Computer Art Image of the Month - December 2011

December 2011

Optic Allsorts

To mark a year’s worth of writing about the world of computer arts and as an end of year special, for December we are celebrating with a quartet of images submitted by readers of this column.

If you’re curious what your colleagues and fellow computer art aficionados have been up to in 2011, then read on to discover a kaleidoscopic mixture of digital technique, complexity, happenstance, experimentation and dazzling colour.

Luminous Photon (Ursula Freer)

Ursula Freer
Luminous Photon

Limited edition print of 25
on archival fine art paper
16 x 20 inches

Copyright the artist
Reproduced with permission


Ursula Freer worked in ‘traditional painting’ before discovering the digital medium fifteen years ago. For this image she used Photoshop with KPT filters and now finds that the computer is one of her preferred tools for creating art and communicating ideas.

She says, ‘I am fascinated by the not yet discovered and the unknown [in science]. This sense of discovery and mystery fuels my creativity.’ Her work explores the connection between man and nature, our planet and the universe, science and art and she quotes Albert Einstein ‘There is nothing more beautiful in life than the mysterious’ as her inspiration to create images which provoke a sense of wonder at the natural world and are startling in their illusion of free movement. Ursula adds, ‘sharing this experience with others adds purpose and satisfaction to my life.’

Babel Overlook - in metal (Nigel Williams)

Nigel Williams
Babel Overlook - in metal
digitally-manipulated image
2011

Copyright the artist
Reproduced with permission


Although you might imagine - at a pinch - that this is an aerial view of some monstrous metallic Tower of Babel, Nigel Williams tells us it was in fact made from an image of a 1961 Plymouth Fury convertible car, imported from California and photographed by him at a museum in Wiltshire. To construct this work he selected a detail (part of the radiator grill), rotated it and matched it to create a completely new image - in a manner that might be created using a kaleidoscope.

An all-rounder, Nigel has pursued a successful career in the areas of computing, automotive design, computer animation (in which he has an MA), photography and multimedia. Now, he says he has ‘finally decided to let loose some of my personal style of imagery.’ This image is one of many from his K-scopes project, and he has recently published a book of them as well as writing an image blog to show his latest creations.

Details are clearly important; cutting a small section out of a photograph whether it be a set of lines, a piece of geometry or a pattern from nature, thus causing it to become abstract, he then begins a process of experimentation using different angles, segment sizes and numbers, repeating them, re-associating and re-assembling them to create a third-generation image (first generation is the object / scene photographed, second is the abstraction of the detail) to see what emerges - in most cases, something completely new and completely unrelated to its origin.

Nigel finds, ’one of the most satisfying parts of the process is spotting the accidental geometry that pops up.’ He began working with computers in 1974 and today uses Photoshop which he finds contains all the tools needed to perform the manipulations required and remarks that ‘without “layers”, I would be back to scissors and paper!’

Marilyn Spheroid (Mark Thorpe)

Mark Thorpe
Marilyn Spheroid

‘digitally-discovered’ image
2011

Copyright the artist
Reproduced with permission


Mark Thorpe comes from a computer science background and produces computer-generated art using self-authored software, often based on famous images. He starts with a target image around which he generates a 3-D scene, using open source rendering software - Art Of Illusion, written (in the Java language) by Peter Eastman.

Marks explains, ‘I’ve been intrigued by 3-D graphics on computers since I owned my first BBC Model B in 1984. The extra dimension, even if only projected onto 2-D still fascinates me.’ This image is a fusion of 3-D and 2-D, created using his own unique technique. A scene will typically contain between 100 and 500 randomly positioned, scaled and coloured geometric shapes.

He uses spheres or cubes because, as he says, ‘I like to combine programming with geometrical creativeness’. The image is lit from the ‘camera’ position and rendered, ‘I then iterate the scene-building, rendering and comparison steps until I get the best match possible between the rendered image and the target,’ he says.

If you look closely at the images you can clearly see the 3-D structure and translucent light interactions. Close up, you see a collection of geometry. If you move away from the images, squint slightly, or reduce the ambient lighting, then you see the target image quite clearly.

Mark explains, ‘I like the effect because it is easy to look at these images and to say well, so what? But I believe that any 3-D computer modeller / artist who spent a few minutes considering the problem involved: that of shading and arranging a limited number of overlapping ‘super-pixel’ sized 3-D objects in such a way as to approximate the distribution of colours at a much smaller pixel scale, would soon begin to appreciate the subtleties involved.’

Mark discovered it was possible to create an optical illusion using this method, but as for why it is possible, he says, ‘well that is a much harder question to answer. I seem to get much more pleasing results with images of faces than with other objects, perhaps because humans are tuned in to be good at recognising faces.’

Self-portrait of the webcam (Alan Sutcliffe)

Alan Sutcliffe
Self-portrait of the webcam
2010

Copyright the artist
Reproduced with permission


Alan Sutcliffe will be well-known to the senior generation of BCS members as he served for many years in a number of official capacities at the BCS, not least as Chairman of the Specialist Groups Board in the late 1970s; he is also a former Vice President of BCS.

Alan is a true pioneer of the computer arts. Just to give you a couple of examples - as a lover of music Alan participated in Cybernetic Serendipity collaborating with and writing code for composer Peter Zinovieff (of Electronic Music Studios fame).

Also in 1968, whilst working at International Computers Limited (ICL), Alan had the (at the time novel) idea to gather together like-minded individuals who were interested in the creative use of computing, for exchange of information, discussion and exhibition opportunities. Together with George Mallen and R John Lansdown he founded the Computer Arts Society in 1969 as a Special Interest Group of the BCS. It is thanks to Alan that we are here reading about computer art today.

Now enjoying busy retirement Alan still finds time to edit PAGE, the bulletin of the Computer Arts Society (this month’s issue about computer music can be found on the CAS website) and create artworks. This image arose serendipitously, whilst he was getting used to a new laptop and webcam.

In keeping with many 20th Century Modernist artists (Arp, Duchamp, Ernst, Sol Le Witt...), Alan is interested in the notion of accident, randomness and probability playing a part in the creative process. This work is based on a webcam shot of himself.

He couldn’t understand why he was getting such poor quality from the webcam he’d just set-up, then realised that there was still a bit of plastic protection attached to the lens! His first thought, ‘I can use this!’ Alan manipulated and modified the resulting image, as he puts it - ‘that’s the art bit.’

Catherine Mason is the author of A Computer in the Art Room: the origins of British computer arts 1950-80, published in 2008.

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