Fractal Animation: Reel #2

Allow me to play Film Class Professor.  Before we dim the lights and roll the film I will give a short lecture which hopefully will enlighten our understanding of these short animations posted below, or, at the very least, become the price of admission you will pay to sit in a comfortable seat and watch films and get a university degree at the same time.

I went to YouTube and searched on “Apophysis Animation“.  About three hundred links came up.  I sorted them by viewer ranking (number of stars) and then shortened the list by including only those less than a month old because I was interested in seeing the more current stuff.  This came to 18 and I looked at almost all of them.  Not all of them I watched to the end, mind you.  Judging animation is more time consuming than still image art.  A better review of course would have included a much wider time frame than just the last month.  But let’s talk a bit about fractal animation and where I think it’s going and why.

Jock Cooper, a fractal animator whose work I reviewed a year ago and who had a short work that I particularly liked, in part due to it’s spectacular fractal music accompaniment (which he also composed) left a comment to my last posting on fractal animation where he said, “Yes fractal animations are basically boring. But I don’t know what can be done about it. It’s not like you can add characters and a plot.”  An artist of Jock’s stature is worth listening to and taking seriously.  If he’s not the best Ultra Fractal animator, he’s certainly one of them, as well a being a superb creator of non-animated fractal artwork.

And he’s absolutely right in what he’s said.  What can be done about it?  I salute those, who like him, have spent a good deal of time in mastering the technical complexities of Ultra Fractal animation.  If most non-animated fractal artwork had that much effort put into it, the whole genre would be that much better for it.  But fractal animation is a tough job and folks like him face some really serious challenges because you can’t simply make high tech cartoons with “characters and a plot” with fractals like you can with other forms of computerized animation.  All of the good fractal animations I’ve seen have been multimedia presentations with carefully chosen musical scores that complement the moving images.  Perhaps because fractals are so abstract, they need sound to help take up the slack that characters and a plot does in other kinds of animation.  And even creating one minute of such a combination of engaging visuals and sound is no mean feat.  It’s not something one can just pick up and play with for a few months and then win a contest create something impressive.

Part of the problem, as I’ve suggested, may be that good animation isn’t really about good graphics. What makes a short film interesting is what happens in it. It’s different than making still images which are intended to be stared at and focused upon. When someone tries to animate that in the form of a parameter sweep, deep zoom or fly-by, the viewer instinctively expects something to happen, some significant change to what they’re looking at to occur. Strangely enough then, fractals that look good as still images may not have any animation potential to them.

And still images that don’t look so great may have a lot of animation potential to them.  Daniel White’s Into the Heart of the Mandelbulb which I discussed in my last post is a typical depiction of the Mandelbulb, 3D mandelbrot formula, which really isn’t all that exciting, visually, when compared to most renderings of the common, 2D mandelbrot formula.  But what made Daniel’s short animation interesting was the sound and the sci-fi/horror theme of venturing into the unknown.  He used sound dramatically as well as editing in a dark, blacked-out segment in which to build suspense.  Those graphics wouldn’t impress too many in the fractal art world, but he used them to tell a short and simple “story”.  What looks good in animation doesn’t seem to match what looks good in still fractal artwork.

This shouldn’t be so surprising though. Consider photography. Many exciting still images are actually snapshots of athletes or other people engaged in vigorous activity frozen in time and presented in a completely different context than the moving image clip they would be a part of if they were animated, that is, presented as a short film clip.

Or how about landscape photography? How many breath taking panoramic vistas would be more appealing as short video takes from an airplane? There are some. I’ve seen some clips taken from airplanes flying low over African grasslands while herds of antelope race along or as flocks of birds take off from lakes or rivers. But the subject of interest is the movement of the antelope or the birds and not really the landscape which forms the background. The background is more photogenic as a still image than a moving one. And I think fractals are, for the most part,  more like backgrounds than animals.

I hate to say it, but I think fractal animation is going to be short-lived and merely something of a fad. Abstract animation is a hard sell to any audience and today’s audience has been spoiled by a steady diet of 21st century Hollywood CGI and computer animation. Audiences aren’t wowed by moving fractals as much as they are by a gorgeous still image of one. Fractals look best when they can be stared at and studied. That’s why people paint sunsets. They want to stop the sun right where it is and savor that moment and then be able to come back again and again to look at that perfect and unmoving sunset.

Having said all that…

Now it’s time for the fun part.  Fortunately, in this online classroom, we don’t have to wait for the lazy graduate student in the projector room to come back from his smoke break before we can get started.  We can start right away with a mouse-click.

(Apophysis Animation)  Has a nice soundtrack.  That spacey, techno-dub, drifting thing has an abstract quality that fits in well with abstract graphics.  This is not a bad music video, but that’s not saying much since most music videos incorporate imagery and music that blends together like oil and water.  This one isn’t like that at all.  I watched this one more than once.  That pretty well says it all.

(Apophysis Flying Bird Anim…) I love it.  But why do I love it?  It’s a pretty, um, elementary use of Apophysis 3D (is that 3D?).  The music is wonderfully retro, but I’m 44, so my idea of retro might not be yours.  I’m thinking old Kraftwerk.  This bird is timeless and almost a fossilized animation.  And yet it’s not terribly old is it?  It’s got a neat style to it.  A good example of how animation follows a whole different set of rules than still imagery does.  As a still image, this thing would not be too impressive, to put it politely.  The guy made the graphics and the music.  A fairly talented man, I’d say.

(Julia’s Revenge)?  Well, it’s just a title.  A few things to note.  It starts and ends nicely and not just when they music cuts out.  Again, the dreamy, spacey, driftin’ to alpha centauri on the old man river of the milky way music seems to be suited to all sorts of fractal animation sequences like this one.

I found this one to be like “geometric ballet”.  In fact, near the middle when the camera pans out over a surprisingly flat panorama and the golden bubble appears, I was reminded of ballet dancers and point shoes and some very expensive scenery changes.

(The living fractal apophysis…) Spooky music, eh?  Works nicely with the octopus-o-saurus.  Some bits were a bit jagged, at least when I viewed it on my computer, but the attempt to present an ancient sea creature swimming through a vast, dark sea came across pretty well.  Finding an animal-like image that looks good and animates well is a tricky thing, I’m sure.  At times I was confused by whether the creature was turning around or swimming backwards, or what.  But that also added some mystery to the scene.  After all, it’s supposed to be something we’ve never seen before.

(Alien Space) This one’s probably the most well executed one from a professional standpoint.  It’s got some rather good editing in it.  The author obviously has gone to some effort to make sure the graphics sync reasonably well with the changes in the music.  Once again we have the dreamy, dub-like soundtrack that fits with almost any kind of abstract animation.  The narration is an interesting aspect.  Of course, that’s all done by the musician and the animator has simply worked their stuff in around it.  Perhaps narration is a good trick to remember and even a simple voice-over by any animator describing how the imagery was made or adding in poetry or quotations would complement fractal animation as well as music seems to.

I don’t know if the Sun sequence was made in Apophysis (it looked awfully realistic) but Apophysis 3D seems to excel in making all sorts of spherical things.  There’s a lot of layering and combining of imagery in this one.

It gets a bit repetitive in spots, but then the whole thing is 9 minutes long.  9 minutes is a pretty long time to animate without repeating something.  Still, this one is very good and explains why it was so highly rated on YouTube.

(My Best Apophysis Animation Yet) Although this one probably looks a little plain after seeing some other ones like it, I think it’s not too bad since it syncs well with the soundtrack and ends (fairly) well, although a little off-time with the music.  I particularly like the laser light appearance in this one and how in one of the pans where the camera pulls off backwards into space the animation really uses the 3D architecture of the imagery to it’s greatest advantage.

(You Appearing) Hmmmnn… This posting is almost becoming a review of Apophysis music videos.  The fractured imagery in this one at the beginning blends perfectly with the reverberated piano.  Perhaps that’s what made me include this one: it’s got some very good moments in it as far as the use of fractal animation goes.  Some of the “dissolution” sequences (where the element are moved apart) really shows how complex some of the IFS imagery can be.  There’s squares, rolled up scarves, and wispy curly-cues all from the same image and each with different coloring.  It’s viewable in higher resolutions but I didn’t try it as I’ve got an 8 year old computer with a fairly basic integrated video card.  Resolution could be an important factor when viewing fractal animation I suppose, since a lot of detail is lost in the video compression used to create the lower resolution streams (smudges and stuff).  And how good would most movies look if you viewed them through a smudgy, foggy window?

(3D IFS Fractal:  Inside the Sierpinski Temple) A silent movie, for a change.  I can’t quite figure out what makes this one so appealing.  It really shouldn’t be any more impressive than any 3D environment from a video game, but it’s got a style or mood –or something– to it that makes it interesting.  There’s a simple video of the outside of the temple which although it has the same Sierpinski structure, isn’t anywhere near as interesting as this little drive around on the inside is.  Who would ever have thought the inside of a Sierpinski “temple” would be so much more interesting than the outside?  Maybe it’s the lighting and shadows that gives the impression of exploring a secret, forbidden place, flashlight in hand in the middle of the night.  Or it could just be that the Sierpinski architecture (from the inside) is of itself something of interest .  Anyhow, it’s short and silent which suggests that plain fractal animation on it’s own can still be interesting.

(Fractale) I apologize.  I threw this one in for laughs.  It’s got to be the worst fractal video I’ve ever seen.  I believe the initial cover image (which is the only good point) is by Kerry Mitchell.   I doubt he gave permission for it to be used as no self-respecting artist would allow their work to be abused like this (except for thousands of dollars, of course).  Inside there’s probably even more examples of copyright infringement.  See any else you recognize?  But worst of all it’s just a slide show.  Yaaaaaaaawn…  And the music?  Why do people even bother to make stuff like this?  Hopefully whoever made this one gave up making videos after this.  Don’t tell your friends about this one; we don’t want this sort of thing going viral.  It’s not likely to.

Well, that’s it, class.  Congratulations on finding the easiest and most agreeable way to get a course credit in your entire college career.  After viewing these examples does fractal animation have a future?   Sorry, does that sound like an exam question?  I didn’t mean to frighten you.  Come back next week when we “study” Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch in cinemascope.

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7 thoughts on “Fractal Animation: Reel #2

  1. I think you really nailed it with this post.

    When I first started making animations, I was blown away. Every time I watched one I was just amazed. But I soon came to realize this is not how ‘non-fractal’ people see them. Usually they watch for a little while and then lose interest. So as I continued to make animations, I started trying to see them as a non-fractal person would; and more and more I just began to feel that animated fractals are not good for general consumption. Even as musical accompaniment I don’t think they are particularly good (although this is probably their best use). For example, I think that Winamp’s ‘MilkDrop 2’ visualization is far superior for watching along with music.

    And the problem is basically as you have said: a fractal is like a background. You don’t really want to watch a background move around for 3 minutes, even if it is beautiful looking and keeps zooming or morphing or whatever. In a fractal animation, nothing meaningful ultimately happens. The Mandelbulb zoom is a good example of an animation which succeeds in making something happen: a journey into a huge unknown alien structure.

    Although I think it will remain a curiosity, I think there will always be a few hardcore fractal folks out there willing to wait weeks and weeks (months and months, if you are doing HD — my current render has been going about 3 months now) to get 3 minutes of video; if for no other reason than it looks cool. I keep making them just because I still love watching animated fractals.

  2. I agree with your assessment of “Alien Space”, definitely a lot of effort went into this particular production. And this is also a good example of what all videos should do: Add credits at the end, for both animator and music. If animations are going to use graphics, sound, or anything by other people, then they should give credit for such.

    For example, in “Julia’s Revenge”, where the “the dreamy, spacey, driftin’ to alpha centauri on the old man river of the milky way music” is really a digitized version of a classical piece, should have given credit to the original composer as well as the revised version.

    And yes, anyone with a FREE screen-saver creation application can produce videos like the “Fractale” one. At least they left some of the original “signatures” on those images appropriated images.

  3. Seems weird to have a whole post about “fractal animation” without mentioning the electric sheep, which made me wonder if you know about it already. It’s a free screensaver that you can download and see all the animations your heart desires – and even submit your own!

    Many of the videos featured above use the well-known flam3 algorithm invented and released by Scott Draves in 1992, which he started working on in 1986. The Electric Sheep uses the same algorithm.

    For those not in the know, Apophysis is based on a translation of Scott Draves’ open source flam3 code into Pascal. Scott runs which has for over 10 years been delivering animations based on his flam3 algorithm to a worldwide audience.

    Qosmic, Fr0st and Oxidizer are the other well known flam3 editors.

    It’s great to see so many people enjoying the fruits of the Flam3!

  4. It appears these “comments” have turned in to advertisements. I seriously doubt if “Spot” needs to be further promoted, so that he can rake in more money from sales off his website and other endeavors.

    There are thousands of “fractal animations”, and many programs have been used to produce them. Tim was only presenting one small particular area. It would take a small book to cover every such application.

  5. Nahee, I’m sorry if I’m offending you by crediting Scott as the person who made the algorithm behind Apophysis. This blog post is mostly, as Tim states, “a review of Apophysis music videos”. Eight out of the nine videos in this post use Scott’s algorithm. I think it’s only fair that Scott get credit for his work.

    For the benefit of anyone else that is interested, Scott has poured _far_ more money into making and running Electric Sheep than he has ever earned back from it or his art. The vast majority of his work is either open source or free. Your accusation of profiteering is off base, although your accusation of advertising is right on target. I am Scott’s business manager and it’s my job to let people who are using and displaying his work let them know they’re using it – and that they are welcome to do so.

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