Necessities of Life”
The idea for this animation started with a love of design from the 1930’s and 1940’s. I tinkered with old shortwave radios as a kid and admired the fact that they also functioned as pieces of fine furniture. Great care was taken to make these objects more than simply functional by building them larger than necessary, covering them with exotic hardwood veneers and including lighted dials or other gadgetry. They were important cultural and informational centerpieces prior to the advent of television.
The premise for the narrative came from the discovery of "motion capture" files depicting men performing ritualistic incantations. I felt it would be interesting to have a figure perform these rituals in front of a very large radio that functions as a symbol for cultural needs. As a promoter of the humanities, I lament the fact that so much emphasis is placed on physical need and comfort, while the equally important human requirement of culture is often discounted. Though basic needs must come first, we often ignore the distinctly human pursuits of philosophy, art, music, religion and the other “finer things” in life.
This conflict is portrayed as a sort of contest where the man in front of the radio competes with another man in front of an equally large refrigerator, in this case representing the physical necessity of food preservation. I modeled the refrigerator after a 1940’s General Electric model and decided the form also paralleled the shape of the radio. Both objects are simple, monolithic icons that are worthy of our admiration.
The environment for the competition is based on recurring dreams of very large interior spaces. The floor and walls are covered in coded letters and numbers that resulted from an accident when I inadvertently opened an application in a text editor to find hundreds of pages of mysterious computer code. I did a screen capture of one page and threw away the other four megabytes of text. It now serves as conceptual wallpaper.
The viewer is informed at the beginning by starting inside the heads of the two men. One instance represents abstractions of culture by incorporating public domain movies depicting people singing, dancing, reading, swimming, drawing and similar pursuits. The physical need counterpart is represented with clips of fireplaces, eating, grooming, and so on. The soundtrack to these segments was derived from an activity during a Thanksgiving get-together where my family was recorded reciting scripted words from each category. Because the sound quality was poor, the audio editing added an unplanned tone that was then purposely exaggerated.
The climax of the competition comes with a crack of thunder and the "downpour" of a thousand small houses. Houses are like human containers that serve to represent both sides of this question. This event was also a sleight of hand used to remove the two competitors from the scene. The simple frame house is the same made for a work eleven years ago. I appreciate continuity in a way that images and objects become reliable “old friends.”
The Last Step (1999)
The camera slowly moves to one of the buried houses. Through an Internet sound effects site, I purchased a recording of a rural evening to help with this transition. I will always remember the fact that it was recorded in Australia and included the faint sound of a dog barking far in the distance. I wondered whose dog it was and what it looked like. It’s funny how insiignificant things can stick with us.
Inside the living room of the buried house and within a decidedly more intimate domestic space we now find a single figure representing an amalgamation of the physical requirements and cultural needs characters. He reads a newspaper called the “Daily Median” which is loosely based on the New York Times. I spent about a week editing articles and composing the newspaper so that one side represents “physical needs” and the other side represents “culture.” It goes by in an instant and I suppose it will never be noticed. That’s OK.
The final shot returns to the head of the seated man where we once again see the tiny books (“Basic Needs”, “Modern Culture”) that comprise his face. The computer was able to generate 6,000 individually animated books that define a prescribed head contour. I was not able to keep them from intersecting with each other due to my technical limitations. I asked my wife if that bothered her and it didn’t, so I decided it was OK.
I started this project in May of 2009 and finished in January of 2010. It’s pretty hard to remain objective about something that took so long. I’m anxious to get it out in front of people and find out what it means to someone else.
• 5 minutes, 2 seconds
• 720 x 480, 16:9 anamorphic, 30fps
• 3DS Max 2009, Mental Ray, Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, Audacity
• Modeling and Animation: BOXX dual quadcore PC, 2.8 GHz, 8 Gb RAM, nVidia Quadro FX 4600, Samsung 30” and 24” dual displays
• Video and DVD Editing: MAC Powerbook G4