Art from code - Generator.x
Generator.x is a conference and exhibition examining the current role of software and generative strategies in art and design. [Read more...]
Tag: physics

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Brandon Morse: Procedural animation

The stark videos of Brandon Morse present the viewer with excercises in tension, set tableaux in which structures morph and twist under physical constraints. Stripped-down architectural forms that ought to exhibit the rigidity of highrise buildings instead engage in a tug-of-war, the result of a string simulation distributing kinetic force through a network of nodes.

Morse seems to delight in setting up scenarios where seemingly ordered constructs rapidly degenerate under the influence of virtual force, which can only be observed through the dramatic effects it exerts. The end result is a state of irrecoverable chaos, brought about by causal simulated chain of action and reaction.

Unlike software-based generative artworks that exhibit endless timelines, Morse’s videos (created in the high-end animation package Houdini) display a clear dramaturgy. But rather than being a side effect of their status as “canned” video, the presence of an explicit beginning and end is here part and parcel of the work’s logic, reinforcing the movement towards the inevitable.

Favorite setups include explosions and collapses, dryly observed through an impartial camera that merely records the inevitable. Work titles like Cumulus_1 and Big Bang refer to physical simulations. Others, like Preparing for the inevitable (a particle system tornado bearing down on a wireframe house), are more explicitly apocalyptic. But while the implication of doom is clear, the image is deliberately kept abstract and artificial. Lacking a focus for projected empathy, the viewer is left with the sense of observing a scientific experiment, a computer-generated Armageddon minus the carnage.

Brandon Morse is represented by Conner Contemporary. For more examples of his work, visit his site

The video shown above was posted on Morse’s Flickr stream as a test of the new Video on Flickr feature. Hopefully more videos will start appearing on the Generator.x Flickr pool as a result, although the Generator.x channel on Vimeo is still our official choice for posting animated work.


Once a Mathematician always an Artist is a recent article posted at on Andy Lomas’ artwork “Aggregation” which has been displayed at several art galleries around the world this past year. Lomas was a CGI Supervisor at ESC for Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions when he researched simulation of growth processes for use in visual effects for the films. He wanted to create an organic look and feel to the black “goo” surrounding the victims faces upon being punched by Mr. Smith. The mathematical rules used for Aggregation is inspired by a base algorithm called “diffusion limited aggregation” – a fractal growth model – which was invented by physicists T.A. Witten and L.M. Sander in 1981. The complex black and white life like 3d forms are “grown” in virtual cylinders in a process resembling the growth processes in coral reef structures.

Falstad: 2D Vector field

Paul Falstad: 2D Vector field

Falstad: 3D Waves simulation

Paul Falstad: 3D Waves simulation

Workshops on computational design and generative art tend to start with a sense of excitement. The participants find themselves exhilarated as they discover that forms can be made to move and interact with just a few lines of code. But then a certain point is reached, where the words “trigonometry” and “vector” are mentioned. And often exhilaration turns to despair.

Regardless of whether you believe the old “right brain / left brain” clichee that creative people are bad at math and vice versa, there is a wall of knowledge that divides the scientist from the creatives. The old mistake is to think that the scientists have all the knowledge on their side, since they can to refer to physical laws and all kinds of theorems. The artists and designers are left with “soft” theories of communication and art history, much maligned by the rational scientific community. But put a physicist in charge of an advertising campaign, and you will most likely get a spectacular failure. In fact, it will be much like a nuclear reactor built by cubist painters.

Yet aesthetics is a field of knowledge, with massive amounts of empirical data to back it up. Advertising execs and industrial designers can refer to demographic studies, ergonomic principles and historical and cultural biases as to which color best expresses joy. But the artist is sometimes left with no option but to say “it is so”, without the faintest data to back her up. Still, no creative would doubt that any artist’s method is based on a mass of internalized knowledge. It’s just a shame it’s so hard to communicate.

A simple “you know stuff, too” pep-talk will never get creatives over the mathematics threshold. Some will give up, some will find unexpected resources within themselves and yet others will learn to build on work done by others. That’s where people like Paul Falstad come in handy.

Falstad has published a rich resource of Java applets demonstrating physical and mathematical principles, many of them with source code included. One can find wave simulations, vector fields, digital signal filters, magnetostatic fields and even quantum theory. And while this is still heady stuff, at least it’s in a visual form.

Another famous source is Paul Bourke. He has published papers, algorithmic how-to's and even information on common file formats. Many computational designers acknowledge a deep debt to Bourke’s work.

Want to model organic or mechanical motion? Go pay Craig Reynolds a visit, he created the classic Boids algorithm and has plenty of data and code online. This is essential reading for learning how to describe movement in terms of intention and action, rather than just as a set of changing X,Y coordinates.

The moral? There is hope. Any student who learns to google creatively will find help for even the most obscure problem.

(Via Andreas Nordenstam on BEK’s BB list.)

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