Digital Processes and Time Based Media – 2



In the first part I discussed the effect digital media has had on the production of music and sound works, in this post I’d like to discuss some of the effects it has on visual time based work. Whereas it is definitely true that digital processes have given rise to wholly new genres of music and production aesthetics that could not have emerged otherwise, it’s effect on visual work is much less clear cut.

Although many of the benefits of working in digital media will have a consequence on the content of the finished work, such as the ability to shoot long takes easily and cheaply (in comparison to film), non destructive editing/processing, and a much lower financial cost of production. The consequences of these benefits are not that visible in the content of the actual finished work. While there are works with definitely digital visual aesthetics these works do not represent a new form of experimental cinema in the same way that digital glitch music represents a new form of music. Most of the abstract digital film works produced by artists are not adding anything new to the experimental film tradition, when referenced for example against the works of earlier film artists such as Len Lye, Norman McClaren & Stan Brakhage. This is also true of video art, which although created a very different aesthetic to film, (and new effects through visual synthesisers), the overall content/form and montage technique was still not a massive shift away from anything already within the experimental film tradition.

This is also the case for the most part in digital film making, which likewise provides a new and rapidly expanding set of image processing techniques, in that from an audiences perspective (an audience versed in experimental and AG film) there is nothing especially ground breaking being made. I personally feel this is because the artists relationship to their material (as abstract as that is in Digital Media) has not fundamentally been changed or liberated from pre-digital methods. There are also the limits presented by the phenomenology of visual time based media, unbreakable constants, that affect the way an artist constructs their work. As the latter limitations cannot be changed, my focus is on how the artists relationship to the raw material of a work (stills, animation, shot camera footage, etc) could be altered by digital processes.

Getting away from working with my material primarily in a non-linear editor (NLE) environment in favour of a specialist compositing tool fundamentally changed my relationship to the camera footage that I had shot (see ‘Outward Displays’ in the video archive menu). It allowed me to work without the mindset of an editor, to disassemble, process, and reconstruct the frames compositional elements. It encouraged me to work more on a compositional shot basis rather than on an overall compositional/montage basis. The results were that I created a narrative based on effect driven metaphors which would not have occurred to me in a traditional NLE product. However, the NLE, much like the phenomenology of visual time-based media, is still an unavoidable constant. Once the shots were finished individually in the compositional tool the final film was constructed within an NLE. When I watch ‘Outward Displays..’ I can see a lot of references to early experimental films that will always influence me. I also believe that this is true of the audience, in that they too aren’t seeing anything new or peculiarly digital.

However, the change I noticed in my relationship to my raw material pointed me towards a different way of approaching film making. Particularly 3D compositing, where individual elements can be recomposed, relit and animated to create entirely new shots. Knowing what is possible in, to use the term, post-processing has had a direct affect on how I now relate to and use a camera. I find myself shooting footage with post in mind, and not just in a ‘I can fix it in post’ sense but in a ‘it isn’t finished until it’s come out of post’ sense. What I mean by that is I see my footage now as containing elements that I can work with, rather than being sequences which I can edit together. From my earlier experiments with 3D compositing within nuke, both recently and in the Language shows and ‘Outward Displays..’ film, I’ve started to develop a wholly different process to creating a film.

I have decided to add the 3D modelling and rendering software Houdini to my current workflow. The reason for this is to take the methods of disassembling and then recomposing my material to it’s natural conclusion. Within Houdini I can split shots, and their processing, into physical forms which I can then compose with. This is similar to my approach in nuke in that I am still building a new scene and then shooting it virtually. However I will be able to take advantage of geometry caching, rigid body dynamics and other procedural tools. So my process will have an additional stage, where each shot is placed on geometry with volume, which can move and deform in reference to or against the shot upon it. Once each shot-geometry is constructed it can then be saved to disk, then I can assemble a single composition featuring various pieces of shot geometry into a single 3D space.

To simplify the above what I am trying to do is edit/construct a film in space rather than editing along a timeline. So, rather than the film being a montage of essentially 2D image sequences it will be a montage of 3D shot-geometry. For my masters project I intend to construct a film shot within a single virtual space containing shot-geometry. This necessitates me to create new methods of transitions that are form related, as opposed to cuts or fades. It also opens up the possibilities of exploring relationships between shots in a physical collision, deformation, and generally a more spatial sense rather than just their interval based relationship upon a timeline.

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