Alex Rutterford on the Creation of the Gantz Graf Video
…………..…….where did the idea for Gantz Graf come from?
I can quite firmly say that the genesis of Gantz Graf came from an interesting experience on LSD once, in about 96, 97. If you’ve taken a few trips and seen that kind of geometrical stuff, then the film’s not too dissimilar from [the one I saw] in my head. And the shit I saw was just fucking incredible. I wish I could have one of those virtual film head sets that you could just plug in, have that trip and just record it, cause the material that I had in my head could last me several lifetimes. It’s just bonkers but you forget about it after a while, it becomes a soft memory, just dissipates out and you just can’t remember it anymore.
My original was so much more fucked and complicated, and intense, but the end product was a fairly accurate representation of what I first thought.
…………….tell us more about the process?
I went through an incredible learning curve. It took me over a month to conceptualise a technique to work out how I was gonna do the rest of the video. The rest of it is complete and utter boring number crunching, entering sums and stuff.
I literally broke that track down into pages of numbers, like a wacky professor from the Muppet Show, Dr Bunsen. Sheets of paper with loads of numbers on them, (key frames). Although they weren’t random, they were related, indicative of certain parts of that scene, certain parts of that track. And I literally had to animate to those numbers, and keep rendering it off, and rechecking it and re-tweaking it to make sure everything worked in time, it’s that simple.
You can think of an idea, and that’s brilliant, but to get to a point where I technically knew how to do it, you need the right technology, you need the right time, you need some understanding about what you’re trying to do as well, and you need understanding of the software.
Technically speaking only a small part of it was automated: the slicing, and digital slicing technique as an automated process, but even that was a technique I developed as well, in order to do just that.
It almost seems obvious when you see it - ‘Why hasn’t that been done before?’….because they can’t be bothered to put the work in. Everyone says ‘how long did it take you?’ How did you do it, they always want to ask me technical questions. I’d really love to be able to say to them, ‘I just wrote a computer algorhythym, and the computer did it all. I wrote a program and it all just intelligently works it out,’ but it doesn’t exist, it’s fools gold thinking that someone can sit there writing a piece of software that can make intelligent decisions about pace and animation, the closest I have seen is perhaps itunes.
…………are you ever satisfied with your work?
No, never. The inspiration of almost all my work is based around music or sound, and so most of the visual inspiration that I draw. Normally I have a fantastically accurate view in my head of precise edit points and exactly what I want the thing to look like. But then it’s an ongoing struggle, a nightmare to get that image out of your head. Get it down into a format, and that’s where the compromise comes in, because the software never does what you want it to do, and you try and do something in a certain way, and you suddenly realise it’s going to take you four times longer than you originally first thought it was gonna do. Because you can obviously think things, instantaneously, but I’ve got a very lucid imagination, so trying to get those things and pull them down into a format that people can recognise that’s really quite a task.
…………………how personal is your work?
Very personal, indeed. It’s like a child, my job, my children, and if anyone started to fuck with it, or cut something around, and if I really had a passion for something, like Gantz Graf and someone started fucking around with it, I would turn into a monster, I would do everything within my power to keep that from happening. It’s like having someone fiddling with your beautiful daughter, abusing her. I take great offence. You put all that energy, effort and love and something that’s so personal to you into a piece of work. ‘I know that work better than anyone and you should trust my judgement’ And if anyone wants to change it, they’ve got a fight on their hands.
Rob and Sean [autechre] certainly didn’t piss me about on it, and that shows.
An early version that I had completed did have a section of the track missing, that I cut out, but as soon as that was viewed it was re-instated, and fair point.
I would never complain, suggest that they tweak a piece of music, I wouldn’t want to change what they did audio wise, and it was due respectful that they let me do my shit, it was a nice little collaboration. And I suspect that those kinda of things don’t come up very often, so really I’d like to do more work with Autechre in the future.
……….….initial response to the track?
When I first heard it I didn’t know that ‘the idea’ would instantly go with it. I thought the track was so hyper-detailed, encrusted, I’d never be able to do it justice. It’s amazing, my brain was thinking in slow motion, about something that would be more structurally along the lines of some conventional piece of pop electronic – with conventional beats and sounds that are organised in a certain way. Like a lot of Autechre’s music, it doesn’t have structure and beat to it in that way, but it’s extremely granular sounding.
To me it was a challenge, I thought ‘I’ve got to make the call on this one, it’s never gonna come again.’ And on top of that, doing some visuals for a piece for music like Autechre that’s got that degree of detail in all those beats, is going to be beneficial to all parties. But cause their music has almost got, I know it’s gonna sound corny, kinda cheesy, but it’s got futuristic vibe to it, there is something that sounds…. beyond, or out-of-our-time, to it.
………….….they’re both unfamiliar territory. I can’t see them separately anymore.
I can’t either and believe you me I’ve seen it more times than anyone.
………………..any plans for developing your ideas?
I’m still embryonic in my career. So GANTZ GRAF is an enigma, a one off and I don’t wanna start touching on other artists with that because that is solely designed for autechre. So that’s not always an accurate representation of what my work’s trying to do. I’d loved to get some more narrative based, and character driven stuff in there, that none the less has an abstract edge to it.
But, that style [gantz graf] is something I’d love to explore further into video art scenario,. There’s thousands of tangents and off shoots I’d love to get involved with. And whether you like it or not you’re always going to get pigeon holed. No matter how broad or varied your style is, you can always be sure that one individual has done it before. It’s easier to mask if you’re under a collective, your personality doesn’t come across. If people wanna think I’m a one-trick pony, people can say ‘He’s only got one idea.’ and think whatever they want. It sounds selfish, but I’m doing it for myself
……….…………….are you interested in interactivity?
I have an interest in interaction as an aspect of digital art, or…. producing works that stand by themselves as pieces of work, but at the same time humans can interact with them, that’s certainly a concept idea, but that’s digital art, and some time away, on the back burner. It’s is very exciting thing, but I want to see that, in an art gallery scenario. I’m currently working on concepts and touching on ideas…… that I’m not going to go into.
…………… ‘All style, no content’. A valid criticism?
Wire magazine said GANTZ GRAF was ‘a pretty slick affair’, which I find funny because it think the video isn’t at all. It’s really dirty, grungy and fucked up looking, but because it’s computer graphics people instantly say that’s all really slick. Unless you deliberately take an extreme lo-fi organic approach and do it in a non-photo realistic way, by the mere nature of it being computer graphics most people are going to look at it and think ‘That’s pretty slick’. That said, I like an aesthetic that does that.
I wouldn’t say ‘all style and no content’ is a fair comment. I don’t think my work has a strong content value to it, but obviously it touches on aesthetics. Like ‘3space’ for example, nothing happens, it’s just a camera flying around an environment, that happens to be moving roughly in time, I think the connection between the music and visuals is important, and you can create a hybrid feeling, or weird aesthetic from putting two different contrasting things together, and autechre’s GANTZ GRAF is, to me, a visual representation of the music, and anything else is almost inappropriate. Also if you see something and it works, it’s just right. Sometimes you see videos and they’re just wrong. You can see visuals and the music that’s going with it is completely inappropriate, or it’s just not cut particularly well, or someone thought it might be a good idea to do that to this. It’s a fine line, particularly in computer graphics, everyone can do computer graphics…
…….. how do see motion graphics developing?
At the moment I’m putting a video together on an I-book. It’s ridiculous, you go back ten years ago and you’d have massive rooms full of processing computers. It was a ‘black art’ at one point.
Computer technology enables you to become a film-maker, musician, editor, or whatever, therefore ‘anyone’ can do it. When desktop publishing first came out, there was a big uproar in the graphic design community, thinking ‘Christ, designers are going to be out of a job, when your secretary could do the job on their desk top publishing programs,’ and the symptom of that is that you see loads of diabolical bits of bad design and it’s the same with motion design, you’ll end up seeing loads of weak inappropriate amateurish kinds of motion graphics, it’s kinda happening already. Computer technology just opens everything up, I don’t think it’ll change at the end of the day, it’ll carry on exactly as it has been, but they’ll be more of it.
Sure it’s revolutionised my working method, and it’s going to revolutionise a lot of people’s, but they’re going to say ‘We don’t need to do this or that any more, cause we can fix it in post.’ That kind of attitude. ‘We couldn’t get that shot right. Don’t worry about it we’ll fix it later.’ For example, George Lucas is the absolute chief exponent of this art of film making, these kind of films are entirely synthesised now, but when you see them all glued together they just look like cheesy airbrush paintings. They don’t feel as though they’re really there in the set or anything, and that’s because there isn’t a set, they’ve all added, digitally, later. It might add a certain amount of flexibility in the process of doing film, and be a less of a pain in the ass for the director, not having to travel around and get these sets built. But it doesn’t necessarily make it a good-looking thing.
I like lo-fi things, I like the thought that I can go out with a video camera, filming something; an element, chopping it out and digital cut and pasting. But the more sophisticated, hardcore technology becomes, the more daunting. And it scares you, particularly with software, you’ve got a minimum of five months to get used to software, then all of a sudden they change the interface all round. What the fuck have they done that for, I’ve got to relearn all this. It’s a fucking conspiracy.
……………..virtual or tangible. Any ambitions to take your work out into the real world? Sculpture, even architecture?
It’s strange seeing a piece of architecture that’s amazing, an actual physical object that’s really massive to me, just feels like ‘uh, there’s a big object’. It sounds a contradiction, but a good photo of a piece of amazing architecture excites me more than seeing a piece of architecture itself for some reason. There’s something nicer, more magical about a set photo than there would be in real life.
But I like the idea of doing some computerized sculptures, they’d be sound sculptures.
………………….music preference for material?
I don’t have a strong preference, but in the field of videos and promos I wouldn’t have a problem doing something incredibly commercial, providing it’s a good track, a good pop track, sounds cryptic and vague, but it’s really that simple. If someone offered me a really decent track I’d take it, most video directors or people working in that field would.
I’m not going to cut myself off and lie, saying I’m only going to do hyper tweaked, intellectual stuff from here on in. And I really want to do that, but I’d rather pursue that in a digital art world, and stuff that isn’t MTV material, you go to a gallery to see this stuff, it’s sound exploration.…… (pause) …… so many ideas.
……………..interest in generative art?
Interested, but I think that the sounds that you put into it have to match, the visual style has to be indicative of the music. If you fed Cole Porter through that [software developed to illustrate music], it would work, but it’d have lost something, because the visuals are telling you this is: abstract, electronic, weird looking, intangible, but the music is an organic thing. Whereas Autechre’s track is entirely synthesised, electronic and robotic, and the two things have to match together. It could just be the I-tunes interface. You could put anything in and it’ll give you the standard, techno slideshow, that crudely moves in time to music, but it’s not a program. It’s just a piece of wallpaper. I think that you’d have to have a computer that’s almost artificial intelligence in order for you to feed it any track, and then it would have to make an intuitive stylistic decision and then represent it as a generative thing.
The stuff that did my head in at art college was constructivism, the futurists and maybe some Swiss typography – Helvetica and all that. Alexander Rodchenko, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and this revolution that happened in Russia, with artists and writers and poets, that just refused to sit there and put a load of type down, centred on a page. They turned it on it’s side and blew lettering up, that was a really exciting thing. I’m a firm believer in fucking with the rules. That held most excitement for me and, for me, motion graphics is an extension of that.
In the everyday world there’s very few things that make me think there’s something I’d like to use or I like that. I’d rather think that my concepts and ideas are entirely musically driven. When I listen to music I get a real thrill, it plays on my imagination that way, so a lot of my inspiration just comes out of my head, and if there are conscious stylistically things that people can say ‘that reminds me of this, or that reminds me of that’ I haven’t consciously gone out and said, ‘I’m gonna steal this from this film, and that from that film’. It’s subconsciously ebbed through me….. without sounding too pretentious.
Having said that I do like looking at boring things: car engines, motor vehicles, just the kind of things that boys like to look at. I find an interest and beauty in manufactured things that aren’t nessecarily supposed to be viewed as art. There is a certain aesthetic pleasure I’m getting in looking at that video camera [on the table], without sounding fucking weird, I just love all the simple shapes something as banal as a camera case can have.
Architects like Neil M Denari, people like Zaha Hadid, when they first turn up they’re considered weird and wacky. Everyone latches onto this stuff. On going artists in the ether that just pop up and you’re made aware of, and obviously I like that. To be absolutely perfectly truthful Constructivism and Futurism had the most influence on me.
………………………….do you use mistakes in your work?
I, more often than not, exploit glitches and weird things that go wrong, or try to achieve something through a process and accidentally stumble across something that you weren’t exactly aiming for and getting. It’s a really interesting thing and you think – ‘hang on I’m gonna make a note of this’, or save it out as a version in a folder somewhere that I refer to in the future. Having accidents and controlling accidents is an integral part of being creative, and anyone who says they completely orchestrate everything from scratch are utterly lying or they’re trying to make themselves out into something that they’re other than they are.
I’ve never done an advert, and I can’t possibly foresee an agency wanting me to do an advert for them. Although through doing digital creative work in the field of advertising I know what a fucking pain in the arse doing advertising is. They don’t call it commercial advertising for nothing.
My worst nightmare would be that someone takes an interesting idea, and creatively bundles it into a car to somewhere in Essex, rape it, and leave it for dead…… that doesn’t appeal to me.
I wouldn’t mind doing a glossy slick perfume ad, or a cosmetic ad, for a laugh. They’re the only adverts I like to TV, the ones that look the most sci-fi to me and they kinda fit into my bracket, like on the L’oreal advert when they go ‘Here’s the science bit’. I’d love to do some really cool stuff for that as well the rest of the ad, an advert that looks like it could be out of a William Gibson novel somewhere, playing in a shop window in Chiba city, in the background, some sort of vernacular piece of advertising. I’ve touched on still print work, styles, almost reminiscent of title sequences. Mind you, there’s something else I’d love to have a go at, a Bond title.
……………..one last project?
I don’t think that exists, you can’t get creative fulfilment from a single project. Just being creative is an ongoing process, and the moment you feel satisfied that’s the moment you cease being creative. You start to think, I’m gonna work in Sainsburys as a shelf stacker now, or get myself a nice sensible boring job in a bank somewhere, settle down with three kids. I think that’s the point at which that happens. All creative people are cursed, because they do something, and they think this is brilliant, then halfway through the project, find it a chore, like me, but then after it’s completed off they look back and think, ‘Awh, I’m gonna have to do that again’ It’s like a constant, a revolving cycle, it’s almost like being a drug addict. ‘I know this is bad, I shouldn’t be doing it. I know this is bad, I shouldn’t be doing it’. It’s a fix and you do it again and again and again. That’s what creativity’s like, so, if I had to say that I had to do one project that would sign off, I’d certainly love to know. I’d find it an extremely exciting, or terrifying experience knowing that I’d done something that completely satisfied all my creative urges. I think that question doesn’t exist for me.
…………………..pivotal film moments?
I’ll get the obvious one out of the way and done with, and that’s the stargate sequence 2001. That’s well trippy and ahead of it’s time, considering it’s optical printing, not computer graphics, A lot of the work Douglas Trumbull does. He’s a very clever guy, there’s a beauty about optical stuff you can’t touch with computer graphics.
I seen it twice at the cinema, where it takes on a different meaning, more of a spiritual effect than it does on DVD, wide screen or even with your headphones on or if you’ve smoked a joint. I left thinking I almost understand this film now, but then it’s lost again. There’s polarized sense of scale in that film. Weird things, and I can’t be sure if he was trying to make visual suggestions, like that little pod coming out of the ship, it felt like symbolism of sperm coming out of a penis. At the end of the film it was almost like you’re watching the birth of a new life again. There’s an awful lot of symbolism. And the cut that everyone mentions, but it’s one of my all time favourite cuts, when the stick goes up and just cuts to that spaceship, it’s the juxtaposition, and the angle coming down, like a pan.
And the awesome shot in a clockwork orange, when he’s walking along that marina and he boots one of the droogs falling into the water, in slo-mo. But the camera’s been over cranked at the right speed, so it’s like ballet, really beautiful. And at the end, there’s all those people lined up, those toffs, rich society people with hats applauding him having sex, romping with the woman, that’s a beautiful shot. There’s too numerous to mention.
……………………what about CGI?
I very rarely see CGI, computer graphics films that I find incredible. I like using Computer Graphics as a medium, but I try to use it in a way that isn’t photo realistic. Partly it’s my technique, and partly it’s my knowledge, I just haven’t got the energy to expend on having something look totally photo-realistic. To me, it defies the purpose of having something to do in the first place. If you want to have something looking photo-realistic, then film it.
Too many people use computer graphics in a way that’s just showing off. CGI for the sake of it. For example Final Fantasy, it’s an incredible film, I really like it, but it’s a kind of a bit of a waste of time. It’s no more than an average science fiction film really, but an interesting point. I like to see films that are more Manga-ish looking. Ghost in the shell, that’s really wicked looking film. I favour it over Akira, in certain places Akira’s got a visual naivety to it. I prefer, Ghost In The Shell, that’s a mature sci-fi film, but I never bring them into the conversation as film, they’re animation,
And I’m a bigger fan of film than I am CGI or cel animation.
There’s aren’t an awful lot of sci-fi films I like. I like mature sci-fi and there’s not enough. And star wars, but to me, even as kid there seemed something adult about it. People say it’s a kids film, and it is, but there’s something mature and adult about it. Most sci-fi films are really trashy looking, or there’s some kind of cheesy reference to films that have come before – Blade Runner or something. Blade runner’s not cheesy, but people can draw influence from a film and run it into the ground. How many times have I seen films or videos with smoke filled sets, big shafts of light coming through. It’s so obvious to see visual styles that’s been lifted or taken from somewhere else.
A Clockwork Orange is one of my most favourite films, and I feel embarrassed about that now, since his death and rise of the cult of Kubrick in the last year or two. He’s an example of someone with a fantastic eye for the generic, he can film anything, but his work is almost so devoid of style that it’s got a style to it. Because it’s so empty there’s a kind of neutrality and a longevity to it. A Clockwork Orange is such a 70s looking film, yet it’s got such a wonderful futuristic vibe to it, a sci-fi filter. You simply don’t get that in films anymore: so theatrical, yet with a futuristic feeling. The closest you get to that is someone grading it really badly, putting a heavy grade over it to convince the audience that this is wacky and futuristic, like Minority Report.
I like the concept of science fiction. I’m a massive lover of films, even films that aren’t even mentionable because they sound so diabolical. I find looking at films is an addiction. You slowly absorb, the information, skills and the knowledge of film-making, but maybe I’m just a lonely guy and I don’t have much of a social life, so I just sit at home watching films.
Thanks to Alex Rutterford and Nick Kilroy for this piece.