In one film, “The Death of an Insect”, three animators, filmmakers, and game creators turned science communicators have given a group of dead insects one last dance.
Against a backdrop of stunning imagery – some monochrome or solidly black or white – the insects hovered, floated, and swam though air as if held by invisible strings in a stunning feat of 3D modeling and stop motion photography that is as equally meditative as it is poetic – and perhaps only slightly macabre. The insects that waltzed and flew through urban landscapes – dead but not lifeless – were collected from attics and sheds, and their choreography delicately animated in the studios of Pohjankonna Oy, the production company behind this experimental picture.
In their other film “The Secret World of Moths” showing at the 3rd edition of Imagine Science Film Festival in Abu Dhabi this weekend, the collaborative crew of three, Hannes Vartiainen, Pekka Veikkolainen and Janne Pulkkinen, who are also lifelong friends, provides a glimpse into nature’s macroscopic expanses through moths.
The dreamy images of vibrantly coloured, almost translucent and luminous insects were constructed using 3D X-ray tomography. This brainchild of Pohjankonna Oy was done in collaboration with the Finnish science centre Heureka. Dozens of insect scans provided by the University of Helsinki, Finland, helped make the film’s animated sequences possible.
In other projects, in collaboration with researchers from various institutions, such as Ghent University, they used computer generated imagery from numerous scans to create samples that they can virtually ‘move’ inside. The Centre for X-ray Tomography in Ghent has opened up some data archives for Vartiainen, Veikkolainen and Pulkkinen to explore, experiment with and develop their tools.
The final product is always a paragon of film-making excellence at the intersection of science, animation and art. But none of it is interpretative.
“We take something from the real world and try to visualise it as accurately as possible,” says Veikkolainen. His colleague Vartiainen adds, “It’s never 3D models that are based on the interpretation of the data, but always the real data.”
It’s their third Imagine Science Film experience – previously their work won the 7th Imagine Science Film Festival Visual Science Award in the festival’s New York edition and the Scientific Merit Award in Abu Dhabi back in 2015. Their accolade this year, however, was the reactions of awe and wonder that their virtual reality (VR) engine – part of an installation at the festival’s Spectrum art showcase – has garnered from the audience.
This Nature Middle East editor couldn’t resist a dive (or two) into the immersive virtual world that Vartiainen, Veikkolainen and Pulkkinen have created: a journey into the gut of a 2mm fish, scaled up and visualised with impeccable detail. You can shine a light into this virtual model, carve out or slice through it, swap scales with the hit of a button to be able to move around it and observe it from the outside or walk through it on the inside, as you would in a dimly lit cave.
Since the model is based on real-world data, even the smallest details are true to form; there are no imaginatively constructed visuals.
The synergy between art and technology in this VR prototype is seamless; giving life to an organic sample that both scientists and the public can go deeper into, while keeping it real.
Their method of visual construction is inspired, in part, by diagnostic tools already in use in the medical industry, but that lack the technology to control and manipulate the data, or make it come to life. “Medical visualization tools typically lack the sophisticated lighting and camera controls necessary for cinematic work,” explains Pulkkinen.
But the trio’s unique tools give them precise studio-like control over lighting tomography data – the render engine makes use of video footage to cast ‘animated light’, for instance, adding layers of natural light, such as a timelapse of a moonlit night, to an otherwise static creature.
The light helps bring out the shape of said creatures and samples, giving an extra layer of reality to these digital visualisations – so in the end, nothing is oversimplified.