Judith Cockman reviews Staceyjoy Elkin's Azimuth, a stereoscopic, 3-D computer animated film.
Download a Quicktime movie of Azimuth by Staceyjoy Elkin. 3-D glasses not included! 786KB. © Staceyjoy Elkin
How does a woman, designing the structure of knitted fabric, parlay her expertise into an award-winning computer-generated anaglyph 3-D animation? By obsessive trial and error with self-taught computer skills and Lloyd Burchill's program "KNOT."
Staceyjoy Elkin bought herself a Mac to "write papers on" when she went back to college three years ago to get a degree in Forensic science. Like a kid in a candy store getting sidelined from buying the groceries, she got caught up in playing with the `Net. A year of neglected homework later, she dropped out of college and began her pursuit of computer animation and web design/graphics.
One of the rewards of her labor is Azimuth, ostensibly the first anaglyph, computer-generated animation to make it to tape. In other words, the first computer-generated animation that has a 3-D effect when the audience is wearing those funky 10¢ red/green glasses. It took Elkin months just to figure out how to out put the computer animation to tape in a high-resolution form without destroying the 3-D effect.
Knitting Patterns Conceive Computer Animation
Elkin developed a system of number overlay patterns through years of experimentation with stitching. "It involved a pattern of, say, 4-6-8-2-8-6-4, which could describe the number of stitches doing different things, and one or more number sequences such as 3-5-3-5-1-1-1, which could be the color or texture changes laid over the stitch going on," she says. "Repeated over and over, a very unique pattern emerges. Variations on this theme are endless."
This technique was translated to the KNOT program and Azimuth is the result. Lloyd Burchill's KNOT creates graphics using parametric equations (a mathematical way of describing a shape in space). According to Elkin, it interpolates one shape to another mathematically, with great precision and artistry, creating a fascinating blend of the ephemeral and the pragmatic. One of her joys working with Burchill's system was the "sideways journey" it afforded her to understand another person's way of thinking through his creation.
Elkin contends Burchill's innovative programming allowed her to express the things she sees in her head, which had been impossible to describe or express in any other way. She is in awe of his work.
Elkin Goes A Step Further
But KNOT has its limits as to how long an animation can be. Using her number overlay system, Elkin built Azimuth with about 40 separate animations, with matching beginning and ending key frames specially timed to give the illusion of one mostly continuous morph. This gave her the ability to extend the piece indefinitely. The result is a mesmerizing interplay of circular configurations. Half the fun of watching the animation is wearing the goofy red/blue glasses and grabbing at the images as they reach out to you.
She produced the piece in her "computer room/closet on 10th Street, Lower East Side of Manhattan." Costs for the project came to about U.S. $150 which covered zip discs to store source footage. Rather than relying on grants or loans, Elkin paid her way with freelance web design/coding jobs while she made the animation.
She met musician Mark Hofschneider at her current job as a web producer and, impressed with each others' work, they collaborated on Azimuth. She showed him her raw footage, and he set the feel and mood of the music to her work. She then edited her footage to his music. Hofschneider is a musician formally trained in classical guitar, piano, voice percussion, cello and music composition. He received a bachelors degree in music therapy and worked in the field for five years. Three years ago he started working in new media, mainly doing CD-Rom scoring, production and web development. Although the MIDI allows a musician to compose and produce his or her work affordably in the home, it tends to create a very middle-of-the-road effect which I tend to find atonal, lacking in a tonal center, rather than musical. The sounds are flat, without pitch, as if the musician were slightly off pitch of the pure sound we long to hear. The result always strikes me as sounding exactly like the last MIDI effort of the last abstract animation piece I saw somewhere too many times before and Azimuth does not escape this unfortunate result.
Elkin's Remarkable Diligence
This creative team, however, is to be commended for their diligence and enthusiasm. Azimuth may not be breaking any sound barriers in creative expression, but it is a great accomplishment of the interplay between the aesthetic and the mathematical. Azimuth is slightly over two minutes long. It was screened at The Kitchen in New York City last September, as well as San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and London as part of the DFILM Digital Film Festival. Bart Cheever, former producer of the Low Res Festival (now producer of DFILM), provided the glasses. Azimuth recently won third place in the animation category of the Parson School of Design International New Media Festival. The duo's newest collaboration Le Monade is a full-color abstract animation. Watch out for Staceyjoy Elkin. Her future goal is to create an animation that makes people nauseous. Brilliant...a carnival ride for couch potatoes. With her determination and focus I have no doubt she'll accomplish it. Judith Cockman, a Canadian currently living in Los Angeles, is a playwright, award-winning documentary writer, actor and journalist. She has written about animation for The Toronto Star,Kidscreen Magazine and SPLAT!, a behind-the-scenes-type television series about the world of animation.