Code-Based Animations Explore Nature and Technology

Net artist Chris Shier, creator of GIF Melter, a tool that turns an animated GIF into an interactive psychedelic webpage, recently debuted a series of eight new pieces titled CST. Commissioned by multimedia publishing platform Newhive, and curated by Lindsay Howard, CST explores the intersection point between nature and technology, but also the idea that technology perhaps influences the net artist more than the net artist influences the product.

The forms that Shier created for CST's eight pieces are, like much of his work, composed of grids, waves and feedback. Many of the pieces, like "klp" (kelp) and "wnd" (wind), are colored in minimalistic black and white, and mimic the natural movements that inspired them. The piece "drp" (drop), however, is as colorful and psychedelic as they come, with drops striking a black membrane, then melting as they fall down the screen.

Then there is "int" (integer), which looks as if several 3D planes are being mashed together, distorted and collapsing into a moving vortex; an effect that can be amplified by interacting with mouse clicks. It's hallucinatory in the best possible way, and completely drug-free.

“Overall, my thinking started out pursuing natural concepts (wind, water, sand) but I couldn't help but be seduced by the messy, noisy digital bits," Shier said of the works that comprise CST. "Begin with fixed animation, restrained palette, limited shapes, but end up with interactive animation, full spectrum palette, and hectic patterns.”

Shier was also inspired by the idea that writers aren't actually doing the writing, but the typewriter; not unlike William S. Burroughs "word virus" concept, which held that humans are hosts or vessels for viral-like words, which altered our biology. While making GIFs for, Shier thought a lot about how the GIF file format was telling him more than what he could say with the file itself.

"With the hard size and dimension limits imposed by that image chat room, I was obsessed with making the smallest possible files and seeing how far I could stretch their duration," he said. "Can you make a year-long GIF? Eventually the time it took to make the dozens of GIFs per piece became unreasonable and I had to learn how to generate animations with code. It opened up things I had previously been unable to incorporate into GIFs, like color. [But] it’s still very much a pixel grid, like the GIF, so the transition felt straightforward."

Shier said that Tim Baker showed him to how to use sine waves to modulate variables, and how they could add to each other. "The excitement for me with code-based animation is how everything can be tied to everything else," Shier said. "Every element is a variable. Instead of being self contained machines, they could communicate with each other or listen to the same inputs."

Of course, the conceptual basis of Shier's work isn't necessary to simply enjoy the organic and geometric-esque animated forms moving on screen. But, it doesn't hurt to stretch the mind a bit every now and then, does it?