CGI Artworks Transform the Real World into Science Fiction
Former Weta and Pixar visual effects artist Slapcomp brings mind-bending VFX into the fabric of reality by posting 3D GIFs to Instagram.
Before turning everyday reality into little video clips of sci-fi cinema or video games, Instagram user Slapcomp worked as a professional visual effects artist. Slapcomp, who gave only his first name, Allen, tells The Creators Project that he worked at ESC Entertainment during The Matrix productions, then Weta for many years, before finally ending up at Pixar. This background has no doubt helped in fashioning some mind-blowing vignettes that augment reality into wondrous sci-fi moments, like clouds floating on a human hand and generative 3D organisms rippling in the air.
A few months ago, Allen left his job to work at Grant Achatz’s experimental restaurant, Alinea, in Chicago. Allen credits having a kid as inspiring him to post short, experimental CG artworks on Instagram over the last ten months. He needed something to do during naptime or late at night when the rest of the family had gone to bed. Another initial seed for creating these works was planted when a friend turned Allen on to CG and video artist Beeple’s work.
“Beeple decided at one point that he wanted to be a better artist,” says Allen. “His way of addressing that desire was to try to make a piece of art every day, and post it online. He’s managed to do this every single day for over 10 years. I’m no stranger to disciplined dedication to a project, but I found Beeple’s work and general philosophy totally flabbergasting.”
Allen had been been creating CG imagery for a long time, with the good fortune of having worked on several Oscar-winning films. But whereas Beeple could churn out this quality of work in just a few hours, Allen would labor for weeks to do the same with the most massive render farms and the absolute best resources in the world at his disposal. This was a big inspiration, as was Beeple’s modesty about his talent.
“My main interests for my Slapcomp account are: Go fast, do it with as little resources as possible, cross the finish line as often as possible, do whatever I want, or whatever is interesting to me in that moment,” Allen says. He tries to see how high of a bar he can reach under as many constraints as possible, so he uses a cheap copy of Houdini Indie to make his work. Everything is made on his Macbook, and he never uses pirated software. For him, that's cheating.
The works, as his Instagram username suggests, are inspired by the term “slapcomp," used by visual effects artists who need to generate several elements to build up a complete final picture. Basically, it is a very fast, rough composite used to envision how the work can be refined.
“One of the biggest challenges with a mandate to learn is to push yourself in ways that are uncomfortable, or that don’t come naturally,” Allen says. “The early stuff on my page was directly influenced by checking out other artists doing work like that—it’s wildly different from what comes naturally to me, so I wanted to push myself in weird directions.”
In one of his early posts, Allen taught himself how to control an animation purely with sound. For him, it became a moment of pure delight. And by visiting Norwegian generative artist Anders Hoff’s website Inconvergent, Allen learned how to make his CG art generative.
Allen’s more recent Slapcomp posts find him venturing into optical illusions, taking moving 3D graphics and mapping them onto everyday reality. In one, Allen takes an image from a book and makes a 3D version of it float above the book’s pages. In another, he makes cube-like bubbles float over grass.
“I found this guy Kidmograph making interesting stuff on Instagram, and recognized what he was doing,” says Allen, noting how the work was not dissimilar from how live action visual effects are created. “And I thought ‘Oh wait, I already know how to do that—maybe I wanna go play in that space a little bit.’”
“That sort of got me on a jag to learn matchmoving, the act of creating a 3D virtual camera derived from a 2D sequence of images,” he adds. “It’s very bread-and-butter visual effects, but I just had never had to learn it for my particular job, and from there I just started playing around a little.”
Though Allen both likes and hates his Slapcomp work, he does have a couple favorites. One is of metallic spheres floating around a simple cylindrical shape. Inspired by the “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror, he finds this piece comforting for some reason. Allen is also fond of a clip featuring a 3D web of black material fixed to a real concrete wall, around and through which little arcs of light jump and disappear.
Allen really likes lighting, shading, and rendering, so he says that creating these little CG vignettes or stories comes naturally to him. The problem with creating them, as he sees it, is that it’s not super-uncomfortable which is the best way he learns new things and challenges himself. Eventually he would like to learn more about audio as well as venture into virtual reality.
“This Slapcomp thing is just a big experiment where I get to feel like a student again, I get to work on whatever I want and learn in whatever direction I feel like learning in,” Allen muses. “There’s little opportunity for risk as a visual effects artist at this moment. This account is me letting myself take risks.”
Click here to see more of Slapcomp’s work.