Artist Interview: Chaotic Atmospheres on Walter's Experiments

The Geneva, Switzerland-based 3-D artist Istvan, also mysteriously known as Chaotic Atmospheres, is releasing a new series of work on NeonMob today. "Walter's Experiments" is an animated set featuring 100 digitally-created particles, molecules, and other shape-shifting structures dreamt up in the artist's scientifically-bent mind. This is Chaotic Atmosphere's third series for NeonMob; he previously released "Radiolaria Index" (read our last interview with Chaotic Atmosphere about this series) and "Biotop from Polygonia."

Below is a small sample of Chaotic Atmospheres' hypnotizing 3-D animations from the series, along with an interview with the artist to understand the process and meaning behind this technically challenging series: 

It's been a while since we last talked to you. What have you been up to professionally and/or personally since your last series for NeonMob?

These past two years have been really exciting for me. Lots of things changed in my personal life. For one, I’ll be dad in a couple of days! Lots of things happened professionally too. More of my projects have been in exhibitions and more shows are being planned. Some of my works have been published too, like in Super Modified: The Behance Book of Creative Work. I’m really glad to see that people appreciate my work.

I have a lot of very interesting projects for clients too, but I try to keep some time to continue my personal projects too, even if I don’t manage to do it as often as I want – my last project on Behance was published last year! I’m glad that NeonMob is publishing my new set so that I have a new project to show.

What is your new series for NeonMob about? It almost seems like a follow-up to Radiolaria Index, but with more color and movement. Why did you decide to focus on more microorganisms again and why did you decide to make this an animated series?

Making an animated series was my first intention. Then I decided to focus on microorganisms. The idea first came when I was working on the "Biotop from Polygonia" series. NeonMob was about to launch the ability to make animated sets, so they asked me if I'd consider making moving insects. But when I created the series, I hadn't started it with that possibility in mind, so the process of animation was very tedious and I only ended up making five animated cards. I decided that the next series would be fully animated.

When I work on motion graphics, I often find some interesting effects with dynamics or while using MoGraph. Most of the time, these effects are completely unexpected and, thus, aren't always easy to use in the project I'm working on at the time. Instead, I collect them like gems, hoping to find a good reason to use them eventually. When I had to think about an animated series, the idea to use my “interesting effects” collection came logically. Lots of these had an organic feeling. When I discovered them, I felt like a mad scientist  making discoveries in his lab, so I decided to emphasize and share this feeling with everyone through "Walter's Experiments." I hope that people will discover these little biological/chemical/nanobotic(?) reactions with the same pleasure!

Did you try anything new or do anything differently in your artistic process (besides the animation) when making this series as compared to "Biotop from Polygonia" and "Radiolaria Index?"

The main goal of "Walter's Experiments" was to have the opportunity to show effects that I had discovered while working on my usual workflow, so the idea was to not change it too much – and making animation was already a big difference. This series was my biggest animation project in terms of quantity, so I wanted to use a familiar process without surprises. When working on animation, a “surprise” is always very time consuming to troubleshoot. 

But the artistic process was a bit different because I wanted to use a variety of effects that I made at different times, with different approaches. So even if in my mind these effects were related, it was quite difficult to merge everything in a single project. The first difficulty was to find the "missing links," the effects that make a smooth transition between already existing effects.

The other hard part was to find a good overall look that fit all these effects. The connection between these pieces is the fact that they depict chemical/biological reactions. But in the beginning, they all looked very different from each other. I wanted to make the viewer feel like they were in someone's lab in the '70s, watching all these reaction through a microscope. So I worked a lot on the overall look of the series to give it a homogeneous feel.

Shapes and structures are a recurring theme in your work, what is it about these forms that you find fascinating to create?

When I work on a personal project, I usually don’t try to get to a specific result. I try to stay openminded to what I discover. So the final result of my projects is always made partly from the will to find something interesting and partly from a “guided randomness” that leads my experimentations. By “guided randomness” I mean that I try to confine randomness to a direction that suits my tastes. So, it's random, but not chaotic. If my projects lead to a similar aesthetic, with a recurring theme, this will probably mean that I try to go in the same direction, even if it's not fully conscious. The other explanation is that procedural and generative methods are specifically made for the creation of this kind of very detailed structure. I will likely go on this direction, since I see more interesting things developing in this field. So, I think that the recurring themes comes from my workflow more than from a considered decision.

Are there any new programs that you are experimenting with or incorporating into your process these days?

I’m starting to learn Houdini. It’s an incredible software with an “Indie” version that is really worth the budget. I wanted to give it a try for many years and the announcement from Maxon that there will be an import plugin for Cinema4D finally made me do it. Houdini is a good balance between a traditional “interfaced” software and a programming tool. But it's probably one of the hardest softwares I've worked with. It's quite easy to discover and start making things, but the gap between novices like me and gurus is really huge. So this will be my new learning software for the next few years… Maybe I will use it for an upcoming set on NeonMob!

Do you ever draw anything by hand? Do you ever want to experiment with a more hand-drawn, less precise aesthetic?

I would love to but I can’t because I’m only a shell connected on a computer somewhere in a cave. OK, the real reason is because I never managed to sketch something that was good enough to be shown. It’s actually worse than that – my hand-drawn sketches looks like children's drawings. I tried to sketch by hand, day by day, since my childhood, but I never increased my skill in any way. I tested various mediums, various styles... I took academic sketching in Fine Arts. I tried a more graphic approach in fashion design school... but nothing came up. This is a big fail in my creative life. Moreover, this is an important drawback when you work with a lot of clients. Most of the time, you have to share ideas over email and a good sketch is always more efficient than lots of text.

But by chance, when I use a computer, everything seems more logical to me. So I accepted with time that I have my own ways of expression and now I prefer to work the way I do. I just can't work without my layers and my ctrl-z!

What 3D artists are you in awe of these days? Who are some up-and-coming artists we should be watching?

There are a lot of artists that deserve to be noted, but I think what matters more than the individual artist is the project. A great artist will make an uninteresting artwork if the project is not worth his talent. But a great project can sublimate even the less talented of us.

I see everyday incredible works from all around the world, but I don’t really follow one specific artist. I'm happy to discover new artworks and to recognize the style of an artist that I already know. I've developed a very good memory for pictures, and I have quite a precise "timeline" of the work of artists that I like in my head, even if I can't remember the artists' names (yes, I'm a little ashamed of that). These timeline are not straight and they often merge together on some topics, when I see projects that are somehow connected. This is my way of noting recurring themes that emerge in other artists' minds. This might seem a little unclear to others, but I think that it's a less restrictive way to connect elements. I don't think of artists, only projects made by creative people.

I prefer to see the creative world as a whole and I try to be part of it. For me, giving some names of artists above this whole is like telling you which snowflake is better than the others.

Interview edited for clarity by Sarah Han