You Are Data—4MB to Be Exact


Bits and Base Pairs explores the concept that the information encoded in our DNA can be compressed down to just 4MB, the equivalent, for example, of "the three floppy disks you owned in 1999." To think of ourselves as mere data can feel mundane (the scientists who worked out the compression called their paper "Human Genomes as Email Attachments"), or silly (see Reddit commenters' discussion of the idea that a human sperm carries 37.5 megabytes of information). This short animation, on the other hand, sees the beauty in our data, both digital and genetic. Animator Evan Anthony talks about the making of the short in an interview below.

The Atlantic: What inspired you to do this project?

Evan Anthony: Most of my work begins with a subject which I design around but for this project the story came from the imagery. Last year I had built several tools in Processing to integrate traditional animation with generative art for a short which ultimately proved too ambitious. This summer I started playing with what I had -- all the hard work was done so I just messed around with variables. After experimenting for a couple days, it felt more and more like birth or creation. I jumped to Wikipedia to read up on gestation and DNA and saw that the human genome was equivalent to 725 megabytes. In a serendipitous coincidence; I was using 725 particles to generate my imagery, and I found my theme.

How would you explain Processing to someone who is totally unfamiliar with it?

Processing is a programming language created for designers and artists. It takes care of a lot of the lower level challenges and lets you start making stuff immediately. It's great for abstract imagery and creating simple interactive objects.

What is the process of animating with Processing like?

I created several tools in Processing to take in black and white image sequences that I animated in 3D or frame-by-frame, including a generative brush, image processing, and a custom particle system. Using these images I could tell Processing to create particles only in the black pixels, thus giving me some control over a random process. Even with this functionality, though, there was a lot of tweaking of variables and re-rendering because of how unpredictable it was (once I accidentally exported a 20 gigabyte image sequence). Everything was then composited and edited in After Effects.

What's next for you?

I'd like to continue with this and integrate generative art with cartoony frame-by-frame animation in a compelling way. Currently I'm putting together a custom toy capsule machine.

For more videos by Evan Anthony, visit

Via Andrew S Allen.

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.
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