (video)
Blue Sky, Funky Towel, 1996 (video)
Blue Sky, Funky Towel, 1996 (video)
Jerzy Kular, Krakken, 1996 (video)
Jerzy Kular, Krakken, 1996 (video)
Georges Le Piouffle, Nature morte, 1990 (video)
Sharon Calahan, Night Café, 1989 (video)
Maurice Benayoun, Quarxs, 1991 (video)
Mimicking films and making paintings move

In 3D animations (those that are figurative and, more specifically, those in which a narrative imposes an order on the pixels), the treatment of space reflects a paradox. Even if there is no camera, object to be filmed or field to be lit, one still has a smooth succession of focal point changes that effect resolution and depth of field, and one sees the object from different viewpoints. But 3D images quite obviously only simulate the entire thing; what we are dealing with here are rules, conventions and possibilities within the realm of analogic and cinematographic images. The idea behind such optical simulation is probably that viewers of moving images are already familiar with the entire range of film conventions and wish to see them reproduced in the world of 3D.

Georges Le Piouffle, Nature morte, 1990 (video) Sharon Calahan, Night Café, 1989 (video) Maurice Benayoun, Quarxs, 1991 (video) Emmanuel Carlier, Temps Morts, 1996

Simulated cinema

The tracking shot (particularly the zoom shot) is one of the "camera movements" most often found in narratives involving 3D images.

For example, we see a house covered in pretty Christmas decorations. Then, from a zoom-out shot (in one fluid and continuous motion that could not be achieved in a live-action shoot) we learn that the house is a decoration on a Christmas tree bulb. As the zoom-out progresses, the tree is seen to be in a small grove next to a hut on which snow is falling, and this in turn appears to be inside a glass ball like the one in Citizen Kane, and so on, almost to infinity...

On the one hand these (fake) camera movements through matter, which could not be achieved in the cinema, mimic film language; on the other hand, however, they seem to strike back at it by actually doing what the cinema cannot do. There are many such examples. In the late 1980s, Fantôme, a French production house specializing in synthesized images, had animations entered in nearly all the animation competitions of Images du Futur (usually in the "TV credits/logos" category and occasionally in the "advertising" category). With their fake camera movements, these produced a veritable genre of TV channel attires.

The panoramic shot was another type of "camera movement" widely used in making 3D images.

This example (see opposite) of an animation by John Berton and Rolf Herken, of the Berlin company Mental Image (founded in 1987), gives us a good idea of that trend in digital imagery which consisted in constructing a complex space composed of champs and hors-champ and smooth transitions from one to the other, as if in a true cinematographic space.

Borrowed genres

3D animations have also made use of narrative frameworks already developed by cinema in certain genres such as film noir and science fiction. But more often than not, the figures and backdrops that constitute the evolutionary loci of synthesized images are possible only for an imagination free from physical constraints, hence one specific to digital images.

Musical comedy can, therefore, undergo certain variations — look at Funky Towel, Joe’s Apartment; and chase-sequence narratives can change their habitats — look at Krakken, Le monde sous-marin du futur. The example of Xanadu City, where characters are identified and characterized in different frames highlighted by decorated irises and introduced by a voice-over, is at once the successor of the great film sagas, TV series and soap operas.

Animated paintings

Synthesized animation has also developed in the elbow room between moving images and painting. In some cases, the visual art research behind the creation of three-dimensional images is enhanced by pictorial memory or culture (see also "Lines and Paintbrushes: 2D").

In the case of Nature morte, 3D enables viewers to enter — and live in — the painting. In Night Café, a street corner and window undoubtedly borrowed from the imagination of Edward Hopper become spaces that can be explored in depth, a dimension that is merely suggested in paintings. The space that 3D constructs can also be populated by curious creatures: the episode in Maurice Benayoun’s Quarxs series, (one of the first to use high definition 3D images) constitutes a highly amusing synthesis of bizarre creatures and paintings — a must see.

Three-dimensional fixed images

Three-dimensional synthesized images are always designed and modelled in tutto tondo from the figure. But these images are not "really" in relief, do not "really" have a third dimension.

Other types of procedures (whose extravagance has made classical) for designing and shooting images are, however, capable of creating three-dimensional relief and a depth that is entirely palpable and indeed almost real to our eyes.

Images du Futur paid attention to a number of such processes and to types of works, like holograms and stereoscopes, that have made use of such palpable depth (see also "Installations/Attractions", "Cinematographic Traces" and "Flashforward").

In order for us to see something in relief, each eye must see a slightly different image. Our brains can then reconstitute a relief effect using the two information inputs, which it seizes upon simultaneously. Thus, different information from some form of two-dimensional surface (such as a screen or photograph) must be transmitted to each eye, either through an optical device such a lens system, or by means of glasses that filter the information differently for each eye. But the differentiated information must already exist in the form of the respective source images. One starts, therefore, with a left-hand image and a right-hand image, each produced from a different viewpoint.

Emmanuel Carlier’s video installation Temps morts, presented at Images du Futur in 1996, illustrates one way of capturing an image using different viewpoints (see also "Installations/Attractions and Cinematographic Traces"). Four screens arranged in a circle showed an image that was recorded by 100 cameras placed all around the object to be photographed (a body in motion). This apparatus broke down the body’s motion into its constituent parts as the photographs were taken. The slightly different viewpoints — the cameras were placed around an axis that served as a reference point — were then used to reconstruct a single final image that incorporated the brief intervals (fractions of a second) between the times the camera shutters were released. Printing is the stage at which the whole thing came together. Viewers could then admire the photographed body, which was shown on a two-dimensional surface (a screen) but appeared in a sort of three-dimensional space, giving the impression that one could go all the way around it (see also "Flashforward").

The photographie lenticulaire (lens-based photograph) employed by Amy Fisch and Terry Maxedon, artists who exhibited a series of such photographs at Images du Futur in 1993, is another version of the implementation of stereoscopic technologies (see also "Flashforward"). These artist’s lens system, a series of round or longitudinal lenses arrayed on a plastic base and laid on a photograph, enables one to see a relief image directly, without the aid of a viewing device. The round lenses transmit different images to each eye. This technique can also create images that convey an impression of motion (with or without relief effects). Since the results may be perceived without any accessory devices like glasses, the procedure is relatively widespread.

Viva Paci © 2005 FDL