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[Exclusive] SBTRKT Teams Up with an Animator for a Massive Moving Sculpture

Here's how the SBTRKT's mascot was born.
July 21, 2015, 7:00pm
GIF by the author via. Images courtesy the artist.

At 8 feet in height, SBTRKT-O-SCOPE is one of the three largest 3D zoetropes in the world. British producer SBTRKT's feline mascot has been reinterpreted as a massive, moving sculpture thanks to a team led by award-winning animator and director Jim Le Fevre. With years of experience in physical 3D animation, a.k.a. building the next generation of zoetropes, and support from Red Bull, Le Fevre brings the mascot you might recognize from SBTRKT's "NEW DORP. NEW YORK." to life in a new way.


The laser-cut wood creation acts as a prequel to the "NEW DORP." video, representing the creature's birth. "The set elements were inspired by a chat I had with Aaron Jerome (SBTRKT) and SBTRKT's art irector ('A Hidden Place') who had an image in his mind of the Manhattan harbor line and the monochromatic feel of the NEW DORP. promo," Le Fevre tells The Creators Project.

"It's such an incredible piece to witness, not only in its scale but also the sheer magic of seeing animation unfolding in front of your eyes," he continues.New technologies like 3D-printed rapid prototyping allowed Le Fevre's team to make the massive SBTRKT-O-SCOPE at a fraction of the budget and timeline required by other big-production zoetropes lead by Pixar and Studio Ghibli.

We spoke to Le Fevre about the art of the classic zoetrope, why SBTRKT's music is ideal for the project, and the history of animation.

The Creators Project: How long have you been working on the SBTRKT-O-SCOPE?

Jim Le Fevre: We first started discussing the project at the end of September 2014 with the fixed delivery date being a weekend early in December. However due to some internal wranglings on the record label side we were only allowed to begin working on it at the start of November. So we managed to create everything that you see within three and a half weeks!

What are some of the challenges inherent in making such a large machine?

Any zoetrope has fundamental challenges built into it even before the construction stage, namely that you are working with a looped/repeated action or series of actions. So the central thing one has to get right is in exploring and exploiting a phrase of movement that inherently creates a beautiful and beguiling moment, as opposed to trying to tell a 'story' within the restrictions both of time (how long the loops are) and the space in which those loops play out. In the case of the SBTRKT-O-SCOPE, were also the physical limitations of the size, which were at one point going to go from happily theoretical to quite problematically real!


A secondary challenge that comes from this is that each loop has to A) appear from somewhere B) be moving enough to get out of the way of its previous loop and C) disappear somewhere.

From the theoretical challenges of the animation and set, the next challenges were the implementation and creation of the physical objects we were using.

How did you incorporate SBTRKT’s ideas into the zoetrope?

The set elements were inspired by a chat I had with Aaron Jerome (SBTRKT) and SBTRKT's Art Director ('A Hidden Place') who had an image in his mind of the Manhattan harbor line and the monochromatic feel of the NEW DORP. promo. They were all built by Gary Fouchy here at Nexus and were designed and created so that they could be broken down into to slats and then laser cut by Ewen Dickie at Lasermake and be interlocked and constructed 'simply' by Gordon Allen and Gee Staughton who were in charge of the physical construction of the disc. I say 'simply' because there were about 700 separate elements!

The animated elements (the SBTRKT dog/cat character) were built and rigged from an existing model by Mark Davies and Pete Addington at Nexus and animated by Will Lorton and then parsed through a system to make them 3D-printable by Jay Short at Inition which I then hand painted.

All of the theory, set, and animation had to be rapidly signed off simply due to amount of time we found ourselves left to make it and the sheer timescale of laser cutting and 3D printing the assets as well as physically engineering the structure that it was to be attached to and spun on which was going on hand in hand by Gordon and Gee.

As these two sides met the next biggest challenge was devising a strobe system, which would be secure enough to give us the exact frames per second bursts of light with enough power to fill our space. By this time the lowest disc was coming out at nearly six feet in diameter, we needed a massive amount of reliable light from the strobes. Thankfully Michael Karliner, an incredible old-school computing and engineering genius helped us out by devising a system which 'read' a magnet embedded into the spinning disc and calibrated the strobes accordingly.

The final challenges were entirely physical, namely securing the elements onto the disc knowing that they would be under a fair amount of centrifugal stress and finally devising a way to house and transport the finished structure which Gordon and his colleagues did with incredible efficiency.


How does the SBTRKT-O-SCOPE compared to the other large zoetropes of the world?

The final diameter of the disc was six feet although the housing goes to slightly over six feet. The height of the highest building was 4 feet but again the finished 'box' that the structure is housed in is a lot bigger/taller as it has to house the motor and support the weight of the piece as well as being able to house the disc for travelling.

Compared to other 3D strobe-based zoetropes I think that this sits up there with Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli zoetrope in Osaka and Pixar's zoetrope conceived by Warren Trezevant although I'm fairly sure ours was built on a fraction of their budgets and schedule and might be a bit smaller!

How was SBTRKT's music translated into the SBTRKT-O-SCOPE?

SBTRKT's music was a beautiful undercurrent to making the disc. We intended to implement a music track to be ever present with the structure as his tracks have such a strong build of loops it would sit perfectly with the mesmeric quality of seeing the character fluidly climb the Manhattan harbor.

How do you hope people react to SBTRKT-O-SCOPE?

It's such an incredible piece to witness, not only in its scale but also the sheer magic of seeing animation unfolding in front of your eyes, that I hope people can simply enjoy the thrill of the moment between discovering the structure itself through to it beginning to spin and then ultimately when the strobes kick in.


There's something about the amount of effort and skill that it has taken to create it that results in such a focused moment of magic. I hope it reminds people, in that moment, that there are still things that can surprise and impress you.

What should designers know before trying to build their own zoetropes?

The common mistake with attempting a zoetrope is to expect it to do too much. It's unlike a film which has at its disposal time to start and stop actions. It's at its best when it is exploring a simple loop or phrase of movement, and a lot can be done by skillfully crafting that within a context. This is part of the restrictions of limited time and space for the loops. All loops exist in parallel, meaning movements need to be clear of each other by the time the next loop is in play. Equally, baring in mind the repetitive nature of loops, some movements may read differently than intended.

What draws you to this medium over traditional animation?

Ironically this IS the most traditional medium of animation! To me animation is magical and it's at its purest form in a real, live zoetrope experienced in the flesh so I urge you to seek it out if it's near you.  It's all down to the skill of the animation and the craft of its construction.

Do you have any other projects coming up? What's next for you as an artist?

I've recently pioneered a unique digital/analog system of playing games called Stages, an iteration of which is currently at the Science Museum in London. I'm also currently working on a visualization of game narrative that combines an aesthetic representation of game logic with a neat exploration of how games are made. It’s currently digital but, is working its way into the 'real world'.

SBTRKT-O-SCOPE, produced by Nexus Interactive Arts and Red Bull, was unveiled at Red Bull Guest House in Miami, and will be publicly shown at Inner-City Arts' Summer on Seventh event in LA on July 25th, and housed at Guerrilla Galleries in downtown LA starting July 28th.

Click here for a full list of credits on the SBTRKT-O-SCOPE. See more of Jim Le Fevre's animation and zoetrope work on his website. Listen to more of SBTRKT's music here.



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