How new tech can spark innovations for even the most established artists
With advanced CPU and GPU and versatile Ezel formfactor, Acer’s ConceptD laptop can power highly complex digital builds, leaving more space for artistry and experimentation. Renowned artist Lucy Hardcastle samples the technology to produce three soothing new artworks.
As a creative person, how do you maintain a sense of freshness in your work? How do you ensure you don’t keep pumping out the same old processes with the same old line of ideation accompanying the concept in every project? These lingering questions circle the minds of many creatives. For Lucy Hardcastle, the founding designer of a multidisciplinary design studio in London, the answer is simple. “Working with a new machine always provides a fresh palate or new perspective on how you work,” she tells us. The proof is in the pudding for this pioneer of interactive technologies, 3D visuals and moving image. Here, Lucy tells us about the three new artworks she’s created using the ConceptD 7 Ezel Pro and how the new tech sparked brand new innovation for the established digital artist.
The new machine features a number of new and improved features to realise any artworks in need of complex rendering. A one-stop high performance laptop, Acer’s new ConceptD is ideal for any professional 3D or digital artist looking to maximise speed and responsiveness. Highly portable, the machine is designed for increased versatility. The product can be used in six different modes depending on the size of the collaboration and new precision drawing technology is also available with Wacom EMR pen technology. To top it all off, efficiency is streamlined with powerful image processing, drastically reducing rendering time to in turn, ensure creativity is prioritised.
Lucy is known for her sensual, “phygital” creations which heighten our senses and in turn, form a direct connection between viewer and artwork. Creating immersive virtual worlds that combine the principles of craftsmanship with the possibilities of technology, she’s worked with the likes of Chanel, Nike and Alexander Wang (just to name a few) while her works have also been exhibited at London Design Festival and the V&A. Illusions, texture and sound play a key part in producing the delicate balance of tingles which run up and down the body when watching her works. “A great deal of my work is spawned out of the lack of tactility we experience from facing flat screens for most of our day,” she tells us. Interestingly, Lucy finds daring ways to reconnect our vision and touch. “I believe those particular senses can carry associations, references and memories in both the real and ‘remembered’ worlds,” she adds, “and that creates a kind of sensorial familiarity.”
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Lucy Hardcastle using the ConceptD 7 Ezel Pro (Copyright © Lucy Hardcastle, 2021)
Lucy was initially attracted to using 3D software because it provided a way to create “perfect” photorealistic imagery plus unlimited amounts of creative possibilities thrown in the mix. The technology allowed her to stretch her imagination far beyond the traditional way of capturing an image through photography, instead, “bending what we perceive to be real”. Her outputs may be varied, but throughout all of Lucy’s work, there is a distinct emphasis on perception. By manipulating perception, Lucy makes the viewer second guess what they are seeing through a 2D screen. Carefully controlling the parameters of movement and spontaneity, she interrogates the boundaries of digital art. And this brief was no different. In Squidge, Ripple and Mound, she introduces us to three new realities; satisfying, ASMR-esque artworks at that.
“I knew I wanted to create pieces that involve forms of physics that we can all instantly connect with,” she says of the new artworks. Selecting a force such as gravity, for instance, Lucy then twists the concept to defy the laws of physics in a digital scape. Challenging the boundaries of our physical reality through the software, she exercises ConceptD’s GPU (graphics processing units) and CPU (central processing units) to offer a strong level of computational thinking. She then tied this method to the desired feeling for the series; a soothing feeling which sees aesthetically pleasing textures and motions ooze across beautifully rendered new worlds.
When Lucy starts to create a digital animation, she usually starts by working on the form, movement or action of the piece. “The connection between each artwork is the initial free-falling motion of gravity,” she explains, “with each environment responding differently to it.” In Cinema4D, Lucy experiments with the laws of gravity, playing god in her very own microcosm of the universe and pushing the boundaries of what could never be possible in our day-to-day. After free-flowing experimentation, she came up with the concept for the three artworks showing how each environment has uniquely affected gravity through tidal-like ripples, inflated abstract shapes or magnetic globular droplets.
In Squidge, Lucy plays with the idea of an artwork’s traditional setting, the plinth. But this is no ordinary plinth. There is a twist in the story, as the artist points out: “the object presented is abstract, somewhat alien and has a mind of its own in terms of movement.” Initially, Lucy imagined the soft and deliciously touchable object being pressed between two solid plinths. She saw it being squashed between these two hard surfaces, but once she designed the inflated motion, she decided to go down another direction; to have the squidge resting on top of a plinth as if it were an exhibited goodie surrounded by four white walls. But instead of a solid object being displayed to the masses, the object becomes deformed, exercising plasticity that disobeys the forces we think we know.
Squidge was built using a technique called Dynamic Body or Soft Body tags where, she points out, “you can really explore the physics of a shape.” With this artwork, in particular, she draws out the structure, volume, elasticity and stiffness, resultantly playing with how these elements interact with one another and affect the structure in turn. And as a cherry on top, Lucy additionally applies these ideas to the silky curtains blowing gently in the background. A complimentary movement that spotlights the moving object on the plinth while setting the scene at the same time.
In her second artwork, Ripple, Lucy references another corner of the cultural scape, film. She thought about cliches often seen in live-action films and one particular mise-en-scene that came to mind is when thick droplets fall down in an artistic expression of a rainy downpour. But instead of an action film, Lucy places this idea in the virtual landscape. Similarly to the previous artwork, the fundamentals of physics are turned on their head. Instead of the glossy droplet causing an expectant splash in the pool of liquid, it melts into the viscous liquid with a soothing plop while the ripples continue to vibrate across the ethereal digital plane. Created using a combination of Fields and Collisions, Lucy opted for this software for its ability to manipulate simple forms and to masterly evoke that liquid-like ripple effect. “I then spent some time aligning the timing of the falling sphere with those fields,” she adds, “so they felt responsive to one another.”
Continuing the theme of droplets, Lucy’s third and final artwork explores how the blobs can cling to other objects. “The idea of them clinging to an object in a way that first feels familiar but then, as the viewer continues to watch, it becomes hyper-real or mercurial.” Mound was built using techniques native to Cinema4D, techniques known as Metaball, Emitters and Cloners. Creating the shapes using the Emitters technique, she then used Metaball to render the liquid-like gloopiness. Having such a powerful machine such as the Acer’s ConceptD greatly aided the process, “there’s a lot less waiting around for things to render or for the computer to do lots of thinking which can slow down the testing period,” says Lucy, “especially with any liquid simulations.” The ConceptD 7 Ezel Pro boasts high speed performance brought by the latest Intel Xeon CPU and NVIDIA Studio graphic. Heavy duty image processing and render times are decreased and multitasking is also made that bit easier thanks to generous inbuilt memory storage. With a speedy machine able to carry out all her experiments, Lucy’s imagination was able to run free, unbound and unbridled while working out the intricacies of the moving artworks.
Since she started working with rendering software in 2013, Lucy has used a desktop as she assumed “it was best for the amount of computational power required for rendering.” So when presented with the Acer’s ConceptD 7 Ezel Pro, Lucy was surprised to uncover the efficient brilliance of a machine so much smaller than a desktop. “I loved the flexibility of the hinge design with all the different modes, meaning the screen could be at whatever angle worked for me,” the artist continues. “The quality, level of detail and colour calibration on the monitor were really beautiful, as I’m used to connecting a monitor with a desktop tower that then required manual calibration.” The product also features pinpoint colour accuracy, optimised vortex flow thermol system which reduces noise levels, maximum connectivity and improved security to add to the machine’s functionality. In turn, the project pushed her to further refine techniques and ideas that she’s long hoped to master, as when she creates pieces for the studio she works collaboratively with a team whereas Lucy built these three animated renders entirely on her own.
Finally, Lucy ends our interview with a few tips for anyone hoping to evoke a certain feeling or sensation in their work. “My main tip would be to use a combination of motion, textures and sound to make something even as simple as an animation feel as immersive as possible.” For Lucy, the point of intrigue lies in the impossibility and beauty of material form. Whether it’s physical or digital, she teases out a myriad of creative expressions which explore this liminal space. Through this research, she’s developed a notion that she calls “licking the screen,” a sensation where she creates feeling through play, asserting a connection with human instincts as a result, even though we’re not in direct contact with these wonderfully tactile objects.
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.