Hominid, a haunting animated short, uses composite images of real pediatric and veterinary x-rays to create hybrid creatures -- exotic beasts with recognizably human skulls. Brian Andrews, a San Francisco-based artist, began creating still images and then worked with a team of animators to bring them to life. He describes how they did it in an interview below.
The Atlantic: What was the inspiration for this project — the photographs and the animation?
Brian Andrews: The original photo-composites were developed with the intent of creating an artwork that would make the audience feel a personal and uncanny connection to the image in front of them. Each photo needed to contain a sensation of humanity which someone could intimately relate to, yet also provoke something unsettling and alien. Fusing human and animal anatomies is not a new idea -- almost every mythology has hybrid creatures. By using x-rays as source material I was able to make the images contemporary in their form, as well as directly challenge the viewer by taking them inside their own bodies.
When translating the photo-composites into the animation, it was essential to use the unique view of the creatures’ anatomies to be the motivation of the story. That’s why the narrative is so physical and visceral -- it needed to emerge directly from the bodies of the hominids themselves.
How do you create the composite photographs? What tools and programs do you use?
The photographs were constructed in Photoshop from scans of both pediatric and veterinary x-ray films. I would approach emergency rooms and ask them if I could get access to their unusable films. Most were rejected by the physician because of an improper exposure or operator error so they could not be added to the patients’ medical record. Some hospitals had so many discarded x-ray sheets that they filled 50-gallon drums. Once the patients’ privacy clauses of HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) took effect in 2005, my access to the supplies of this material was essentially frozen by the hospitals out of fears of litigation.
Initially, I sought out films of children because the scale was more practical to scan. However, I quickly discovered that the pediatric x-rays had a lot more life to them. The children would squirm and inadvertently strike unique poses with personality, whereas adults would behave and lay as instructed, which produced repetitive bland diagnostic images.
How did you bring these images to life in the animation?
I produced the animation at Ex’pression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville, CA. All of the work you see on screen was done by students under my direction, with the help of some fantastic faculty. We animated in Maya, and composited the final x-ray effect in Nuke, to mention just some of the technology in our pipeline.
What's next for you?
I have a few projects in the works. Hominid will be extended into a full length short once proper funding is secured. People can track its progress at hominidanimation.net. I also have a live-action / CG hybrid project under development for 2013. The film that will hit the screens the soonest is titled The Happy Hydrogen Bomb, which features a horrifying rainbow explosion which absorbs a city. It is based on a sculpture by the duo Duncan Mackenzie and Christian Kuras, who have collaborated on the look if the animation, and should be released by the end of the year.
For more work by Brian Andrews, visit http://www.brianandrews.org/.