'The Night Sea' is the perfect pseudonym for the latest subject of our interview series profiling digital artists.
Like the sea (and many other digital artists), the artist likes to retain a sense of the mysterious, preferring to talk art rather than personas and, due to their skill at capturing movement, the various GIFs on Tumblr frequently bring to mind lights reflected in water.
Elsewhere we find this ripple effect transferred to people in rather haunting urban scenes portraying something between a rip in space-time, a teleporter, and some kind of ghostly apparition. This is the beauty of The Night Sea, whose animations, glitch and manipulations at the same time magnetize and challenge.
The untitled GIF, which we were fortunate enough to be allowed to use for our YouTube artist showcase, further demonstrates this unique talent - the moving black circles have the look of a sun during an eclipse but the multicoloured trails introduce an electrical storm of psychedelia.
We got in touch to find out how all this is achieved...
You have a very unique style - where do the ideas come from?
Thanks. A lot of the time when I make stuff I don't really start from a specific idea or concept. The images I end up with are generally the result of exploring and experimenting with a particular technique or process until something interesting happens. Often when I set out with a particular image in mind and try to make it, I end up with something completely different anyway, so I mainly just enjoy playing around and discovering things.
Would you say there are consistent themes in your work and, if so, what drew you to these themes?
I guess you could say there's a consistent approach with a lot of the stuff I make, but a lot of it is driven by the process of discovery within the limitations of the media I use. I love symmetry and distortion. I love textural details and patterns of movement that balance intricacy with simplicity. I love finding the forms and textures that are inherent within the medium I'm using and making them an essential part of things. I love finding unexpected patterns by making small changes to the parameters I'm using and not getting small results.
I don't know if I think of these things as themes in a deliberate sense, rather than just things I enjoy. I don't really start from a representational basis with the majority of my work, I just like making images I enjoy on a basic, sensory level. Kind of like making music.
What is the process for making one of these moving images?
Generally I'll start by programming something in VVVV that implements a certain technique or process that I've been thinking about, and then I'll play around with it, feeding it different inputs and connecting different bits and pieces together until something cool happens. A lot of what I make is created procedurally, which means that instead of animating things manually with keyframes, patterns are defined mathematically as sequences of numbers which drive the shape, position and distortion of textured objects. I also use a lot of short video sequences and texture processing. The interaction between precisely defined mathematical patterns and more naturalistic textures can have quite interesting results.
When I have a sequence I like, I render it out as still frames and assemble it in Photoshop, then I tweak the colours & animation speed and render it as a GIF.
Tumblr has a pretty strict 2mb file limit for GIFs which is tiny compared to the rest of the internet. As a result, I need to be pretty careful about the number of frames I use and how much detail is rendered within those frames, which influences the images I make hugely.
Everything needs to be made with brevity in mind, and rendering a GIF with settings that preserve the most important elements of an animation is an art in itself, because it can be quite different for each image.
What equipment/software do you use to make them?
The vast majority of my stuff is made with a program called VVVV, and then post processed and turned into a GIF in Photoshop. I frequently use Blender for things like 2d image stabilisation and preparing video footage for VVVV. I use Lightroom for anything photography related. I have a trusty Nikon d5300 and a couple of HD webcams for video/photography stuff.
VVVV is an amazing program for GIF making and it's a shame it's not more widely known & used despite being around for ages. It's a visual patching language made by a group of eccentric Germans and while it's mainly designed for rapid prototyping and live performances, the workflow is extremely intuitive for GIF making. Its ability to render everything in real time is wonderfully useful for experimenting on the fly. It's Windows only, which might explain part of why its stayed a bit niche, but for anyone who wants to experiment with procedural graphics I can't recommend it highly enough. Maybe I should write some tutorials on how to use it for GIF making sometime, because I haven't seen too many people use it for that purpose besides myself.
Which other digital artists do you admire?
Tumblr has an amazing art community full of great people, so probably too many to list here! I'll just talk about a few. There are so many excellent blogs and people on tumblr that I feel like I'm doing them a disservice by not listing them all here, but the list wouldn't end.
- Automatagraphics is great. We share a love for intricate details and we've made some awesome stuff together.
- Bigblueboo was one of the first GIF blogs I subscribed to when I started a tumblr, and their consistently awesome balance of technical skill and imagination really impressed me.
- Everybody loves 30,000fps, including me. Subtle post processing used masterfully to make even simple patterns really interesting.
- I've only been aware of Protobacillus for a few months, but I love the way they make such satisfying organic textures.
- I love Maruti-bitamin's art. Wonderfully soft and interesting and colourful. Technically not digital art but I don't care.
- Regolo54 makes awesome hand drawn geometry art. Really appealing to see complex gemoetry and symmetry rendered precisely and colourfully with pen and pencil on paper. Also not digital art.
- Waneella's pixel art landscapes. Many of these are also gifs, but I enjoy them just as much when they don't move.
- I love Beeple's blend between abstract geometry and landscape composition.
What do you think are the future possibilities for digital art?
I'd love for there to be a way to cheaply and accessibly render animated art as a tangible physical object. Lenticular printing is cool but limited, and screen based stuff is a bit cumbersome and expensive for self contained work. Zoetropes are great too. I'd love to experiment with them as a way of making physical animations , but they're hardly futuristic.
What would you like to achieve in your own career?
I don't really have specific goals or anything that I'm aiming for. I mainly just enjoy making stuff. Anything beyond that is a bonus.
One day do you think we might see art and computer games merging together?
I don't think they've ever been separate, but I guess it depends on your definition of art. I don't really think dividing things into "art" and "not art" is particularly meaningful. Games are a great medium and I love them.
Visit The Night Sea's Tumblr page here.