Daniel Sierra || Oscillate

Daniel Sierra thesis animation done at School of Visual Arts, class of 2013, Computer Art MFA.

« Oscillate » is the title of my thesis animation done at the MFA Computer Art program in the School of Visual Arts located in New York City.

My goal with « Oscillate » was to visualize waveform patterns that evolve from the fundamental sine wave to more complex patterns, creating a mesmerizing audio-visual experience in which sight and sound work in unison to capture the viewer’s attention. — 

The concept of universal building blocks that can be assembled to form complex structures is something I find very exciting and alluring. Sound follows this concept in that any sound, for example a snare drum or a human voice, can be deconstructed as the summation of varying sine waves; hence making sine waves the building blocks of sound so to speak. This concept, which comes from the Fourier Series (named after Joseph Fourier) was the inspiration for my thesis, « Oscillate ».

Conveying this concept through the animation of sine waves proved to be ideal, as there is a certain mesmerizing quality to periodic motion. Whether in the hypnotizing swing of a pendulum or the waves of an ocean, periodic motion can often have a very relaxing and trance-inducing effect on us.

I wanted the audience to begin with the widely recognized image and sound of the sine wave, and show them how it is a building block not just for sound but also complex visual forms by changing its interpretation over the length of the piece.

Additionally this was an opportunity for me to create a song and visualize it at the same time. Being interested in the aesthetics of linking sound and visuals, this was a very exciting project for me. It gave me the chance to experience the process of creating music and visuals simultaneously as they both influence each other. At the same time I learned a lot about simulation effects, particles and procedural animation. — 

The animation was done purely in Houdini, using Houdini’s VEX language to create the tool that could generate and animate waveforms. The music was made in Reason.

The concept work took place as sketches on paper, as well as « code sketches ». I used Processing to develop a RnD tool for visualizing sine wave patterns and formations. 

When I became confident that the tool could reliably produce interesting results, I began to port it in to Houdini. Since I only started learning Houdini a few months prior, it took several iterations to land on the best way to bring it in to Houdini.

Houdini proved to be a great to tool to do this project in. Its open-ended nature and visual-coding like environment meant I could think closer to the logic of a programmer while retaining all the power and functionality of a professional 3D software package. As my piece focuses on the animation of sine functions and particle systems, I found this to be a good workflow.


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