Stunning Analog Visual Effects Created With Magnetic Liquid

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Kim Pimmel, a software designer by day, spends his spare time exploring the abstract visual properties of substances like ferrofluid (magnetic particles suspended in liquid) in a series of short videos called Compressed. Building custom gadgets to shoot on a macro scale and experimenting with different materials, he creates eerie shapes that alternately look like single-celled organisms or solar eclipses. 

Pimmel describes his creative process, from buying everyday ingredients at a drug store to creating the original soundtrack, in this artist statement:

I find analog things appealing -- whether it's vinyl or photographic film, there's a certain richness and magic that's difficult to replicate with digital means. The Compressed series showcases analog visual effect techniques, so everything in the films is made by hand, with physical materials and tools in my studio. For each of the Compressed films I try to develop and master a set of analog techniques with which I can craft a narrative.

For the effects in Compressed 03, I was drawn to the dynamic interactions between liquids. I spent about a month playing mad scientist to see what gave the most interesting results. I raided the kitchen for common stuff like milk, oil, and molasses. I stopped at the drug store and buy random things such as witch hazel, nail polish, and bubble blowing mix. I ordered exotic stuff like ferrofluid online. Some liquids repelled each other, some caused coagulation, and some created intricate patterns.

I settled on ferrofluid as my primary liquid, since it yielded some nice interactions with other liquids and could be manipulated using magnetism. All of the black or brown seen in the film is ferrofluid -- needless to say it was a very messy few months!

The whole film is shot with a Nikon D90 DSLR, frame by frame, and animated using stop motion and time lapse techniques. This allowed me to control the effects by manipulating various parameters by hand - for example I could blow air onto the scene with a straw to adjust flow direction, or add liquid outside the shot to accelerate an effect. I also hacked a flatbed scanner so I could control it from my computer -- and by physically connecting the scanner carriage to other equipment I could adjust parameters of the scene very precisely.

To control the camera for the frame by frame animation, I used a custom timer that I had built for a previous project.

Except for the opening title sequence, everything was shot with a macro lens. While the scale of the scenes in the film may seem grand, they actually range from the size of a post-it, to the size of a playing card. To work at that small scale I used syringes to dispense minuscule amounts of liquids, as well as a whole assortment of tiny magnets to control the ferrofluid. As anyone who has worked with macro can tell you, it's a pain to work with, but it opened up a whole world of visual opportunities for the project.

Once shooting was wrapped, I edited the film with Premiere, while concurrently writing the soundtrack in Ableton Live.

Since I'm kept pretty busy during the day designing software for Adobe, the film was made during my evenings and weekends over the span of about four months.

In Compressed 02, Pimmel combined ferrofluid with soap bubbles to create an ominous-looking ooze:

 

For more details on how he created Compressed 02, see his brief interview with the Atlantic Video channel here.

To see more work by Kim Pimmel, visit http://cargocollective.com/kimpimmel.

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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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