Agency Who Wot Why has enlisted the talents of Nexus Studios and Nicolas Ménard to create a short animation to tell the story of Habito, an online startup “providing mortgages using a powerful algorithm”.
“They needed to convey how they combine innovative technology with human expertise in order to simplify the mortgage process,” explains Nicolas on being brought in for the project. “Who Wot Why asked us how we could design harmonious ’sorting algorithms’ that turn graphical chaos into satisfying order.”
A sorting algorithm is made up of a series of instructions, explains Nicolas, these instructions make sure that a series of elements – “like a bunch of rectangles of all sizes randomly scattered around” – are sorted in a given way. “To design the algorithms in the film, I wrote instructions and make drawings of how a visualisation should work, look and feel,” says the director. “Then Variable.io picked up these instructions and coded web apps that allowed us to play with the number of units to sort per algorithm and adjust their appearance and speed.”
Sound was integrated using the same approach, with written instructions being given for how sound would be triggered by each algorithm, creating “an infinite number of ‘melodies’ to choose from”. German sound designer David Kamp crafted all the beeps and bloops of the first half of the film, and Habito’s founder Daniel Hegarty, who is also a musician, composed the music at the end of the film, to add “a more human composition to contrast with the randomness of the machine”.
The algorithm’s retro aesthetic was informed by several factors: shape variation (circles, rectangles, squares sticks etc) and the way in which these forms would be sorted; by angle, position or colour and what they’d look like when sorted. The team was also keen to make each shot feel different composition-wise. “Some designs came to life by playing with grids, with a lot of trial and error. Others are in reference to weaving patterns,” says Nicolas. “Colour-wise, I wanted something that felt rather analogue, so the teachings of Josef Albers were of good guidance. I must have spent more time choosing the colours than anything else!”
Nicolas usually depicts character-filled worlds with more narrative, which he talked about in his Nicer Tuesdays talk back in May. This short is a step into more abstract and graphic territory, but it was familiar ground for Nicolas. “Working with visualisation and code is a sideline of mine,” he says. “In 2012, I published a book called Colorimetry for Judith Poirier’s research project. It was using the data of colour and very simple algorithms to transform colour into shapes.”
Overall the animator feels the short is “a good experience for people of an obsessive-compulsive nature” and it provides a visually stimulating insight into Habito’s process.