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Midnight Juggernauts' "Memorium" Traces The Evolution Of CGI [Music Video Premiere]


Midnight Juggernauts - "Memorium"

The music video format has always been a place for experimentation, somewhere that far-flung ideas can be given form and visual expression. Following in that fine tradition, we're happy to premiere Midnight Juggernauts' video for their track "Memorium" from upcoming album Uncanny Valley, due out 9th July. But instead of containing a short film (which is often the case), this music video is a visual documentary on the evolution of CGI from 1951 to the present.

It's a wonderful journey that traces the development of this now standard practice, from its beginnings on military computer systems through its wireframe incarnations to the present day abstractions of Kinect-based graphics. It's a story that's involved the work of many pioneers, from scientists working in computer laboratories to the work of innovators like John Whitney—and the piece serves as a homage to their work.

To find out a bit more about the vid and what inspired it, we fired off some questions to the director of the piece, band member and CGI enthusiast Vincenzi Vandella.

The Creators Project: The video works both as a documentary and as great visuals for the track. What made you want to explore this hybrid form of music video?
Vincent Vendetta:
I think music videos should be much more than just a promo clip for a song. I like the idea of their content being intriguing or informative in their own right and seeing how far you can push tangential ideas, though still finding a thread somewhere to keep it cohesive. I've always been heavily into documentary film, and am working on quite a few other long form hybrid projects which have been spanning a few years. I guess there's just more space to explore. 

What made you want to tackle the subject of CGI and its history?
CGI is now embedded in our popular culture and visual language but I don't think younger generations would really be aware of those important formative years, where each new[ly] released trial would represent a new dramatic technological advance. It was an important evolution and a fairly recent one. I think in the future the majority of all films will be completely CGI. Kids will have apps where they punch in a script, click on Al Pacino and Sofia Coppola as photo-realistic CGI actors, press render and you have The Godfather Part 4. This will be an era of quantity over quality. It's inevitable and will be known as Dead Eye Cinema. 


Bell Laboratories animation from 1963

Do you feel the history of CGI is unsung?
Computer programmers and the like would be aware of these pioneers, but considering that CGI is an accepted mainstream field driving most blockbuster entertainment these days, as well as other applications, yes I do think its history is relatively unsung. Most [people] probably think it started from Terminator 2 or Tron or Luxo Jnr. The early pioneers included here led the way to a huge revolution. 

How did you ensure to create a definitive list of pioneering moments for the video?
I did a lot of research and contacted a few of the programmers online, plus read some books such as Moving Innovation: A History of Computer Animation by Tom Sito. It was quite difficult choosing which excerpts made the cut. Paramount was choosing pioneering technological advancements, such as ray tracing or the first use of fractals or morphing, or the first attempts to reproduce human likeness. However, there were different streams of work around the same time such as Scanimate and John Whitney's amazing films from the '50s and '60s, though these were more analogue computer constructs so I kept it more in the digital realm.

Having excerpts from significant camps such as NYIT, University of Utah, and Bell Labs was important as well. Plus I thought it important to show some defining moments where the technology began to merge with artistic experimentation. I guess in the end I wanted it to tell a story purely through the evolving visuals, starting from simple line animations to the first appearance of human likeness and emotion a few decades later. Also from that point on the story crosses over from hidden computer lab trials into the mainstream, of which the significant films are then well known. 


Metadata by National Film Board of Canada, 1971

Where did your own interest in CGI come from?
When I was younger I wanted to be an animator and would spend a lot of my time working on creations with thousands of drawings, which ultimately taught me I didn't have the patience to continue down that path. Plus I remember being blown away as a kid in the '90s when CGI reached the mainstream and each new SFX music video or feature film was an event to be marveled at. I'd try to see any film that Industrial Light and Magic were attached to and would have no idea how film could mess with reality in such a way. Even Death Becomes Her blew my mind. 

 As a band, are you all quite into new technologies and the history of technology?
Yes we like playing with new musical toys and etc when we can. Perhaps that's why our favourite place to tour is Japan. Dan from our band will end up leaving with two suitcases full of strange new electronic gadgets. It's interesting to think about the history of various technologies, plus their advancement and democratisation which allows us to then travel with suitcases full of these wonders. 


Midnight Juggernauts. Photo courtesy of Matthew Landers

The new album's title Uncanny Valley refers to a concept in robotics. Can you elaborate on why you chose it and what sort of ideas and themes we can expect from the new album?
We like the idea of the impossible pursuit of perfection, and the dramatic gulfs which dance around those peaks. I think this slippery region is much more exciting and I like the idea of dancing on a tightrope between adoration and revulsion. A fine line between pleasure and pain is a dichotomy art often plays with. Any story or piece of music needs that drama, and I like how the concept gives an abstract geographical placement. Welcome to our repulsive playground. 

Has the evolution of CGI mirrored that of painting, in a way? In that it's gone from representation to abstraction (like with the Kinect-based work).
Absolutely. I think in a field of "0"s and "1"s on a path to generic perfection, abstraction is a pivotal way to explore a unique response. Kinect visuals are great as we were drawn more to its moments of imperfection which give idiosyncratic weight. We also thought the Kinect outro with its crazy swirl of real time wire frames was a good final response to the simple pioneer wire frame trials from the start of the video. This was shot really quickly last saturday morning in our friend Benjamin Dawe's living room. 


John Whitney's Arabesque, 1975


Animated short Tony de Peltrie, 1985

There's still pioneering work going on in the field of CGI, like the RGBD toolkit and Disney's Paperman film which combined hand drawn and CGI. Is there any work or projects which are particularly catching your attention at the moment?
It's interesting when computer-generated elements are shifted into the real world. Perhaps people get a more immediate and direct response to these immersive experiences, hence the popularity of interactive sculptures or large scale projection mapping or light installations. We did a tour with Tame Impala last week and ended up in an arcade in Fremantle [Australia] which had this game called Dark Escape 4D, which is basically a CGI shoot-em-up on sensory overload. It's all 3D surround sound rumbles and it even punches wind in your face when you're being attacked. It's kind of hilarious over-stimulation, but it's fun. If I had the budget I'd definitely try to create hybrid artworks which are merged with excessive amusement park rides.

Also, amazing things will appear once 3D printing is more advanced. I went to White Rabbit Gallery last week which is an excellent collection of contemporary Chinese art in Sydney and saw this great piece by Cheng Dapeng called Wonderful City. It's this geometric city made up of crawling 3D print creatures and other mutations. Pretty soon people will be able to wake up from a nightmare and print out realistic 3D models of their visions from the night before. 




Fred Parke's animated faces, 1974

What are some of your favorite computer-generated images?
There's quite a few but as far as milestones go I think the work that Ed Catmull and Fred Parke did at the University of Utah was mindblowing for the early '70s. While CGI's early development was for practical engineering applications, it's the first attempts at human likeness and emotion which emit the strongest response. Even their creepy, slightly off nature is appealing. The imagery that Rebecca Allen made for Kraftwerk's "Musique Non Stop" from 1986 is amazing as well, but it was slightly after the timeframe for the video clip. I saw Kraftwerk play at the Sydney Opera House last weekend and I think the highlight was seeing her imagery up on screen. I just like seeing digital attempts to appear more human, particularly when they dance around those darker areas detached from perfection. 

Uncanny Valley will be released July 9th on Record Makers