Art from code - Generator.x
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Tag: simulation

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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.


A post on the excellent Interactive Architecture blog reminds us that John Frazer’s classic book An Evolutionary Architecture" is downloadable as a PDF. Originally published in 1995 and now out of print, the book gives a fascinating history of experiments in computational architecture going back to the 1960’s. Frazer’s main interest is in the use of biological models in architecture, applying classic Alife models like cellular automata and genetic programming to spatial problems.

Given its age and that it was already a retrospective account when it was released, the historical perspective is one of the best aspects of the book. But this also means that many of the concepts are presented in a somewhat outdated way. Frazer’s approach to architecture is rather dry and academic, and his text can tend towards the bombastic. Still, the way he combines 1960’s utopian belief in systems with modern technology gives food for thought.

(In all modesty, there was a Generator.x post about the book all the way back in 2005.)


Manuel Lima of VisualComplexity gave an inspiring presentation yesterday at Reboot 9.0 in Copenhagen. Manuel set up the site in 2005 after doing his thesis project BlogViz at the Parson’s School of Design. Frustrated by the lack of a unified visualization resource, he started collecting links and even scanning out-of-print articles. Soon after VisualComplexity (VC) was born.

Since the launch in 2005, VC has grown to feature over 460 projects. Seen over time, it mirrors current trends in the Infoviz field regarding what kinds of data people are visualizing, as well as what techniques are popular. To reflect this, the site now features navigation by topic or by method. The statistics over common searches and subject distribution is also interesting reading.

Although the intention of VisualComplexity is academic, it does reveal a fascination with the aesthetic qualities of networks. In his talk, Manuel compared structures that look similar despite being essentially different in nature. For instance, the massive Millennium Simulation, which shows the evolution of the Universe, looks strikingly like the neural net of a rat. Obviously, this has no scientific relevance, but might explain why networks have such an aesthetic impact.

Lev Manovich has presented a reading of visualization as Data Art, with Infoviz projects often have an emotional impact on par with more traditional art forms. His paper “Data Visualisation as New Abstraction and Anti-Sublime” is downloadable from his web site. Seen in this context, VC is a treasure trove of works with both scientific and aesthetic impact. Simply scanning the page with thumbnails of all the projects will confirm this.

According to Manuel, the next step for VisualComplexity will be to turn it into an open map of maps. The VC database itself will be opened up for people to navigate or visualize in new ways. Hopefully this will help the database grow even further.

Relevant links


Soda has released a mock-up of SodaPlay 2.0 (see blog here and here). It’s over on, and gives a pretty good idea of how the new system will work when fully functional.

Most exciting for SodaPlay enthusiasts should be the links to functional new style SodaPlay applications (see image above). These launch under Java Webstart, and require Java 5.0. and a discussion forum about SodaPlay 2.0 are also online.

And if you’re a true Soda fanboy, you can follow the exploits of the Soda creative team documented on the soda creative Flickr pool, of which Alexander Kohlhofer aka Plasticshore is the most prolific contributor.


As mentioned in the previous post about Soda, there are some interesting new SodaConstructor developments in the works. While talking to the Soda crew in London a few weeks back I was lucky enough to get some details.

From its launch in 2000, the popularity of the SodaConstructor project exceeded all expectations. It was intended to be a simple experiment with Java, spring dynamics and meccano-like creatures, but quickly became a runaway hit with mentions in fashion magazines and the popular press. Something about SodaConstructor gets to people. You can call it the LEGO effect or draw parallels to the popularity of "god games", but put simply SodaConstructor is just good clean fun.

Today, SodaConstructor has over registered 200 000 users that can save their creations and show them off to others. The site sees over 200 000 visitors per month, many of whom are temporary visitors. For some users SodaConstructor has become both a serious hobby and an arena for research. There are even user-run community sites like sodaplaycentral, with serious articles on how to build "amoeba" type creatures and the workings of Multiple Stiffness Springs.

SodaPlay 2.0: The community. At first Soda was unprepared for the popularity of the project, and had no time to support or develop it further. A simple but much-needed mechanism for saving user models was added, and allowed for the Sodazoo. In 2002 SodaRace was released thanks to external support. It provided a XML file format for models, making it possible to automate model design through AI and alife strategies. With a nod to Karl Sims’ classic Evolved Virtual Creatures, SodaRace uses the metaphor of a race to evaluate the ability of different models to navigate a random terrain. It became a hit with the AI and engineering community.

Now, with the generous long-time support of NESTA Soda are working on combining the popularity and simplicity of SodaConstructor with the advanced functions of SodaRace. The result will be SodaPlay 2.0, which will combine community functions (think Flickr, with galleries, comments etc) with a XML application framework called Playforge for creating models as well as modifying the SodaConstructor environment itself. SodaPlay 2.0 is scheduled for launch sometime in the near future.

The details of the APIs and framework are still being worked on, but users will be able to customize the interface of the Constructor enviroment as well as the physical simulation being used. These modifications can be saved as “Extensions” and shared with other users. Like with SodaRace, a web API will allow communication and uploading to the SodaPlay server, so user-written applications can be used to contribute to the environment.

Other ideas like a SodaConstructor screensaver which automatically downloads models for display are in the works. As with any service, opening SodaConstructor up to users through APIs and standard file format could potentially transform how the tool is used and what results that can be produced. Constructor heads should have exciting times indeed.

I have asked the SodaPlay team to give a short explanation of PlayForge and future functions, I will post that in a follow-up when I get it.

Marcello Falco: Springs World 3D

Marcello Falco: Springs World 3D

There have been many efforts to duplicate the famous SodaConstructor, partly because it’s such a sexy piece and partly because the math involved (springs) is essential to many computational tasks. But Marcello Falco’s Springs World 3D has to be the most advanced yet.

Where SodaConstructor is playful, Springs World 3D is scientific. It’s a full 3D environment (complete with faux shadows) that supports very complex models, so that articulated 3D structures like vehicles, robots and animals become possible. Users can save their works to an online database, which can be enjoyed through the Fauna page. There are some interesting specimens in there, like the knuckle dragger, x2 and Merrily the box car racer.

Built with Processing.


The NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (now there’s a mouthful) has published a movie of a simulation called "Day in the Life of air traffic over the United States" (QuickTime movie).

The rather blocky graphics are reminiscent of the displays in the movie War Games, but the results are pleasing in the same way that watching an aquarium can be. Planes flow and ebb according to time of day, looking like so many ants.

Also linked from the ARMD is the Dryden Aircraft Graphics Collection, a large database of airplane line graphics. They are downloadable in high-resolution GIF or even EPS, but keep in mind the NASA reproduction guidelines.

Via BoingBoing.