Anthropomorphizing The Abstract: Meet Matt Pyke And Universal Everything
Technology can often be perceived as cold, dead and alienating, but not in the hands of multidisciplinary artist Matt Pyke who heads up art/design studio Universal Everything with interactive director Mike Tucker, sound designer Simon Pyke, and animation director Chris Perry. The company creates gorgeous visual spectacles on screen that, while they will never be attained in physical reality, reinterpret the nuances of natural human motion and seem to have a soul, a heartbeat, and the breath of life.
This results in a unique aesthetic that is experimental and playful, anthropomorphizing abstract forms created with code and software to give them character and personality. Their effectiveness in capturing movements and transforming them into sweeping animations allows them to show us shapes we’ve never seen before while preserving the individual human element in their creations.
Their latest project is series of video sculptures for Hyundai that features a motion-captured dancer trailing across a giant screen, along with 1000 FPS footage of steel foundries—all the works seeking to emphasize the importance of the human in the industrial/manufacturing environment. Below you can see one of the videos Made by Humans.
We spoke with the team to found out a bit more about the collaborative creative processes behind their work. You can also check out their brand new website here.
The Creators Project: As a group do you each bring your own aesthetic to each project—which then merge together—or do you all have an idea in your minds of a Universal Everything aesthetic that implicitly comes through in your work as a collective?
Mike Tucker: The one constant that exists over all projects is Matt’s creative direction, I believe this is what shines through as the overall Universal Everything aesthetic. On a production level there a few factors that come into play: the individual creating the content, and also the medium. The latter can be particularly limiting in the interactive and real-time mediums. When something needs to perform well on a variety of devices, sizes, and platforms, it can heavily dictate our aesthetic boundaries.
Chris Perry: I would say that there is an implicit Universal Everything aesthetic that runs through the majority of the work, but that this is usually shaped by the processes used in individual projects.
Simon Pyke: We take each piece and approach it the way that feels right. Sometimes the brief is left quite wide, in which case it’s possible that my aesthetic may take the lead but other times Matt has a very specific style in mind. Mostly, the final work is the result of bouncing ideas back and forth and therefore a combination of these two methods. From my perspective the collective style is something that happens naturally through shared tastes and through the process of development, rather than something pre-planned or conscious.
“Tai Chi”—Five video artworks that use body motion captured from a Tai Chi master to create a series of impossible physical sculptures embodying the human spirit. The abstract anthropomorphic forms only emerge through movement.
In what ways are you utilizing procedural and generative animations in your projects, and what qualities do you think these bring?
Tucker: These concepts are our primary form of animation. With interactive and realtime mediums, it’s crucial to produce an experience that breathes on its own. There needs to be something unique with each visit, and a sense of mystery as to what those invisible parameters could be.
Perry: We make wide use of procedural techniques in the majority of projects we do. This gives us a lot of freedom to quickly develop different looks that we can then work into and continually refine as the project develops. You also tend to get a lot more happy accidents working this way which usually gives the work a more dynamic/alive feeling.
Simon Pyke: From a sound perspective I often use generative techniques to assist me in creating musical structures which I wouldn’t have usually thought of or stumbled upon.
How does the sound design work in your projects in relation to the visuals? Do the two have a kind of symbiotic relationship?
Tucker: Yes, a form of symbiosis is the goal. The visuals and audio should mesh in a way that does not have noticeable seams. However, limitations often arise that one must come before the other. In which case, you could liken it to slow dancing: one must lead.
Perry: Both will often grow together. So a simple click track might be used to develop the visuals and their audio reactions, which would then be sent to Simon so that he could develop the audio based on these early tests. Then he would send back more developed audio which would in turn influence the visual development and so on.
Simon Pyke: Yes of course, these aspects have a constant dialogue. They exist together to support each other. Something can be communicated in the audio so that it no longer needs in be in the visual and vice versa. The sound is often central to communicating how you should emotionally respond to the visuals. I also think that when sound and visuals are combined well the work becomes more than the sum of its parts—it comes ‘alive.’