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About TRACK

The short animation TRACK lasts for just over four and a half minutes during which time we see a curvy line appear to move down the screen.

TRACK was made using the Softimage XSI animation system. The curvy shape we see rendered on screen was made by taking a curve generated by several scripts written in the VBScript language (one of the scripting languages available within XSI) and creating a surface by 'sweeping' a small circular curve along it.

The track curve was selected form 25 other curves generated by scripts that employ algorithms initially used in Smallworld, the suite of programs I started to develop in1984. The 25 curves can be imagined as the 'trails' of 'animals' moving away from 5 'predators' whilst at the same time trying to keep an optimum (or comfortable) distance from each other (like a flock or herd).

These algorithms could be described as a behavioural system, a particle system, or several other kinds of system (e.g. it could, and has, for example been described as an a-life or 'artificial life' system). Although it shares characteristics with these my intention in developing it was, I think, rather different to others who have created such systems.

In TRACK I have chosen to show the path of just one 'creature'; the others were not rendered but are implicit in the shape of the path as the individual's behaviour changes as it gets further away from the 'threat' and keeping an optimum distance from the other 24 of its kind becomes more important that moving away from the predators.

I am interested in how we, as humans, interpret and relate to the shapes and movements. TRACK could be described as showing the life of one particle in a particle system. The invisible (unrendered) creatures could be see as being a bit like 'strange attractors'. I am particularly interested, however, in how although we know that it was actually generated by some simple rules embodied in a computer program we can imagine that a 'creature' might have generated the path; how we respond emotionally to that interpretation and how we respond aesthetically to the visual experience of a shape generated by a process that we can anthropomorphise.

I am interested in how, when we see static or moving curves that were created in this way, we not only apprehend them optically, but can also feel those shapes in our own bodies proprioceptively, perhaps through potential or actual muscle movements. This is a bit like watching someone else move and wanting to imitate them, or the way that when looking at a painted or drawn mark one can try to feel how making that mark might have felt to the person who originally made the mark. Also how, if one interprets the behaviour of the entity following the path as being made by a creature that might have emotions, or have emotions projected upon it by the observer, that creature might feel at particular moments on the path; how it might have an individual 'story' and the viewer generate some kind of narrative about it.

Of course I produced the images and movement in TRACK and most of my work using computer technology; I do not make a physical movement creating a mark as a record of part of that movement. The shapes generated are however of a kind that can elicit a similar response in me to those I get when I look at marks that other people have drawn. How I respond to the shapes generated is similar to the way I respond to the shapes I see in, for example, landscapes, the human figure, animal movement, clouds, the wind blowing through trees and grass and so on.

In a way, the works I produce can be seen as a kind of choreography for the audience; a means to cause them to feel similar sensations and emotions to those I do when I experience the works and the phenomena that I try to embody aspects of in the works.

Stephen Bell

09/09/07, 20/10/07

Glossary

Proprioception - The ability to sense internal events in the body, e.g. The relative position and orientation of parts of the body.

Unrendered – described geometrically but not converted into a visual representation. Such shapes are 'there' but invisible.

Track on Vimeo