Nikita Diakur is a Russian animator living in Mainz who studied both in Germany and at Central Saint Martins and the RCA in London. His recently crowdfunded Ugly project is "somewhat different than what you'd normally expect from a Computer Generated film... it is a combination of puppeteering and dynamic simulations [with] no in-between poses".
In case it's not clear what Nikita is attempting, watch the video above and you'll get the idea. Instead of directly manipulating his models and scenes by selecting objects and altering, deforming or repositioning them, he's using dynamic simulation - a secondary animation method - to animate. It's a little like a party game where you blow through straws at ping pong balls or use friction to stick balloons to things. Software is difficult enough to use without introducing an artificial distance between you and your models, so it takes confidence and patience to embark on a creative journey like this. As Nikita says "...loss of control is often time consuming and frustrating. Nevertheless, it is also liberating and feels like every animated character embodies a real personality with all its quirks."
As interesting and visually engaging as I find the creative challenge, what interests me more is how this project introduces another, unnecessary, level of mediation between user and software, and in doing so draws attention to the means by which software always mediates, always prescribes creative solutions. If you want to make an animated film, for example, there generally is a route of least resistance offered by the software, but so many people follow that same route that you'll be lucky to end up with something distinct at the end. What your film might most resemble is the software package it was made in. Software always creates a Goldilocks zone, and most work never leaves it.
Nikita's project takes us on a detour into the hinterlands of software. He forces the complex solvers that normally hum away under the hood of Cinema4D to bear the brunt of the challenge. Using gravity, friction, tension, wind or momentum as the primary method of animation, he opens an expanded field of glitch that addresses the texture of code itself. We see code as it is - not a neutral emancipatory force ("live your creativity!") but a complex, contingent language constructed for people by people. Hair solvers, render engines, rigid body and cloth dynamics or particle sims all emerged from huge bodies of research over decades - centuries even - and each engine has an ideal use case scenario that is based on an amalgam of aesthetic, historical and logistical decisions.
It always interests me with work like this to imagine what the developers think of the project. It's been promoted by Maxon, but could the work prompt them to improve their solvers, thus preventing people from forcing glitches like this? Or might they one day start building glitch presets to replicate this new aesthetic? Can creative exploration like this expand the Goldilocks zone of software?
Have a look at some more tests on Nikita's Vimeo page. And for something similar that I've been working on, see Cartoon Physics, the full version of which will be premiering in Fractured Gestures on April 26th at Haus der Elektronischen Künste in Basel, Switzerland