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When Pixel Art, Cyberpunk and Horror Collide [Premiere]

For Perturbator's "Sentient," Pixel art animator Valenberg creates a post-world future, where machines are persecuted by a cult of human supremacists.

by DJ Pangburn
30 March 2016, 2:40pm

Images courtesy the artist

There is no shortage of fear and fascination when humans think of advanced artificial intelligence. AI research has caused concern amongst the scientific and technology communities, and films like Alex Garland’s Ex Machina have plumbed this fear cinematically. On the new concept album The Uncanny Valley, electronic artist Perturbator explores an even darker side of AI and robotics—a post-war world where humans have fought and beat the machines. Unlike The Matrix, the machines—whose ranks include androids—suffer persecution. We get to see this in the new animated pixel art music video, “Sentient.”

The Uncanny Valley takes place 24 years after the finale of Perturbator's previous album, Dangerous Days. Focus shifts from the invented world of Nocturne City to the future alleys of Tokyo following the conclusion of the War Against Machines. In Perturbator's universe, every story is the viewer’s story.

In “Sentient,” directed by animator Valenberg, the viewer is a motorcycle helmet-clad vigilante known as the Night Driving Avenger. The video’s look is an amalgam of styles, from Blade Runner, to the horror films of Dario Argento, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Despite wearing theses influences on its sleeves, Valenberg’s pixel art animation gives “Sentient” a distinct look and atmosphere.

“Your narrative intertwines with a female android/assassin, fighting for liberty and equality in a cynical world that attempts to eradicate all traces of the machines,” says Blood Music, the video’s co-producer. “Together, you attempt to dismantle an underground faction who spreads their message of hate through a false religion—its recruiting station the black church that hovers over the city.”

The story climaxes when the android enters the church for the first time. What appears to be an ambush by the cult—who are attired in anonymous outfits and flashing screens—turns into the seduction and sexual deprogramming of the android. The Night Driving Avenger attempts to aid his partner but, well, he seems rather far away.

Valenberg illustrated every frame in Photoshop CS6 with a Wacom Cintiq 24HD tablet. First he created some digital “scribbles” in order to set the mood, colors and angles for each scene. After that, Valenberg began building the pixel version of each scene on a fairly small canvas (320x120px), mostly using the pencil tool (size 1px).  

“I started with a rough outline of each image and kept adding details until completed,” Valenberg tells The Creators Project. “I purposely built in a lot of layers, in order to have full control so that the material could be easily edited.”

After designing each scene, Valenberg resized the images by 600% (1920x1080), then exported them as a video into Final Cut, where he created all of the camera movements. This combined with the frame-by-frame animation produced the imperfect “jerky motion effect.”

“The illustration style is also a big part of it,” Valenberg says. “I think most people in their 30s are nostalgic about this style from old video games, it feels familiar.”

“But the pixel art scene is pretty active nowadays, and I like how it has evolved,” he adds. “Today, you don't have the same restrictions—you can choose from a wider color palette. You can add in non-pixel elements like gradients, etc. I like to test the limits of what can be done with pixel art in ways that couldn't be done before.”

Perturbator’s The Uncanny Valley is out May 6 on Blood Music. Pre-order it here.

Click here to see more of Valenberg’s work.

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