Eric Kunzendorf has been teaching computer graphics and animation at the college level for the last two decades at such varied institutions as Jacksonville University, the New Hampshire Institute of Art, the Atlanta College of Art and the School of Visual Arts’ Savannah campus. His film “datastreamimagination” played in the “Southeast Spotlight” feature at the 2019 FAF and won an Honorable Mention in the Experimental category!
He returns to the 2020 festival as a Mixed Media/Experimental category judge.
FAF: “datastreamimagination” deals with lots of larger ideas about creativity and destruction and their relationship-- what inspired you to discuss these concepts with animation?
EK: I guess I’ve always had a passing interest in these ideas, at least for the last decade. My previous animation Lathe of God dealt with these issues to a certain extent, but that 3D Animation took me the better part of a year, while datastreamimagination was a six month production.
I don’t know that I’d say I am interrogating the idea creativity and destruction per se. I’m more about creativity as part of change. We tend to put a positive spin on the idea of “change”, but we forget that decay is also a form of change. Destruction is also a subset of the idea of change. Sometimes, destruction comes from without, but sometimes it comes from within. Disease also is a form of change, both from without and from within as we are finding out in these days.
And the opposite is also true. To create is to manifest a form of change that is mostly positive, but not always. Creativity represents the blending of thoughts, ideas and resources in a new way. But new to whom?
In our rather jaded society, we believe we see very little new “under the sun,” but we are limited as individuals; we don’t see or have experience with everything that’s out there. Therefore, what we may consider creative another might not. I personally marvel at things that some might consider mundane. A mother tries something different in making dinner, and it is a hit with her kids and spouse. That’s creativity because while that particular difference may have been done to death by others, within her realm of experience, it is something new.
One of the most extraordinary yet seemingly mundane examples of this came through an auto air conditioner mechanic. A $350 manifold rubbed against the radiator of my car wearing a hole in it over the course of several years. The mechanic suggested that rather than spend the $350, he could cut off the part that wore out and replace it with rubber hose that could be strap clamped to the manifold and the part to which it was connected. And at a quarter of the cost! And it lasted longer than the solid manifold did!
So the real question is: where does this creativity come from?
Personally, I believe the human act of creation can be seen as a form of worship. We mirror/imitate or even mimic God’s act of Creation. God has put “eternity in human hearts,” and I think when I create something, I like to think I’m trying to tap into that in my own very limited and human way.
And we, as animators, should always remember that the very name of our discipline-Animation-means “to breath life into!” How COOL is that?
FAF: What was the most challenging element of creating "datastreamimagination"?
EK: The most challenging element was overcoming the notion that I have not worked in 2D animation before; and while I have employed excellent 2D animators to teach in my departments and know the terminology and theory behind it, I have never actually created work in that animation paradigm.
It doesn’t take a lot of perception to know that what I created in datastreamimagination certainly drew a lot of influence from the works of William Kentridge. I first encountered his animated works when I taught for the Atlanta College of Art at an exhibition at the High Museum of Art right next door. I have always been intrigued by his technique and how he applies it to give voice to political ideas. It is that ability to give voice to larger ideas that I tried to emulate. While I’m not a big fan of political art, I admire that his work holds up as works of art even after apartheid has been relegated to the ash heap of history.
But, it is his ability to animate the development of a drawing and then animate a narrative through the drawing that quite intrigued me. But up until recently, there have been significant technical challenges.
It has been very difficult for the digital realm to match a 35 mm film camera; the standard definition of 640 x 480 pixels just wouldn’t cut it. And computers didn’t have the horsepower to create larger animations without significant investment in hardware and software. But now that computers and software are capable of producing and displaying movies at HD resolutions and beyond, creating visuals of that quality are quite possible digitally. In these times of 4k displays and beyond, it is possible for everyone to view/display these works; the natural progression in the scope and power of digital tools and displays have overcome these technical challenges.
FAF: The rich detail of the visuals in the film are one of its most incredible features-- can you tell us a little more about how you developed the film's visual aesthetic?
EK: Gosh, I would love to tell you that I painstakingly developed each shot’s visual aesthetic through sketching, writing and storyboarding. I would also love to show you shot progression drawings where my ideas flowed ahead of time, and I planned everything out before I put stylus to drawing board.
BUT…I can’t. The truth is that this animation started as a demonstration for my Animation Drawing class at Jacksonville University. I was demonstrating how Photoshop could be used to animate drawings and how Photoshop’s brush engine could be used to emulate dry media like pencil, all types of charcoal and conté crayon. I also tried to show them how the smudge and eraser tools could be used to enhance the dry media appearance of the work.
I’ve worked with black and white conté crayon on toned ground since my school days, so starting with a toned paper texture was a natural progression from there. I also showed them how to use layers to keep the animation organized and how it could be used like a multiplane camera as well.
So I guess the most basic visual aesthetic comes from my experience using physical dry media. It’s quite difficult to be able to say something looks like the practical, dry media if one doesn’t know how said media looks on paper. Overall, I’m happy with the effect.
The imagery contained in the different sections of the animation simply developed from each section on which I was working at the time. Which is a roundabout way of saying one scene lead to another. At times, I knew what was going to come next, for others it developed in the middle of working, and on others, I was at the end and the next step sort of revealed itself. For example, I knew when I was drawing the tidal wave engulfing the city at around 1:30 that I wanted the spray to completely fill the frame and then clear to an image of my face.
On the other hand, when I finished the water flowing through the dry stream bed at 2:45 I knew somewhat where I wanted to go with it, but then decided that wipe transitioning down to looking up at the water rushing over the cliff was the right way to go. The spray clears to a blank field and proceeds from there.
EK: I wouldn’t feel right about speaking about datastreamimagination without talking about the music Danse Macabre and how well it went with the production. I wish I could say that I had it in mind all along as I animated, but I didn’t. I also sort of wish I had laboriously auditioned many pieces of music narrowing them down with a great deal of care and angst. But I didn’t.
My process is that I would listen to a couple of pieces on where Kevin Macleod has generously made his compositions available online for use in productions like mine. I would download them and lay them into the final composition in Adobe Premier CC and play them. Danse Macabre was the second or third piece, and I fell in love with it immediately. It had the right tone and mood for the piece; and I was amazed at how the timing of the piece fit perfectly with the visual beats of the animation. I did no editing on the music; yes, it fit that well.
At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, the publisher makes it extremely easy to purchase licenses for his music. I’ve had trouble locating licensing for music in the past, so I really appreciate it when an artist makes it so easy to license their work. And the price is quite reasonable.
I should also point out Mr. Macleod’s licensing requirements are quite generous. You can use his work for free as long as you very clearly attribute it as having come from his site and been published under his name. Paying the licensing fee gives you the right to use his work without attribution, but as an academic, I am required (and, quite frankly, am happy) to attribute any work I use that is not my own.
In closing, I want to thank the Florida Animation Festival for selecting my work for the 2019 Festival! datastreamimagination has gone on to appear in the Breckenridge Film Festival in Breckenridge, Colorado and the March Central Florida Film Slam at the Enzian Theater in Maitland, Florida. Most recently, it has been selected to appear at the ASIFAC’20 currently scheduled to happen around November or December. So great things start at the Florida Animation Festival!
Above: the setup used to create “datastreamimagination”: MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, mid 2015) 2.8 i7 processor, 16 Gb RAM, 1 TB SSD hard drive. Intous 4 tablet from 2012 and a Logitech M325 wireless mouse. Oh, and Photoshop.