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Vancouver Canada  
Stephen X. Arthur
Recent Work:

 Canada Council for the Arts - Creative Development Grant in Media Arts (Film) -  awarded in 1999 for a series of five "experiments." Grants to Individual Artists in Media Arts support artistic expression through innovation and experimentation with form, content, or technology in a variety of genres. Creative Development Grants pay for expenses related to a program of work that advances individual creative expression and growth as an artist. 

 Five-Part Series "Earth Moves" - a realistic time-lapse simulation using 3D animation to provide a "god's-eye view" of the transforming landscape over the past billion years. This geologic journey was developed for the National Film Board of Canada 1998-2000, including subject-matter research, market research (schools), treatment, production methodology, production software purchases (3ds max, World Construction Set, discreet paint*), screenplays, storyboards, demo clip, and budget estimates.

Canada Council Creative Development in Media Arts
Grant to Individual Artist: Stephen Arthur,1999

Part 1: animated gif & QuickTime CLIP #1 (800 KB) - CLIP #2 (1 MB)  - CLIP #3 (1.4 MB)
Part 2:
DEMO 40-sec (900 KB)  - Part 3: CLIP (1.2 MB) - Part 5: CLIP (1.6 MB)

(Original Proposal Summary + Results)

I practice experimental filmmaking in the tradition of Norman McLaren, emphasizing visionary animation made on a computer. My program of work is an integrated cluster of five original investigations. They are designed as sequential stages of research to develop both artistic vision and new filmmaking techniques. Each stage results in a prototype test animation that stands on its own. The work sequence starts with a new way of seeing the landscape and develops toward more subjective and abstract investigations of perception:

1. Vision Point: SEE REVIEWS & CLIPS. Envisioned as a test for a possible film called Tran Scan (now in release, 2004) that could travel the Trans-Canada Highway completely across Canada in about ten minutes -- at about 6,000 kilometers per hour.

Vision Point
Oct. 1999:
The successful tests now form a complete avant-garde film, Vision Point, extending the original concept of "point of view animation" or "landscape pixilation". Distributors: CFMDC (Toronto), Moving Images (Vancouver), and Microcinema Inc (Seattle). Home Video: ASIFA Canada compilation, 100% Independent.-  

Artist's Statement 2001: I used a novel method of traveling time-lapse photography as a medium of expression to create a portrait of the Western Canadian landscape and our relationship to it. It unifies observer and observed: the artist's body becomes the land's motion; the jumping and flowing of the landscape in the off-road part is simply due to the height of my body, or a couple of my strides. It's an intimate relativity where you become an integral part of the landscape in the act of perceiving it.

2. Landscape Painting Transformations: See technique established by animation of Jack Shadbolt's paintings (Transfigured): Appropriation of a wide range of painters, over a range of locations and decades, informed by travel and Vision Point tests.  The completed prototype videotape for Creative Development Part 2, entitled Vision Point II, demonstrates sequential morphing cycles from realist to abstract, driven by heartbeats to express the artist's drive to grapple with the vast and harsh Western Canadian landscape (one minute). Play demo: QuickTime 900K

3. Artist Collobaration: Collaboration with professional abstract painter Peter Voormeij provides much greater flexibility for animation than with Transfigured, therefore greater range and power of expression through movement, translating the artist's method and theme into movement and transformation, in a dialectic between painting and cinema. In the final video entitled Fall Forward, Spring Back (Creative Devel. Parts 3 & 4, 2.5 minutes; music) the paintings have been animated as a set of 12 key-frames that are all artistically balanced works individually. The 20-seconds of animation is presented in all four spatial orientations, and in simultaneous multiples, leading to another level of abstraction of the paintings created by the artificial neural network (see below) from training on this animation. 

12 paintings by Peter Voormeij '99
QuickTime clip (1.2 MB)

4. Perceptron Kinetic Art: Novel test of a software application (BrainMaker) never before used to animate: an artificial neural network (a simple, brain-like artificial intelligence called a multi-layer perceptron). Additional programming by George Schulze allowed us to use images and to feed back each created frame as input to create the next frame. Testing included training on sequential image-pairs from the Voormeij painting animation (supervised training by back-propogation), revealing a difficult balance between image definition and too-rapid convergence to a created "prototype" image. Needed to use partially trained nets only, low proportion of hidden nodes, from 13,000 input neurons, 300 hidden neurons, 13,000 output neurons.

5. Perception Play: Simple graphic animation that manipulates viewer perception by changes of movement quality. Recognition of objects and actions by movement independent of form. This animation will draw on what I have discovered and learned from the preceding investigations, and incorporate more than I am now able to envision, precisely because of the previous months of investigation. The completed 1.5-minute video Perception Play: A Hypnagogic Style Test (Creative Development Part 4/5) combines crude, spontaneous, straight-ahead, hand-drawn animation (doodling directly into the computer, seeing only the last frame and trying not to think ahead) with the swirling textures of the neural network animation, yielding a film bearing a resemblance to the non-digital, cameraless handmade films of Richard Reeves. This test resulted from: (a) the realization, at this final stage, that my personal creative need was to abandon the planning and technical complexity of the foregoing parts and to animate entirely without thinking; and (b) the artistic potential provoked by the neural-net animation tests, suggesting a "style" of animation that emulates closed-eye visions and hypnagogic reveries. The second part of this film incorporates the proposed theme of recognition-shifts due to movement independent of form, but done through a spontaneous method in a way that emulates the "too-generalized" objects experienced in dream states.

 CLIP: play.mov (1.6 MB)


Play demo clip (QuickTime 1.3 MB)

"Earth Moves"
(The Accelerated Earth)

Educational five-part series, 3 minutes each, 3D CGI
Director, writer, research: Stephen Arthur
Development completed December 2000, NFB
[see storyboard here]

Imagine a rapidly transforming, organically morphing North-American continent, captured on film like it was some kind of strange wildlife, captured by an omnipotent camera in super-fast time-lapse, a film spanning millions of years of geological time every second... No time period is omitted, it's a continuous, real event, seen at such a large time scale that it looks like nothing you've seen or even imagined before. No narration. No diagrams. No section through the Earth to explain. We simply witness in awe the continuous, unfolding action from a bird's-eye view. Continents crash together, building all of our mountains, past, present, and future. Mountains melt continually from erosion, the surface flows, colours shift as climates change or massive asteroid impacts cause mass extinctions. Shorelines flutter continuously as huge inland seas invade, retreat, invade again. Giant chains of volcanic islands smash into and override the mainland to add new land to our continent. Whole continents split apart at bulging rift faults, creating new oceans. Massive ice sheets pulse and strobe across the country dozens of times in the blink of an eye, carving out the Great Lakes. The Earth itself is alive.

Each film stands alone as a module designed to optimally follow the audience's natural interest and enhance the drama of these real events as an experience of being there:

    1. All films start (and end) with live action: a familiar scene in a present-day location, from which the camera rises to reveal a full view of North America to start the time-lapse.
    2. The time-lapse initially runs backwards very fast all the way to 500 million years ago, for orientation. We saw where we came from, so we have an idea of where we are now.
    3. The films then run forward in time from a global vantage point, until moving in to the regional focus chosen for that film.
    4. The fifth film reveals a world-wide perspective of continental drift during the period of the Canada-centred films, and continues far into the predicted future.
    5. Rate of time-travel is held constant for each segment, but some segments cover very different time scales. On screen is a time counter, like a simple odometer, zipping through its numbers to give us a very good sense of what time period we're passing through and how fast we're time-traveling. Alterations in the soundtrack also tell us when we're slowing down the time-lapse speed, or speeding up again, without even having to glance at the odometer. The changes in camera distance and time-lapse speed are intended to feel natural, motivated by what the audience likely wants to focus on at that moment. They will hopefully feel that they are operating the traveling time-machine themselves, rather than being herded through a tour by the hand of the filmmaker.


Film content:

Each film follows the seemingly unpredictable progression of geological action, pressing ever forward to the present. While each film covers the entire time period, there is a sequential emphasis, from film to film, on progressively more recent periods, by speeding through the first parts faster and slowing down to spend more time on the most interesting time period for the region that we  choose to view close up, as summarized below.

 COMMON STARTING SEGMENT: 500-200 million years ago: proto-North America (Laurentia) collides with other continents in the East to create the supercontinent Pangea, pushing up a huge Appalachian Mountain range, as shallow seas undulate across proto-Canada.

 FILM 1: 200-120 million years ago: breakup of Pangea, rifting causes the East Coast to separate from Europe, Africa, and Greenland, as the Atlantic Ocean is born. (Quebec and Atlantic provinces)

 FILM 2: 170 - 50 million years ago: in the West, foreign migrating island masses collide with Canada to create BC from scratch and build the Canadian Rockies. (British Columbia/Yukon)

 FILM 3: Last 2 million years: the Ice Ages (Alberta/Saskatchewan)

 FILM 4: Last 10,000 years, after the ice recedes, a giant Lake Agassiz drains to give birth to the Great Lakes and St. Laurence River, while a giant Hudson Bay drains away to a smaller size. (Manitoba & Ontario)

 FILM 5: Overview of whole earth, one billion years total, starting even earlier than the previous four, from the breakup of the first supercontinent Rodinia at 800 million years ago, through Pangea to the present, including major extinction events -- then into the future for 250 million years more, to the third predicted supercontinent -- and finally to the Earth's ultimate fate.



For a detailed listing of the paleogeographic events portrayed, click here. Events are derived from many sources, including continental-drift reconstructions by Scotese 1997 and Dalziel 1999 and reconstructions of the western cordilleran region by Monger (in press).

"A timely project given the attention to the turn of a paltry millennium. It is also something that can be done with today's technology in a very satisfying way without the massive resources that would have been necessary 4 or 5 years ago. Now is a really great moment to take advantage of that technology with a concept like this.."  -- Louise Johnson, NFB animation director, 2000

Earth Moves was developed* with funding of $80,000 from the National Film Board of Canada in Vancouver (George Johnson, producer). Total production & post-production budget was estimated at $195,000 Cdn in 2001, based on the services contract offered by Intelliscape/Richard Mardon for modeling, animation and rendering delivery, including Technical Director. Screenplay and storyboards by Stephen X. Arthur, 1999, 2000, based on an original idea by Stephen X. Arthur 1980.

[* including market research (schools), extensive subject-matter research, treatment screenplays, storyboards, demo clip, production methodology, production software purchases (3ds max, World Construction Set, discreet paint*), and budget estimates, 1998-2000]

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