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Watch A Luminescent Snail Invent The Wheel And Experience A Cultural Revolution

The spiral of a snail shell is matched with the idea of exponential acceleration.

Snail Trail from Cartoon Brew on Vimeo.

A month or so back we wrote about a laser sculpture that featured a snail inventing the wheel and going on an evolutionary journey that saw it walking on two legs. Pretty high-minded stuff for a snail, but there you go. It was by animator Philipp Artus and now he’s created a short film version of the installation that follows the intense journey of this radical mollusk.


Artus calls it a “colorful sister” of the laser sculpture and it uses a technique that mixes both digital and analogue techniques. First he created a 3D animation of the snail in 3ds Max which he then projected, with a laser, onto an after-glowing surface and recorded it frame-by-frame using Dragonframe Stop Motion software. Then it was completed in post production using After Effects to create a look that he says “looks somehow digital but has also the feeling of a hand-drawn animation.”

The look and feel are inspired by everything from nature, Leonardo da Vinci, Alberto Giacometti, and M. C. Escher to the motion of skateboards and surfing, while the sound design—which really adds to the intensity of the experience—has its roots in classical ambient drones and electronic post-dubstep beats.

To find out a bit more about it all we sent Artus some questions.

The Creators Project: Can you give a brief explanation of how this explores mathematical order in the universe?
Philipp Artus: This interpretation comes from the cool intro text on Cartoon Brew by Amidi and Jerry. So we would have to ask them ;)

Seriously, when I animated Snail Trail, I didn’t really think about any particular meaning, but rather concentrated on what the snail was doing and how it reacted to the line. The snail developed its own life and animating it was a very intuitive and spontaneous process. So, I don’t think there is one final interpretation, but each viewer has its own experience and ideas. It can be seen as a work about cultural acceleration, the relationship between nature and culture, the evolution of life, the end/beginning of a world, energy, time, rhythm, cycles, free flowing motion or whatever it inspires the viewers to think and feel—and that's more important than what I think about it.

Can you describe in a little bit more detail the technique you used (mixing analogue and digital) and why you choose to use it?
I rigged and animated the character in 3ds max. What I like about digital animation is that you have a great flexibility and you can animate in a very fast and intuitive way. I also like to work with Bézier curves, which makes me think more about the horizontal flow of the animation and less about the vertical key frame positions. Later, I projected the animation with a laser onto a phosphorescent surface and recorded it frame by frame with Dragon Stop Motion. The reason I chose to project real laser light is because I wanted to give the snail an energetic and natural feeling. I think there is a unique beauty about analogue media, which one cannot achieve with digital rendering methods. And of course “the medium is the message”.

The film has a very intense feel to it when you’re watching it, heightened by the sound. How did you go about doing the sound design? Was it something that came after the animation was done or did it evolve alongside it?
The original animation was done long before I did the sound. At first I concentrated on the 360° laser sculpture and had a very inspiring collaboration with the Portuguese double bassist Madalena Graca. When I was working on the film version, the music of the laser sculpture was my starting point, but I felt that the film should have a brighter, more colorful feeling than the installation (after all, the animation is about metamorphoses). As the sound mixes various different elements and is at once meditative, wild, melancholic, playful, jazzy, epic, capricious… the challenge was to balance these often contradictory moods. By the way, the inspiration for the whimsical siren whistle sound came from listening to the song “Highway 61” by Bob Dylan.