Life is a new series of science fiction animations that, by means of 3D images and psytrance electronic music, creates a new world of technology and imagination. Incorporating ideas from the hard and social sciences – such as astrophysics, constructal physics, evolutionary biology, and sociology – the series shares my semi-autobiographical and stylised account of a mysteriously reborn being traveling across this synthetic universe. More specifically, the series tells the story of a geometric collection of supernova debris, who adventures across the galaxy in a quest of discovery. Each self-standing episode conveys a scientific lesson along with the drama, and the entire story arc conveys the story of life in this wonderful world.
The idea for the series was given to me by Dr. Adrian Bejan’s book Design in Nature, of which I chose to portray many ideas, along with a broad range of concepts from physics, biology, sociology, and beyond. In effect, the protagonist learns about the shape and behaviour of all kinds of scales of celestial object, as well as kid-friendly versions of adaptation by variation with mutation and selection, and cooperation and specialisation.
Since when I started working on Life, it took a year for completing the writing, editing, voice acting, music composition, sound effects, 3D animation, and distribution of the twelve episodes. The actual process took a tough and meandering course. While producing the series, I traveled down to Miami and the Florida Keys, and then all the way up to New England by bicycle, then back down to Miami. Environments in which I wrote, recorded and animated include mangrove swamps, the beach, a hippie commune, hotels and motels and apartments and houses. Some environments I chose deliberately in order to experience a setting relevant to the theme of the episode I then wrote, while all of the environments had an impact on the development of the story.
The rendering process to convert 3D models into finished animations requires many hours, and finding electricity to use on the road proved difficult. I first wrote drafts of the entire season, one episode per week. I also voice-acted each week’s episode, recording both a run-through of the entire episode and at least one take of each of the characters individually. For some of the characters I added voice-processing. Early on I also recorded the theme song, composing and singing and banging on old plastic tubs with tree branches and clapping and yelling and laughing in a mangrove swamp, multi-tracking on an old beat-up laptop with which I then overlaid some electronic noises. Later, I went through the episodes again to create sound effects. Throughout the process of writing, recording, and creating sound effects, the storyworld grew increasingly alive.
Originally, my partner Avril Olachea was going to do 2D animations to go with my writing and audio. However, early on I wound up doing the 3D animations instead. Avril provided key feedback throughout the process of series development. When we started on the visuals, I described the ideas and she provided some sketches. We got as far as making a trailer, before time constraints and other considerations led from her making 2D to me making 3D animations. I had long wanted to work in 3D animation, and to create new styles of electronic storytelling and music. And this series continues with my comparison among the journey of adventurous life, the trip of psychedelic experience, and the course of scientific discovery, all of which similarly open our perceptions to the more colourful and immense world that exists beyond our naive preconceptions.[i] In terms of techniques, I cultivated new styles of 3D animation and audio, blending intuition and physics engines with primal creative energy. While much modern science fiction seems large-scale in production, I could accomplish a similar scope as a one-man show, with improvements to technology. Some of my audio work took technical as well as artistic inspiration from 1960s studio recording of pop/rock music.
While drawing on some traditional techniques for connecting geometry throughout frames, I gave my characters more of a say in their movements. On the basis of my creative impulse, they played with each other and taught me what looks good and what works well. I modelled what I could on the basis of fundamental physics, using standard animation techniques when time or hardware or other constraints prevailed. I treated each episode as an experiment. Generally, I used relatively simple geometry with naturalistic forces, instead of complex models with hand-picked motions. However, some of the models became extremely complex, with some scenes using over a million independently interacting components. I crafted a lot of materials from scratch, from synthesiser instruments and software cameras and lights to physical dynamics. For me a highlight was creating stars and planets and an entire galaxy and watching as they naturally developed some photorealistic effects.
Modelling and rendering one episode per week, and mixing the audio, while traveling, proved extremely difficult. Sometimes I had to drop cool effects that I wanted, or make other sacrifices. At one point two characters land on a rocky moon, and I had been modelling a complex stellar system for the episode. I was having trouble with the moon, probably due to a glitch in the software, so I wound up hacking together a moon independent of the gravitational physics, complete with its own lighting.
My intention in making Life was to share the wonders of nature with curious children and adults, while expressing my own emotional journey. So this story is about the phenomenon of life generally, as well as individual life specifically. I also tried to make the show humorous, and to encourage kids and other viewers in pursuing big dreams. For instance, in the first episode we encounter a speaker’s corner-style proponent of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and a carnival-style hawker selling jetpacks for Starbucks – branches of the cafe, not space currency. We also see a couple of Vitruvian boys in a space race. The show features an epic adventure of travel to entertain girls and boys and help them learn.[ii]
The world of Life fits into my broader Worlds O Wisdom (WOW) digital philosophy project, within which we have LifeWOW where we create synthetic life forms. We have here mechanical containers, interactive art, and this 3D animation series. Life is the 3D animation component of LifeWOW and ties in especially closely with a project I am currently developing: an interactive 2D animation game – a digital vivarium – called LifeFLOW. In it we apply tools and techniques to improve how we move through life, in a way geared to give children a clearer perspective and greater responsibility and freedom. By providing players with digital worlds in which they can manipulate and observe and experiment, we can help them evolve more useful and enjoyable outcomes.
In short, the animation art in Life is personal and social, to communicate science and philosophy for our future. Its genesis is from a dream, a vision, an idea, a desire for a better future for our values, for ourselves.
Eagle Gamma adventures around the world by bicycle and other modes of transportation, communicating about science and technology along the way. Writing addresses exotic advances, particularly in space and information, and appears in publications of the BBC, US Department of Energy, and beyond. Eagle also creates innovative philosophical tools at Worlds O Wisdom.
[ii] After making the first episode we showed it at a school, and in addition to many clever questions, the students loved to say the following quote: “The galaxy is like a frisbee…”