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Campbell Logan Updated a Century-Old Animation Technique for the N64 Generation

Rotoscoping meets Nintento's Wave Racer 64.

by Mike Sugarman
27 February 2014, 3:45pm

“Orion Beach” is the video you need to watch if you want to see a team of androgynous aliens pal around and fight a massive, disembodied head in a universe that looks like something out of Nintento classic, Wave Race 64. Surprisingly, video artist Campbell Logan made this, one of the most exciting of the year so far, for close to no money.

For his video, Logan played with the idea of translating nostalgia into a grand artistic statement by channeling William Gibson's cyberpunk tropes and video games from his '90s childhood. Using a century-old animation technique, Logan crafted a story of a “group of electronic alien children who travel to a forgotten island to chill really hard with each other, explore, race, and discover the secrets of the universe.”

The five minutes of 3D, animated wonder was commissioned by Logan's friend Zach Robinson, a film composer and performer who had just completed an album as D/A/D called The Construct. Released on cassette by Chicago label, Hausu Mountain, The Construct is so intensely influenced by American and German synth pop from the '80s that at first listen it sounds like a genuine artifact of the era.

We talked with Logan about his anachronistic (yet still captivating) project.

The Creators Project: Can you talk a bit about the process and techniques behind “Orion Beach”?

Campbell Logan: I wanted to do character animation, and I wanted to do it in a way that was a classical style of animation, which is live-action rotoscope. In other words, this is filming a live performance and animating over that. It's a bit like motion capture, except I'm not actually inputting any data from actors' performances. From there, I modeled characters and created environments. This is after I cut all of the action for the music video together from live action footage. I put a good six months into it, and that was it.

So to be clear, you filmed the entire video with real people and then animated over it?

Yeah, exactly. 

Footage of Campbell Logan's friends which he would later animate over

Can you talk a bit about the history of this process?

It's a technique I think that was invented by Disney [Editor's Note: Disney popularized rotoscope, but it was invented by Max Fleischer in 1915]Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was the first big [movie made this way], I think. All of the characters' performances, like Snow White's, her performance was completely rotoscoped. In the Disney studio, they shot her dancing and fluttering around and all that, and I guess they traced over it. It looks pretty realistic, in terms of the proportions of her body and stuff. That's the technique they used after that, and it just kind of became an industry standard for a while.

How does the technique change using 3D animation software?

The cool thing about it is that I was actually able to take the footage that I shot and actually have it in the scene that I was working with, in the computer, instead of just having to look at it somewhere else. I created a flat piece of geometry to look at while I was animating the characters. The whole reason for using it is that I was able to do it for pretty much no budget. I had the footage, and the computer, and the computer software. The only thing I really had to buy was a trampoline, which I used to simulate bouncing up and down on the water. That was the only thing that I bought throughout the entire project.

Chandler Craig bouncing on a trampoline to simulate the motion jet-skiing

What were your influences here? What visuals were your touchstones?

Other than being very into '80s stuff, I'm very into cyberpunk stuff. I don't know if you've seen this movie The Lawnmower Man, which was a Stephen King adaption done by Brett Leonard. It's about virtual reality, starring Pierce Brosnan and Jeff Fahey. It's really tight animation. Other than that, I'm very into early '90s video games. Influenced by Final FantasyWave Race 64, obviously. I also try to throw in elements of movies about beach chilling: Big Wednesday or The Beach.

In college I studied video art, and I was pursuing that for a while, I'm really into dudes like Nate Boyce and Jacob Ciocci, one of the founders of Paper Rad. Just kind of all over the place. The cool thing about Zach [Robinson, of D/A/D] letting me run wild with this is not only going into the whole '80s zone—with this synth wave thing that all of his fans are into-- but I was able to go beyond that into a zone that was maybe unfamiliar with a lot of those people.