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david's really interesting pages | palaeoart, animation and stuff
david's really interesting pages | palaeoart, animation and stuff

NPR _ materials in the void

Previously, I proposed that a major distinction between NPR and ‘realistic’ rendering is intention in dealing with the tools and materials involved. But what is material within the immaterial working space of computer graphics? And can the artistic sense of authenticity play a role in computer graphics? Can any one produced visual be considered more authentic than another?


You could argue that G.R. Exper’s fractal work (lower right) is more authentic than Weta’s Smeagol, as the fractal is visualizing a self-continuing algorithm. But I suspect they are equally justified. They both give the computer something and get something back. Right?

mothkarabozAscii art (here by kaboz ) allows a glimpse from another direction. The artist finds and manipulates an existing something – software. He’s found software for writing text and used it to create imagery, allowing its existing form to influence the final work’s appearance.

For the consumer-artist who works with, around and against existing software, at least, there seems to be a guiding element in cg – and this emptiness becomes a material. In a similarly extreme example, what would result if an artist were to restrict himself to Microsoft Excel?

3D software has traditionally been full of materiality, as the brute force calculations required for the loyal replication of light and vision were simply too expensive. But as processing power grows more powerful and lots cheaper, these alternative methods and forced work-arounds are replaced with tweakable settings of singular models… the renderers are becoming so real, that they sacrifice their potential for alternative imagery.

consumer artist; software as material


Here’s a scenario from the world of 3D. Way back when, soft shadows and area lights were prohibitively expensive, if they existed at all. Shadow mapped spotlights were the lighting tool of the day, with sharp edges and aliasing issues corresponding to the resolution used.

To make things worse, smoothly smeared motion blur was also too expensive, so an iterative technique was used calculating x images

between frames. The more iterative steps, the smoother the blur and the longer the render.  What a restriction!

Right?  Yet clever artists such as erkki halkka and dave jerrard developed a method called the spinning light trick, which employed  both these shortcomings to great effect.

The methodology here is based on the artistic concept of materials: the artist finds existing conditions, analyzes their artifacts and creates a previously inexistent usage via experimentation. The next step was pursued by a number of artists in the community, including myself: this method was expanded to further look development, namely the age-old issue of the too-perfect contours generated by 3D rendering processes. The mesh is displaced at a rate greater than the rendered frames-per-second… and synchronized with iterative motion blur. This gives us a number of discoherent images. By offsetting the displacement, an element of boil can be introduced.

As 3D prosumer software grows increasingly sophisticated and processing capacities cheaper, these approaches are disappearing. Like wild tomatoes getting plowed under for industrially produced veggies, they’ve given way to physically correct approximations of ‘reality’.

Why is it important to pursue ‘non-real’ techniques?

An artistic approach is concerned with an authentic recognition of materiality, of tools… and the viewer’s eye expects to see this approach both in the form and subject of the artwork and also in the artifacts left on its surface. Without these, the work feels empty. Numerous applications are available that are more than capable of fulfilling these criteria in still imagery. But moving images reveal that there is much work to be done. Each material alluded to in an animation – pigment, paper, binding substance, etc. brings with it a clear expectation of how it will and won’t move.


Confronted with this drawing/collage, we expect the crumpled paper to move as if photographed via pixelation, with deformation and lighting effects of the paper surface overlapping sequential photographs of the woman or perhaps a cut-out animation technique. Fibers from the paper’s edge might trail behind and the pigment and ink might smear. If these things are missing – if the temporal qualities are too perfect and smooth, we are likely to dismiss the result as unconvincing. It is in danger of becoming artificial as a result of lacking materiality.

It is interesting to note that – to a degree – the expected behavior does not exist and has never been seen. No watercolor animation has been made that incorporates the act of the pigment dispersing and drying. But computer simulations will make this movement possible.  The npr artist must invent the temporal look to coincide with the expectations aroused by the represented materials.

Monika Bress (using ArtRage)

To come: the programmer-artist arising from the void

There are 4 Comments to this article

drip | david’s really interesting pages… says:

[…] and make sure to stay a while. There’s some provoking stuff over there. Particularly if – like me – you’re interested in the materiality of cyberspace. […]

drip | david’s really interesting pages… says:

[…] haven’t written much about NPR and the aesthetics of artifacts for a while now, but developments here at brainpets GbR are about to change all that… so […]

Paul Hartsuyker says:

David, Welcome back…
While I visit often and enjoy your paleo ramblings, I am a dedicated NPR fan, and always eagerly await your latest thoughts. I have wondered if BrainPets would give birth and welcome the developments.
I recently stumbled upon a remarkable tool, which I have been using to move a personal project forward. It gives a wonderful set of controls over line quality. Be sure and “play” with the controls to see the variety. I am using it to add feather details to a large drawing.
Here is the Google+ posting of it being used.

d maas says:

Yeah – the scribbler! Love that tool.
Just so you know, we’ve been active all this time. Just that ‘we’ is a ridiculously small team – much smaller than our ideas. Very difficult doing something that’s atypical. Anyway, I hope to be able to show more of our efforts in that direction here in the future.

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