2018 was the year Ezra Miller learned to take care of his brain
It’s been a big year for creative polymath Ezra Miller. When we spoke to him back in September of this year, he’d recently collaborated with Adidas while taking a break from his studies at NYU. Since then he’s landed a huge job working alongside artist Jon Rafman for Balenciaga – a project which caught global attention at Paris Fashion Week in October – and has recently signed with creative agency MA+Creative.
The tunnel, which doubled up as Balenciaga’s runway, was encased in LED panels. Utilising the familiar blues and greens of error screens, the installation featured digitally-rendered liquids manifesting “eerie digital ecosystems, alien landscapes, and late-stage techno-fetishist civilisations on the verge of collapse”.
Much of Ezra’s work is concerned with the digital rendering and replication of nature. The creative coder produces generative artworks involving blurs and water-like effects to explore “the underlying order uniting machines with nature”. As someone with a deep understanding of, and interest in, how computational worlds continue to bleed into every facet of our lives, we caught up with Ezra to pick his brains about how he sees this entanglement becoming ever knotted. We also touched on what he enjoyed the most and the least from the previous year, as well what he’s looking forward to in 2019.
It’s Nice That: What was your personal creative highlight of the year?
Ezra Miller: In terms of having creative freedom I think the Suicideyear album campaign and art direction was a big highlight. It was the first time I was able to work on art directing the entirety of a campaign like that and I was able to work alongside my close friends, as well as being able to travel to Louisiana to shoot photos for the artwork and convey the distinct mood of a place like that, and then being able to relate it back to the music. It was a big challenge and I was really happy with the work.
INT: What was your global lowlight of the year?
EM: There were quite a few this year, but for me it was the IPCC Report on global climate change. The report found that there are only 12 years left for humanity to potentially reverse a permanent global catastrophe due to climate change. The future of humanity is uncertain, and our planet has been destroyed by the forces of capital and greed. We are living during a critical moment in history.
Ezra Miller: Dazed Beauty
Ezra Miller: Alexander Wang
INT: How do you go about defining a successful creative year?
EM: I define a successful creative year as one you can look back on and see moments of growth, successes, and failures. I constantly set written goals for myself so it’s nice to look back at them and see how many of those goals have been realised. When creativity is part of your job description, it can be difficult to always be creatively “switched on” – it’s stressful to feel uncreative or to have writer’s block. It’s something I had to deal with this year, but regardless I think I had a successful creative year because I was able to realise multiple projects that I feel proud of and that represent my artistic vision.
INT: What are you looking forward to leaving behind in 2018?
EM: Anxiety, social media addiction, low budgets, letting work get in the way of friendships
INT: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in 2018?
EM: Take care of your brain – read books, meditate, delete Instagram for a little. Don’t be so hard on yourself but stay disciplined and motivated. Don’t work in your bedroom.
Ezra Miller: Oneohtrix Point Never
INT: How has your multifaceted practice developed throughout 2018? Have you synthesised your practice, or added more strings to your bow?
EM: Right now, I’m focusing on integrating new tools into my workflow, especially Houdini. I also feel like my understanding of the 3D pipeline has grown quite a bit and I want to start to explore the possibilities of working within a game engine, as well as working with more high-end rendering software and advanced tools for making visual effects. I’ve been doing real-time shader effects for years now, which has been my bread-and-butter, but I feel the need to expand my tool set to work in more commercial contexts as well as to elevate my own practice. And I want to get better at writing software and making websites.
I’ve honed my interests a bit and I feel like my understanding of what I find beautiful and artistically compelling has become more refined. I’m slower to produce things, especially personal work. I used to try to create something every day. I’d rather avoid burnout and let the ideas develop naturally, instead of forcing them. You can’t force creativity. I think a lot of artists are motivated by the constant stream of content we all see online and from peers, so I’m trying to ignore that constant pull to create and then immediately post, instead making things with more meaning and time put into them.
INT: Across your various creative outputs, how do you strive to achieve a genuine sense of interaction? Is this important to you?
EM: When I work on a website I feel like that’s one of the most natural platforms for experiment- ing with interaction, as well as the most easily shareable, since it’s entirely based on user input and is accessible anywhere. Unfortunately, my interest in making work on the web has been overshadowed by the ease and productivity afforded by working in a software like TouchDesigner, which is what I use now for almost everything. TouchDesigner is amazing for interactive projects but only works in certain contexts, such as a live performance or installation, so it’s harder to distribute those interactive experiences. So I guess I’ve been focused less on interaction recently, aside from my work in the music industry doing live visuals. It’s still something I find extremely important and there’s a real art to combining software, hardware, and user-input to produce something new and beautiful.
INT: How did the project with Jon Rafman for Balenciaga come about? Talk us through your role in the project.
EM: Jon reached out to me with the concept for the project, which I was thrilled to work on because of the emphasis on procedural textures, real-time generative content, simulations, and landscapes. We used TouchDesigner to create a majority of the content as it allowed us to rapidly generate a ton of gigantic (14k) videos instead of having to render them. My role was in developing the content alongside a team of artists at The Mill in New York. Jon is a brilliant artist and director, and his idea for the narrative of the film and ambition for the show made it a deeply inspiring experience. I was lucky to be able to go to Paris to help finish the final film and see it inside of the tunnel. There are no words to describe the feeling of being swallowed inside of a tunnel of screens.
INT: A lot of your work attempts to converge patterns from nature with technological principles. How do you foresee nature and technology continuing to crossover in 2019 and beyond?
EM: Computers and graphics hardware are only becoming more powerful. Their ability to simulate and recreate natural phenomena and create realistic worlds is constantly improving. I think we will start to see more realistic and interesting graphics in more places in our everyday lives, and in that way technology will continue to become more of a part of nature. I think that much of the work produced by artists working with machine learning has a distinctly natural and uncanny quality to it. The advances made only in the last three years with AI are really astonishing, and the quality and realism of images produced by computers is getting better practically every month. Generative images are going to become part of everyday life in a big way.
INT: What are you most excited for in 2019? Can you tell us about any projects you have coming up?
EM: I’m excited to start working together with my agency, MA+Creative, who I recently signed with. They have an amazing roster of talent and I can’t wait to collaborate with the other artists and clients they work with. I’m also working on the visual effects for a film that my friend Rick Farin is directing. Generally I’m just excited to expand my practice and continue working with talented people.
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About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.