Turning Golden Age masters into digital art

Imagine what it would be like if your favourite piece of art magically sprang to life: the stars in Van Gogh’s Starry Night actually twinkled or the Mona Lisa really smiled at you whenever you walked in the room.

Well this idea took a step closer to becoming reality yesterday, thanks to the efforts of contemporary artists Rob and Nick Carter and creatives at MPC (The Moving Picture Company).

Husband and wife duo Rob and Nick Carter came up with the idea of transforming a Dutch Golden Age master – Ambrosius Bosschaert The Elder’s Vase With Flowers in a Window (1618) - by digitising and then painstakingly animating every part of it, so this classic still life appears to come to life right in front of your eyes.

Transforming still life

Revealed last night at a private viewing at The Fine Art Society in New Bond Street London, Rob and Nick Carter’s work – called Transforming Still Life Painting After Ambrosius Bosschaert The Elder’s Vase With Flowers in a Window, 1618-2012 – is truly fascinating to see.

Over a period of three hours, this digitised artwork subtly and slowly changes: flowers turn towards the light and eventually wilt; the water in the vase dissipates; beetles, dragonflies, snails and slugs appear briefly appear then disappear again.

Just as the artwork in the foreground changes, so does the background that’s seen through the window: clouds drift across the sky, the light changes. Eventually it gets dark. If you’re patient enough you may even see the flowers wave gently in the breeze.

Creating digital fine art

Rob and Nick Carter’s Transforming Still Life has been painstakingly created – taking almost two and a half years and thousands of hours of work to animate. Creatives at MPC (The Moving Picture Company) used Autodesk Maya to create and render everything in the work in exquisite detail, basing the movements on each component of the painting on time-lapse footage of real flowers and insects to ensure the details were just right.

MPC bouquet animation for Rob and Nick Carter's Transforming Still Life

MPC bouquet animation for Rob and Nick Carter's Transforming Still Life

Jake Mengers, creative director of 3D Commercials at MPC told Computer Arts:

“We started off thinking we might just build parts of it that would move and that we’d come up with some clever technique for projecting it on. But the ones we did build looked so amazing, while the ones we hadn’t were letting it down a bit, so we ended up building the whole thing.”

The three hour long animated sequence runs in a continuous loop as a QuickTime movie, but Jake Mengers explains that the looping had to be seamless. The easiest way to do this during the work’s night phase:

“All the flowers have to reset themselves through the night [phase], including the ones where the leaves get eaten by the caterpillar," says Jake. "The leaves get blown by the wind so it appears to be horizontal to our eyes and that’s when we fill in the holes.”

The future of fine art?

Perhaps the most fascinating thing, perhaps, about the Rob and Nick Carter’s Transforming Still Life is it opens up all kinds of possibilities for digital fine art - as we pointed out in the introduction. The creative team behind this painting are already looking at their next project – and are even thinking about doing commissioned work if there is sufficient demand.

However there’s no earthly reason why other 3D designers with enough time, talent and patience couldn't also take the concept on board and create their own piece of digital fine art - especially when you think about the commercial possibilities.

Where to see it

Transforming Still Life Painting After Ambrosius Bosschaert The Elder’s Vase With Flowers in a Window 1618-2012 is limited to just 12 pieces with five artists proofs. Each piece comprises a three hour looped film, frame and Apple iMac and measures 73.66cm x 86.36cm. Each piece is valued at £50,000.

If your wallet doesn’t stretch that far, you can still see the Rob and Nick Carter's latest work. It’s being shown to the public at TEFAF Maastricht between Friday 16 and Sunday 25 March 2012. Or you can catch a glimpse of it in action by watching the video below...

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