Quantum LOGOS

Art & Science in Animation

INTRODUCTION

Quantum LOGOS (vision serpent) is an immersive reactive film that uses Mesoamerican culture as inspiration for design ideas used to explore quantum mechanics basics. This project uses abstract animated imagery to represent the quantum world metaphorically. I use this approach because of the parallels that are evident in the art and philosophy of Mesoamerica to the quantum mechanics vision of the nature of reality. While I focus on Young’s Double Slit Experiment1, how light behaves when passed through double slits, as part of this project research, I found additional inspiration in the Observer Effect.2 These two phenomena are core issues relevant to this artwork that I use to explain quantum mechanics. I wanted to present new ideas through the ancient artistic interpretation of natural wonders to attest to their intuitive assumptions’ timeless beauty and similarity to current notions. By using designs that are rooted in ideas embraced by Mesoamerican thought, I’ve created a series of visual metaphors that explore, discover, and communicate the counterintuitive and contradictory beauty of nature.

In this immersive, reactive, animated piece, I did not want to make a pedantic infomercial that would graphically explain Quantum Theory. Instead, I wished to convey the awe that I felt when studying questions like, “What is the nature of existence as determined by science?” My goal was to use a visual language, recalling abstract painters’ approaches based on science’s emergent ideas. I didn’t want to taint the work with iconography but rather with feelings expressed as moving abstract paintings. I was inspired by many artists who have used these approaches in the past. Artists like Roberto Matta, Hokusai, Dalí, and Henry Moore, among others, have used ideas inspired by Quantum Theory to inform their artwork.3 Their ability to blend classic compositional forms to imply meaning motivated me. I also wanted to make this artwork relevant to my Mexican cultural background, emphasizing newly established links to scientific phenomena. However, I did not desire to appropriate cultural icons that, with our current scientifically-informed culture, I can hardly begin to understand in purpose, intent, and historical context.

THE PROJECT

The evolution of the Quantum LOGOS (vision serpent) project and the challenges of utilizing generative animation inspired by classic Mesoamerican alongside more modern ideas started early on in my career. When I was doing my MFA at UCLA, I created an animated short the medium of laser light called “Omeyotl.” At that time, I worked part-time for a company in Los Angeles, California, that did laser shows. A group from Mexico made inquiries about doing a laser show on a pyramid for a Mexico City celebration in 1981. I’m Mexican American with a mostly indigenous background, so the idea of doing a laser show based on the prehispanic gods fascinated me. Ultimately, the project did not happen with the Mexico group. However, I decided to further the idea and completed the short in 1983. It was my first foray into Mesoamerican imagery and the ideas behind them. It explored two core figures, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, that held opposite positions in what I understood to be a dualistic pairing. I projected the artwork in laser-light onto the Federal Building in Westwood, CA, during the 1984 Summer Olympics and used it as my MFA film. Since then, I have been interested in revisiting Mesoamerican themes in my work. As an animation industry veteran based mainly in Los Angeles, California, my involvement with animation started with event-based laser animation. However, I gained experience in interactive educational content, console games, feature-based animation, digital sculpting, short-form character content, and code-based generative animation, all of which anticipate my current exploration into immersive interactive design systems and storytelling.

Mandala sequence & Derivative Touchdesigner Interface

A cylindrical stereoscopic and VR installation of Quantum LOGOS (vision serpent) in progress. at the Institute for Media Innovation “Reality Theater” Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, January 2020 ©Mark Chavez

The Interactive Interlude: fields of energy follow me

Imagined as a mystical Maya cenote in the Interactive Wave Sequence @ Ars Electronica Festival 2019, Deep Space 8k Theatre ©Mark Chavez

Although the movie has a Mesoamerican feel, the design does not explicitly use iconography from the region. Given the subject matter, I did not want the imagery to assert ideas I could not be sure of. Plus, had I used that iconography, I most likely would have misinterpreted it. Mesoamerican Studies is a serious subject that I pursue only as a hobby, and I did not want to alienate people that I wanted to exhibit the work to. Instead, I use imagery inspired by ideas defined by the contemporary Mesoamerican philosophy scholars James Maffie, Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in Motion, (Maffie, 2015), and Alexus McLeod, Philosophy of the Ancient Maya: Lords of Time. (McLeod, 2017) These books offer a great source of ideas in their analysis of the Mexica (Aztec) and Maya worldviews that inspires imagery based on the Mesoamerican worldview. My imagery uses a template of imagined metaphors derived from the Mesoamerican way of thinking, as discussed by these authors. My artistic goal is to detail ideas as a quantum physicist might envision in a mythic, design-based animated artwork. I discussed this approach with a small team of expert science communication and art academics to devise the piece’s solutions. We agreed that in an animated-artwork, using pictorial metaphor and artistic abstraction would work well.

I had to go deep into Mesoamerican thought and philosophy to understand the metaphors I needed for designs. In my research, I found that their beliefs are Pantheistic.4 Strangely enough, the pantheism shares an uncanny similarity to findings made in quantum mechanics.5 The Maya developed a highly sophisticated and complex belief system that posited time as an integral part of their understanding. Mesoamericans believed that Gods, or better put, expressions of spirit, are an ever-dynamic part of everything, literally woven throughout every aspect of life. I thought these ideas could be leveraged with imagery to imply meaning. For example, Mexico’s indigenous peoples had no word for god or goddess. I interpret these as archetypal forces and tag them with design rules. The goal is to organize various concepts with visuals that have intuitive meaning derived from their use of color and shape and arrange them in such a way as to reveal an intuitive interpretation that has a factual basis in Art/Science communication.

Design Approach: exploring science with design archetypes

Quantum LOGOS (vision serpent) dynamically illuminates challenging concepts in quantum science such as Emergence Theory, Quantum Gravity, and the Double Slit Phenomena. During the Interactive Interlude, the artwork focuses on the Double Slit Experiment’s wave-like phenomena to create a reactive narrative platform. In other sequences, the generative animation focuses are on phenomena such as Quantum Tunneling, the possibilities of Emergence Theory, and the preponderance of the Golden Ratio in Quantum Mechanics. It is created an introductory lesson on quantum science. I visually explore ideas evident in quantum theory with immersive real-time animation, referencing cultural Mesoamerican design archetypes. While pursuing research on these topics, I favored these styles because there are similarities in the conceptual construction of their philosophical views with the current scientific world view described by Quantum Mechanics. This movie’s background research is an extensive analysis of Mesoamerican artworks, urban design, and their calendric studies and mathematical precision. Moreover, I studied ideas manifest in the philosophical principals of the broader ancient world and sought basic concepts and patterns currently evident as proposed by quantum theory. In readings from the books of Maffie and McLeod, what stands out is that these cultures had a pantheistic world view where everything vibrates in a woven field of life.

In this artwork, using what can only be leveraged by a fantasy-based palette rooted in artistic intuition, I have interpreted nature and existence with designs and artwork that reflect a collective mythic memory. In one sequence, I show the sun’s effect as a source of energy whose gravitational force warps fields of space around it. The sun sustains life in plants through photosynthesis. The quantum effect is evident in biological systems in how they process photos to create energy. I use pictorial metaphors to describe these effects from a contemporary artistic perspective. In the interactive interlude, as with the Double Slit Experiment, the waveforms create illusionary rippled forms. I expound on these shapes when they form crisscrossing interference patterns to suggest meaning. I make a pool of energy in blue rippled light cross the screen as I walk across it imagining it as what the ancient Maya may have witnessed when performing their meditative rituals in Cenotes (sinkholes that had reflecting pools).

Abstract animation is challenging to understand. Often interactive art is conceived as a fixed state with mostly responsive reactive changes. Although this is an exciting way to immerse an audience in an interactive installation, my interests were to take the viewer through numerous design-states that would create a visual story that elicits an emotional impact. For example, waves that continually shift back and forth, where the audience can approach and move a particle effect. My primary goal in creating this artwork was to convey a story, limit the interaction to a specific moment, then provide an interlude where the audience can immerse themselves into the movie to have a more meaningful experience. One of my primary goals was to create an artwork with story pacing where the imagery moves from design to design, guiding the audience through a visual forest that accumulates a deeper meaning than static immersive visuals. I used a classic mountain arch to pace the animation and design. Conveniently, the movie evokes the feel of a creation myth.

Conclusion

The observer’s role in quantum mechanics is such that the observation of a phenomenon inevitably changes that phenomenon.6 Quantum physicists must always further analyze scientific findings for accurate understanding. In turn, the Mesoamerican pantheistic worldview aligns with how they viewed their place in nature and view of reality as a woven fabric of intent. The individual takes an active role with the forces enveloping them, they manifest its existence. As artists, we use our imagination to interpret our perceptions and meditations intuitively. This project tries to understand different ways of thinking, ancient and contemporary. To consider modern ideas that assert physical reality as fields of energy and frequencies ripple constructing what we perceive. Our goal is to explore how these ideas compare to views held in the ancient pre-scientific world. Quantum LOGOS (vision serpent) uses artistic concepts to illuminate scientific concepts about our world’s nature. This piece is a short time-based immersive artwork that attempts to use classic Mesoamerican and modern scientific ideas as inspiration for its research. I am endeavoring to present new ideas with an ancient symbolic interpretation that attests to nature’s timeless beauty.

What’s next? I’m currently working on a stereoscopic VR version of this piece, which should only take a few weeks, I hope. Then I’m thinking of changing my design direction and doing more subjective character animation. I have several ideas from historical to comical. Maybe I’ll do something on the lines of another project I did called The Adventures of Barty and the Pirate. On this project, both a short film and a scroller chase game, I voiced all of the characters. Maybe I’ll do something like this on a comical scientific bend.

Project biography

My interests have changed over the years from feature-based character work and short-form content to surreal subjective narrative work to exploring immersive interactive design systems in storytelling. Recently my partner, Ina Conradi, and I were artist-in-residence at the UCLA Art/Sci Center, directed by artist Victoria Vesna and physicist James Gimzewski. Interacting with this inspiring duo and their colleagues, and living in Los Angeles in a pre-COVID time inspired us to take on artworks that examine science with a humanistic approach. In 2018, Ina and I set up a collaborative called Quantum Travelers with Bianka Hofmann (Creative Producer, Science Experience Specialist), Robert Kastner (Head of Candeed Cue; Vienna, Austria), and Dr. Rupert Ursin (Group Leader & Senior Scientist at the Institute For Quantum Optics And Quantum Information Vienna). We first met Ms. Hofmann during a presentation she and colleagues made at the UCLA Art/Sci Center, and Nadia Thalmann (Professor), Director of the Institute for Media Innovation “Being There Center,” Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Although I worked as the primary artist, animator, and director on this project and took needed advice from my colleagues on the content, where deemed necessary, in this writeup, I will use the personal form as to authorship.

For a post describing the research in detail follow the link above.

1 Ball, P. (2008). Quantum weirdness and surrealism. Nature, 453(7198), 983-984.
2 Orion, I., & Laitman, M. (2010). The double-slit experiment and particle-wave duality: Toward a novel quantum interpretation. Journal of Modern Physics1(1), 90-92.
3 Dent, E. B. (2005). The observation, inquiry, and measurement challenges surfaced by complexity theory. Managing Organizational Complexity: Philosophy, Theory and Application1, 253.
4 Maffie, J. (2014). Aztec Philosophy. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
5 Franklin, J. (2019). Emergentism as an option in the philosophy of religion: between materialist atheism and pantheism.
6 Shimony, A. (1963). Role of the observer in quantum theory. American Journal of Physics31(10), 755-773.


Trailer:

Quantum Logos trailer from Mark Chavez on Vimeo.


Quantum LOGOS (vision serpent), is currently screening as a short animated film at film festivals listed below.

Ars Electronica Festival Deep Space 8k 2019 — Special Dual Screen, Interactive Theater Event
Raw Science Film Festival — Industry Award, Best Visual Effects
Official Latino Film and Arts Festival — Official Selection/U.S. Experimental or Animation
Los Angeles Motion Picture Festival — Award Winner: Best Animation
BEYOND Film Festival 2020 — Special Screening & Presentation/July 2020
The Flight Deck Film Festival — Finalist: Short Films
Monthly Indie Shorts — Official Selection/September 2020 Edition
Synergy Film Festival — Official Selection/Experimental Film
Mosaic World Film Festival— Official Selection/Experimental
New York Animation Film Awards (NYAFA) — Semi-Finalist: Best Original Score in Animation Film