Our passion for retro lo-fi pixel art has really fired up these last 2 years. It all began with the discovery of the freeware progam IcoFX which allowed us to reconnected us with our c64-generation creative urges. I produced our first pixel art poster for a Supermarket show in Big Star Records’ basement in September 2008 and things have snowballed from there!
Happening around the same time was the erection of a giant public lo-res screen at the end of Adelaide’s busy Rundle Mall- The Rundle Lantern. Astonishing in both scale and low-resolution, it wraps around two sides of a multi-storey carpark at a highly trafficked intersection. Emma Sterling and I leapt at the opportunity to produce original animation for it. Our ‘how to’ guide to producing animation for it is available here at Creativity Base. Merge Magazine also caught wind of what I was up to, and commissioned artwork for a front cover and feature article spread.
Meanwhile, in North America, a man I met through a chiptune email-list was cooking up a grand design. Emerging theatre writer and director Steven Gridley put a call out for chiptune musicians and pixel artists and animators, to help create a world that slips between the ‘real’ and that of a glitchy 1980’s Nintendo game. I was originally eager to animate many projected sequences throughout the play, but in the end the team expanded and the workload was shared nicely. Below is a showreel featuring some of the animated sequences from the play, and a chiptune score also written by Steven Gridley. Mine is the flat-looking Mario-esque sidescroller. You can read more about the show at the blog Brooklynshiner.
Since then, I’ve had enough compliments on my pixel art to decide to open an online store, and make designs for merchandise and apparrel. Dead Pixel Designs launched late last year, and the inventory in the Zazzle shopfront is growing nicely. Recent friend and gun programmer Jay Straw also helped me integrate the store into my website, closing the associative gap between danimations and Dead Pixel Designs.
In March, Emma Sterling and I are running a pixel art and animation workshop as part of the DIY cultural event Format Festival right here in Adelaide. Keep an eye on their website, and come along if you love pixels as much as we do- finished works will be screening on the Rundle Lantern!
Several months back, Emma Sterling and I were invited by Sophie Hyde of Closer Productions in Adelaide to join a project out of Flinders Medical Centre’s Arts in Health program. The project entitled Heartsong was inspired by the experiences and thoughts of patients and their carers on the Cardiac Care Unit. Fittingly, the resulting multimedia performance was to premiere in an adjoining space, and did so last week.
The project’s video design task was almost an open brief when we were first introduced, though other elements of the performance had been roughly hewn. A text had been assembled by the project’s producer, Cheryl Pickering, constructed from patient and staff testimonials. Accomplished musicians Richard Chew (keyboards) and Ian Dixon (flugelhorn) were involved, and successfully plotted an improvised musical course which supported the text with colour and emotion. A large scale sculpture of a human heart (approximately six feet tall) was constructed by Diwani Oak, and then lit by Emma Sterling and myself, using a combination of projected and LED rope lighting. Diwani also produced several screen-printed and hand-crafted hangings which also adorned the space, and provided a canvas for the thematically connected poetry of Ian Gibbins to feature on.
Emma Sterling’s and my greater commitment though was the production and presentation of video and animated content to harmonize with Heartsong’s other elements. We called upon many of the approaches we used to produce our first documentary film ‘A Shift in Perception‘ back in 2006 and set about crafting stop-motion animations, moving textural sequences, lifting public domain found footage from The Internet Archive, and preparing them all for live delivery.
When audience members enter the Heartsong space, they are first drawn to Diwani’s light sculpture, which sits as the work’s hearth. An animated rendition of it also rotates on video screens, while another projection presents a faithful recording of a medical heart monitor read-out. When the improvised music begins, pre-recorded voices recall the words of patients and nurses alike, and lead the audience through the patient’s journey- from symptoms and hospital admittance through care and recovery. In performance, my task is to react to the text and emotions presented by Richard and Ian with improvised video, which I layer, blend and loop for the duration of the performance using Arkaos GrandVJ and a Korg NanoKontrol MIDI controller. The piece is designed to have a meditative, gentle and nurturing quality about it, and audience responses thus far have suggested we’re striking that chord.
The first performances of the work are behind us now, with only one remaining performance of our debut season remaining. On Friday, December 11th at the Royal Institution of Australia from 6-9pm, the installation will be open, with the performance occurring around 7pm. The performance runs for approximately 25 minutes, and will be followed by a panel discussion with the involved artists plus another artist also currently exhibiting at the RiAus, George Poonkin Khut.
Monday night’s Lateral Movement event was everything Em and I had hope it would be: diverse, inspiring, convivial and well-attended. After technical testing and preparation sprawling over three days, we managed to present the program of thirty works (7 installed and 23 screened in cinema) almost without compromise, and much of it in crisp and wonderful high definition. The one exception to the rule was a late omission, ‘The Juiced Carrots’ by CarrotKid, the file of which refused to play ball with the HD digital projector in the Mercury Cinema. Since Carrotkid’s work made it into the program but not onto the big screen, the least we can do is embed it below for your enjoyment.
The Juiced Carrots from Carrotkid on Vimeo.
The icing on the cake for Em and I was the inclusion of a live international video chat with filmmaker Lee Citron, who joined us (virtually speaking) in the cinema direct from California, USA via the wonder of Skype. Lee’s delightful and darkly comical suburban tale ‘Idiot Box’ closed the program with verve and sass, and it was a great pleasure to talk with him after the credits rolled and have him field some questions from the audience.
The foyer installs proved popular and illuminated the space with seven flickering screens featuring silent, looping works. The crowd gathered eagerly and early, and remained focused through the broad-ranging works featured in the two 45 minute cinema brackets. A ‘People’s Choice’ award was voted for on the night, with the prize going to Maurice Braun of Germany for his dynamic visual music piece Licht | Geschwindigkeit. Shot entirely in still photographs on a digital SLR, the work features powerful rhythmic editing and playfully fuses movement and electronic music with deft and aplomb.
Licht | Geschwindigkeit from Maurice Braun on Vimeo.
I sincerely hope the fifty or so lucky Adelaide screen culture-vultures who attended were as inspired by the works as we were- and that this proves to be the beginning of something special here in our beloved home town of Adelaide.
Em and I must extend our sincere gratitude to the attending audience, the exhibition manager from the Media Resource Centre, Toby Bramwell and the 2009 BigPond Adelaide Film Festival for affording us this great opportunity to share something special with our community. Further thanks are due to featured artist Jimmy McGilchrist for his wonderful assistance in promotion and logistics- and the South Australian Living Artists’ Festival for loaning us DVD players to run the installation works in the foyer.
For those unable to attend, here’s a clip from the Skype chat with filmmaker Lee Citron from Monday the 23rd… See you at the next one!