Rob & Nick Carter, Transforming

MPC collaborates on major exhibition for British artist duo Rob & Nick Carter

Rob and Nick Carter: Transforming  presents a body of work that reengages with art of the past, harnessing the most cutting edge new media to create sustained engagement with old and modern masters. The exhibition is held at the Fine Art Society, London from the 4th October - 2nd November 2013.

MPC have collaborated with the artists on six ground breaking artworks, including four ‘digital paintings’ that come to life before the viewers eyes; and two bronze sculptures created via a complex 3D modeling and printing process. MPC have also created an installation within the exhibition itself, allowing visitors to go behind the scenes of the works, interacting with them and discovering how they were created. 

Jake Mengers, Creative Director 3D, MPC Advertising said, "Branching out into a new genre in the art world felt like a natural progression for MPC and our high end VFX artists. From creating the most complicated bronze in the world, to an intense study of anatomical decomposition; the pieces are a result of meticulous research, thousands of hours of work and a fantastic artistic collaboration. Rob and Nick are amazing to work with, and over the years they have become great friends. The works are a testament to their unique vision.

The focus for Rob and Nick Carter’s body of work is “Transforming Still Life Painting” (2012). This ‘digital painting’ brings to life an oil painting from 1618 by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder. It creates a rare intersection between Old Master connoisseurship and contemporary new media art. It is on permanent display at the Manchester Museum of Art and has been accepted into the Mauritshuis permanent collection. To ensure absolute detail and realism the VFX team studied thousands of hours of nature footage, in order to capture every subtlety and nuance surrounding events of a 24-hour cycle in the life of the bouquet.  Approached as an animated time-lapse sequence over a three-hour loop, a huge database of hand-animated footage was created for every flower in the original painting, as well as creatures including butterflies, ladybirds and flies.

Joining it will be three new time based media works that also adopt an old master painting in a groundbreaking form of homage. “Transforming Vanitas Painting’” (2012-2013) is based on the 1630 oil on copper “Dead Frog with Flies” by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Younger and depicts the scene from the last few minutes of the creature’s life- extending through the various stages of decay to its ultimate decomposition. 

Working with the artists, MPC’s challenges fell into three areas: firstly, extrapolating the story beyond the painting in keeping with the original artwork. Secondly, to introduce flies and maggots with believable behavioural attributes, which were assigned intelligence and algorithms such as the ability to avoid each other and be attracted to the most decomposed parts of the skin. 

And finally to retain the unique loose painterly style, evident in the original masterpiece, throughout the new 3D moving artwork.

In perhaps their most anticipated endeavour yet, the artists and MPC have also taken on the challenge of Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus in “Transforming Nude Painting” (2013). The scene has been brought to life, transporting the viewer to the Venetian landscape where Venus peacefully sleeps as the day passes through to night. The piece has been produced and presented using innovative new Ultra HD/4K technology, which was still in development at the commencement of the project. The artwork marks a breakthrough in the employment of digital rendering and sculpting, blending live footage of a sleeping model with digitally generated imagery.

Transforming Diptych” (2013) by Justus Juncker (1765) is unique yet again, as it depicts two separate fruit still life paintings, which are deeply interconnected. MPC digitally replicated the paintings environment to provide a static 3D setting and matching light source, while the insects were brought to life in 3D and their behaviour designed to mimic reality. The two paintings communicate with each other enabling the insects to fly from one piece to the other, seemingly through the frames that separate them, further conjoining the two works. In addition, flight sequences are selected at random from a huge database so that each moving moment is bespoke.

In a departure from animated digital paintings, MPC also worked with the artists to turn 2D paintings into three-dimensional digital files. These files were then given form using 3D printing, forming the basis for a lost wax bronze – allowing for a level of detail and delicacy not possible even 2 years ago. “Sunflowers” (2013) gives an entirely new, sculptural form to Vincent Van Gogh’s masterpiece. The finished sculpture is one of the most complex and detailed bronzes ever produced. “Black Tulip” (2013) is based on a watercolour of a red tulip by Judith Leyster from 1643 and is stunning in its detailed and fragile form. 

Read in-depth about each artwork in "More" tab above.

The project has garnered global attention, appearing in both creative, design and VFX press. Read some of the press coverage below:

The Independent
Creative Review
Design Boom
Cool Hunting
Creator's Project

Transforming Still Life Painting” was one of the most challenging briefs MPC had ever worked on. At three hours, it was the longest piece of animation MPC had ever developed. Furthermore to ensure absolute detail and realism the team studied thousands of hours of nature footage – the task was to capture every subtlety and nuance surrounding events of a 24-hour cycle in the life of a bouquet of flowers. Approached as an animated time-lapse sequence, a huge database of footage was created for every flower in the original painting.

Once the time-lapse flower animation was in place and stretched back to real- time, the creatures were added. From butterflies, ladybirds and flies, to snails and caterpillars eating leaves, MPC modelled and rigged every single component of the painting. 

Over 45 minutes of creature animation was placed throughout the three-hour piece. The team also added some of the more subtle effects such as dewdrops at dawn, with one dripping down the alcove. The mist in the distance thickens at dawn and then clears for dusk, revealing a distant landscape. Even the water level in the vase is animated in 3D.

The end result is an entirely computer generated animated replica of an original painting – the very first of its kind and paving the way for a completely new genre in the art world. 

MPC’s work on ‘Transforming Vanitas Painting’ fell into three areas: firstly, creating a frog in various stages of decay. This was achieved by designing a number of style frames using in-house concept artists, which were then mapped to a timeline. To achieve the transition from the frog’s full body to its empty skeleton, the team used a series of displacement maps and model changes. These allowed the creation of varying shapes of decay and, combined with layers of transparency, enabled the disintegration of the flesh. The frog animation rig contained the geometry of a real frog skeleton and once the skin had vanished, a separate rig allowed the gradual collapse of the bones to be hand-animated.

A second key component of MPC’s work was the introduction of flies and maggots with believable behaviour. 

The creatures were assigned intelligence attributes and algorithms, such as the ability to avoid each other and the ability to be attracted to the most decomposed areas of the skin.

Thirdly, perhaps the greatest challenge within the work, was enabling the moving piece to retain the loose painterly style evident in the original painting. By breaking the painting down into layers it was possible to separate the stroke detail from the colour. Then using a series of camera projections containing the brushstroke detail, the frog and brushstrokes moved as one. A very complicated filtering process, at the 2D compositing stage, allowed refinement of the brushstroke effect and integration of the layers of 3D. 

This groundbreaking piece of art utilises innovative new display technology, still in developmental stages at the project’s commencement. It also integrates live footage into a 3D painterly environment.

To stay true to the size of the original piece, while enduring close-up viewing scrutiny, the team had to employ the use of newly developed 4K/Ultra HD Technology. The technology for the two and a half hour piece had a huge impact on MPC’s render farm and storage availability (4K meant working at four times TV standard).

MPC captured hour-long takes of model Ivory Flame ‘sleeping’, afterwards distorting her body to closely match the painting.

The entire surrounding environment within the new work was then re-created as a 3D model and textured by projecting the painting (with all shadows removed) onto the model. Recreating the sun’s path across the sky enabled the team to have changing shadows within the environment that were in line with the light source.

Fur software was adapted to replicate the grass, and a feather system was used for the trees – both were animated to appear to move with the apparent breeze. Between the changing lighting, moving clouds and movement in the trees and grass, at no time is the background ever static. 

The brief for the new moving pieces was to create a dual window into a world with a natural representation of life. To achieve this, MPC digitally replicated the paintings environment to provide a static 3D setting and matching light source, while the insects were brought to life in 3D and their behavior designed to mimic reality. The two paintings communicate with each other enabling the insects to fly from one piece to the other, further conjoining the new works.

As well as recreating the fly, wasp and butterfly present in the original pieces, a ladybird and dragonfly were also introduced in 3D in the same painterly style of the original artist. Behind these insects MPC created a huge database of realistic flight animation sequences. These sequences are selected randomly, so that each moment in time containing insect movement is bespoke. 

In addition, at indiscriminate intervals, the pieces match perfectly to the original paintings.

Along with real life flight simulations, each insect generates a corresponding moving shadow cast over their environment. To achieve quality in the larger insects this involved pre-rendering and pre-treating both the insects and their shadowsforeverypotentialflightpath. 

The original paintings were digitally retouched before being re-projected on the static 3D environment. This created separate layers, which enables the insects to walk or fly realistically around the fruit and create accurate shadows corresponding to the insect’s proximity to a surface and distance from the light source.

Creating a three dimensional sculpture from a two dimensional painting had us pushing the boundaries of another developmental medium– 3D printing.

In some ways it was a very succinct and uncomplicated brief, yet under the surface lay a myriad of complex challenges. These included translating a cubist approach to a 3D sculpture, adapting Van Gogh’s signature brushstrokes to feel 3-dimensional and applying creative license to the areas that weren’t visible in the original painting.

To create a bronze replica of Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers (from the National Gallery), the team at MPC began by creating a Base Mesh. This is a 3D model with little detail, but is the first step in understanding the painting’s volume. The key was to create balance from all angles and to keep it compositionally attractive.

In creating the sculpture, MPC replicated the artistic process that Van Gogh himself went through –starting with a base layer, equivalent to a wash of colour, then some of the thicker, more painterly strokes were applied. Actual strokes from the original painting were recreated in the 3D sculpt using ZBrush.

The printing process was done using a variety of methods and printers. For testing Z Corp 510 was used and printed using a grey Z Corp/Projet powder based substrate. This would print to a tolerance of 66-100 Microns (1micron = 0.001mm). The test print would in most cases highlight where further

adjustments were needed before sending to a higher quality printer. This was then printed to a resin material called “Visijet-X” using the high-end Projet 3500, which prints to a tolerance of 16 Microns. The final sculpture is cast in silicon bronze. 

Black Tulip was our first 3D sculpture with Rob and Nick Carter and the challenge with the piece was replicating the fragility of the flower and the intricate detail within the petals and leaves.

We worked closely with the artists to agree on and achieve a heightened level of detail for the sculpture, compared to that of the original watercolour. A 50mm lens was chosen, as it is the closest match to that of a human eye. In addition we would change the lens when we zoomed in for separate fine detailed modelling.

The type of tulip was identified and nature footage studied in order to replicate life-like subtle veins and textures. 

Within the sculpture the leaves were given a tighter arrangement to that of the original painting in order to keep the overall composition of the 3D sculpture well balanced.

Separate petals were individually cast during the 3D printing and extensive testing was carried out to find the right material tolerance – there needed to be enough material to create a surface but it was essential the final piece did not look heavy-set. 

Our global family of studios are all permanently connected and networked through an integrated production pipeline, allowing our team of artists and technologists to work closely together on shared projects whether they are in the same building or working remotely from separate locations.