Final Project: Yosemite National Park – An Animation

For my final project for this course, I decided to create an abstract, 3D Animation to represent ideas and themes learned in this course. The resulting animation animation is also part of my BFA Exhibition, “Synthesis.”

Concepts and Themes:

The above animation is an abstract piece with several themes to it. A major theme in this animation, as well as my BFA show, is the idea that we all have a perceived idea of nature. In this animation, I have recreated to a degree the view of Yosemite Valley that is depicted in the Bierstadt painting owned by the Birmingham Museum of Art. This is in itself an idealized depiction of the wilderness. The forms shown in the animation are abstract representations of grass, water, trees, and the mountains.

Added to this idea is the notion that the National Parks and our perceptions of natural beauty are cultural constructs. This view of Yosemite is in itself a digital construction based on a painting over 100 years old. This view of Yosemite is comprised of structures that appear to be somewhat naturalistic, but are clearly synthetic in nature. The view is then invaded by clearly synthetic objects which represent the human element of the National Parks. These objects are elements from my senior BFA show. They are inspired by “disguised” cellphone towers, which are poorly disguised as trees, and clearly man-made objects.

“Disguised” cellphone tower, towering over the treeline it’s supposed to imitate.

But through these structures building themselves into the landscape, I ask a question: “What’s the difference between something man-made and something natural?” Our ideas of nature and our “separation” from it are cultural constructs. And as time progresses, people inevitably change the environment around them. We create our own environments to suit our needs. Whether this is a good or bad thing, I am not myself sure. But despite our perceived separation of nature, the fact that we actively change and manipulate the landscape to fit certain needs is still present.

The idea of cultural context is also present. Through the selected quotes by John Muir mixed with the contemporary or ‘fun’ facts about the Park, I am showing a change in cultural contexts for the Park. With John Muir, nature is sacred and untouched. But the facts I provide (taken from the official NPS web pages and other travel sites) represent the current reality that the park is a human construction.

Process:

The above film was created in an open-source, freeware animation program called Blender. Students who take Montevallo’s 3D Animation class are taught how to use this program. The process was heavily involved, despite the resulting 2 minutes of rendered animation. The first step was probably the trickiest. I decided to recreate the Albert Bierstadt view of Yosemite. That in itself was probably the hardest part of the film’s development. First I started by creating a flat plain which I then molded to have a few hills and a lake. I then molded the mountain crags out of basic block shapes and added detail using some of Blender’s modification tools.

Screenshot showing early Yosemite process.

Screenshot showing early Yosemite process.

Then I had to create the objects and textures I would use in the animation. Almost every object, from the easel with the Bierstadt painting, the trees, the tower-trees, and the flat-screen monitors,were created in separate Blender files, and then imported into the world I created. The mountain textures were sampled from the original Bierstadt image. The grass and the leaves on the trees used my own custom textures.

The next step was animating everything. Although you can create the entire animation in one Blender file, it was easier to split each camera shot to a different file and make changes. The reason for this is because Blender eats a lot of RAM when rendering. The program crashed frequently if the desired outcome was something a little too much for my computer to handle. In some cases, I rendered several scenes simultaneously on different computers to speed up the process. Several scenes glitched in the final outcome, forcing me to have to rerender those scenes. Even as little as 9-13 seconds could take 3-5 hours to render.

The next thing I did was select the quotes by John Muir and the facts I would use. I enlisted the help of my friend, Cory, to voice John Muir. I recorded our voices with a program called Audacity.

I then created the background music track. The tune is an arrangement of a traditional Irish folksong called “The Parting Glass.” I created this in a program called FamiTracker, which emulates the sounds of the old Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom. I did this purposefully to give a synthetic, electronic vibe to the animation. The song choice is important, too, because it is a song about parting. This reflects the changes in the Park’s history.

The final editing was done in a program called Final Cut, where I put all the video and audio clips together.

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