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Prix 1987 - 2007

ORF Oberösterreich

Tamás Waliczky

Tamas Walicky's piece "Landscape" is a perfect continuation of his previous works in which he explores the limits of time and space. "Landscape" is a stop- motion 3D space that combines live-action film and CG rain to create a poetical view of a frozen world.

The basic idea of visualizing frozen time came into my mind around 1994, just after finishing The Forest, my computer animation about an endless forest. At that time I rendered and recorded several minutes of test materials of a computer-generated wintry landscape with thousands of snowflakes floating in the air, each of them fixed in a certain point of space. I was interested in generating a grid, based on elements of nature. (I am always interested in mixing the artificial logic of mathematics with the incalculable forms of nature.) I am also very much interested in the illusions of perception: instead of animating falling snowflakes, I wanted to present movement as a result of animating a vivid viewpoint in the motionless environment. But I was not satisfied with the result and did not work any more on this animation. But the idea described above happened to be the fundament of "Landscape," three years later.

At early 1996 I was asked by a composer, Mesias Maiguashca, to take part in the production of his new opera piece, called "The Enemies." The story of the opera was based on a short story by J. L. Borges: "The Secret Miracle." As I interpreted it, the main question of the story is how we perceive time. Borges precedes his tale with a quotation from the Koran: “And God made him die during the course of a hundred years; and then He revived him and said: ‘How long have you been there?’‘A day or a part of a day,’ he replied.” In "The Enemies," somebody is condemned to be executed by a firing squad, but in the last fraction of time God grants his wish: the bullet stops in the air, every movement remains unfinished until he can complete his last drama. Was it his illusion, the consequence of the terrible horror which vastly extended the milliseconds until the bullet reached his body, or was it a real miracle? There is no answer to this question in the tale, but I was very much captured by the challenge of visualizing this problem. Mesias Maiguashca asked me to make three computer-animated dreams – 4 minutes long each – about this topic, and my first reaction was to bring out my old idea about frozen time from my memory. Mesias Maiguashca liked the idea very much, so I started to work immediately.

At that time we moved from Busenbach (a small village where I had been living with my family for four years) to Karlsruhe, and this event gave me the idea of using pictures from Busenbach as backgrounds for my animation. On the one hand I wanted to say good-bye to Busenbach (my feeling is that the artwork is enriched when such emotional, personal levels are involved, even if the public doesn’t know anything about it), and on the other hand I was sure I needed some very easily comprehensible objects in my animation, such as a church, horse, house, etc. I believe we can only recognize a miracle when it collides with our normal, everyday life. The miracle alone is not a miracle anymore: a few thousand computer generated elements in an empty space is nothing more than an artificial construction, and I was not interested in this. And since Busenbach (for one reason or another) lives in my memory as a place where rain falls nearly every day, I changed the original snowflakes in my animation into raindrops.

I began production by taking photos with a normal 35 mm. camera in Busenbach in the following way: first I decided which places I wanted to use in the animation. In each place I chose a path a few meters long for the camera movement. Then I walked along this path and at every meter I took a photograph. With my animation assistant, Christina Zartmann, we used morph technology to generate movement from these still pictures: we scanned the photographs in, and then added morphs of a few hundred pictures in between them. In several scenes we split the photographs into three layers before we made the morphs; for example in the scene with a horse in it, we cut the original photographs into a background, a horse, and a foreground layer, then we made morphs between the layers. This technology enabled us to better generate a 3D illusion, and also allowed us to position raindrops between the horse and the background, not just in front of the photography.

Several people asked me why I did not use traditional film or video technology to record these background movements instead of using morph technology My answer is the following: if I record – for example – 700 frames (28 seconds) of a long continuous movement as the background for my animation, I am in a big trouble if I want to change the speed of the movement later. I am also in a trouble if there is any small roughness in the recording and I want to correct it. And if I want to split the recorded material into layers, as I described above, I have to repeat this process 700 times: a task I would rather not even consider. For the same scene of 700 frames, with morph technology I usually used about 7 photos, and the rest of the pictures were generated by the computer. Therefore the movement could be controlled very well, and the parameters could be changed easily and repeatedly.

Once the background movement was ready, we designed a camera movement of the same length for our virtual camera, being sure to set our camera with the same parameters (focal length and direction) as the original 35 mm. photographic camera. Then we generated a few hundred thousand 3D raindrops and positioned them randomly in the space; for realistic looking results, every raindrop reflected and distorted the background image and had a certain level of transparency. Of course the raindrops were generated in different sizes, randomly as well.

The final step was the rendering: the computer rendered every frame, calculating the background images (which was usually the background, middle, and foreground layer) together with the computer-generated raindrops.

Finishing "Landscape" took six months. Unfortunately the musical composition of the opera was not ready during this period of time. The first time that the composer and I had a chance to check the music and the animation together was when I had already nearly finished my work. After several tests we agreed with the composer, that – sadly enough – the visuals don’t fit properly to the music. Therefore I had to change my schedule; I made another animation for "The Enemies" (the premier of the opera was on 31. October 1997, during the opening ceremony of ZKM, Karlsruhe) and I finished Landscape as my new, independent animation piece. The soundtrack of Landscape is performed by Alex Kammerlocher. He plays J. S. Bach on an accordion. The first time I heard him was in Karlsruhe, where he was playing as street musician, and I found the contrast between the classical music and the rustic instrument very interesting. I invited him into the ZKM studios, where he let me record about one and half hours of a Bach concert on the accordion. I use an excerpt from this concert for Landscape.

Conception:Tamás Waliczky and Anna Szepesi

Direction:Tamás Waliczky
Computer animation assistant: Christina Zartmann
Assistant: Manuela Abel
Music performed by: Alex Kammerlocher
Produced by: ZKM Institut für Bildmedien, Karlsruhe
Copyright:Tamás Waliczky and Anna Szepesi, 1997
Technology: Softimage, Eddie, Photoshop softwares SGI Indigo Elan, Indigo2 Extreme, Abekas Diskus hardwares