Take 10: Weightless
When we gave Joshua Davis 10 Adobe Stock images and the word weightless, we expected him to create something new that represented the word. We hadn’t accounted for the fact that Davis rarely does the expected.
“Instead of making an image that aligns to the weightless theme,” the designer and artist explains, “I created a bunch of stuff that is weightless. If I were using real materials, I might throw them up in the air and photograph them to capture their state of weightlessness.” But because Davis relies on programing, not photography, to carry out his vision, he prepped the stock images in Adobe Photoshop CC and Adobe Illustrator CC, and then fed those assets into a program he wrote in Java specifically for this challenge. As you can see in the computer-generated animation below, the transformed images move as if they are elements dancing through a 3D space.
Davis began his professional career in the 1990s, quickly making a name for himself as a designer of websites that were far more experimental and interactive than the norm. At the time, HTML didn’t offer much room for experimentation, so Davis used Flash and ActionScript (owned by Macromedia and later acquired by Adobe) for much of his work. He shared what he discovered, giving away open-source Flash files on his Praystation website and writing how-to books. He also hosted Dreamless, an Internet forum beloved by designers and programmers, which he later turned into a Minecraft server.
Davis has combined his own imagery and code for a dizzying array of projects: murals, posters, playing cards, headphones, even the visual representation of Watson, IBM’s computer system. (Browse Davis’s Behance profile to see his range of expression.)
He switched to Java as his primary programming tool several years ago. He’s still giving away stuff, though—check out the Hype Framework for a “collection of classes that performs heavy lifting tasks while using a minimal amount of code writing.” And if that description doesn’t leave you any wiser, check out his three-part course on how to program generative art.
For Davis, generative art is “all about using programming to generate artwork that is algorithmically defined and created”—as he did to fulfill this challenge. Rather than manually combining the raster and vector stock images, he wrote a program that performed the many complicated actions; for example, it texture-mapped the photos to 3D meshes, rippled those meshes, and animated the color transitions in time to music. But it was Davis who defined the parameters the program worked within and, after the program generated approximately 300,000 variations based on those parameters, it was Davis who selected the 10 he thought were most pleasing.
While Davis follows this workflow for most projects, Take 10 was his first time using stock imagery. “As an image maker, my natural reaction is to invent something out of nothing. I never knew I could make something with other’s people content that felt ‘Josh Davis’. I found that I could still execute my voice and sing my aesthetic with stock imagery. It was really quite fun. It makes me think that maybe I should collaborate more with other image-makers.”
In addition to transforming the stock imagery with his Java code, Davis also used Photoshop in unexpected ways. To make what he calls “mesh waves” (see below), he opened a photo in Photoshop and sampled one column of pixels. He then mapped that pixel-wide column to a 3D oscillating wave, and then, as Davis says, “Boom! Who wants taffy?”
Photoshop also came into play when coloring the vector areas of the animation and final images. Davis sampled those colors from the stock photos and built visually pleasing color tables, which the program applied to the vector areas.
Those of you who have compared the original 10 stock images with Davis’s artwork may be wondering about the feathers. Although they’re not obviously visible in the final images, they’re there: In Illustrator, Davis turned the feathers into a vector mask, which the program uses to hide and reveal the other content.
If your techniques are more traditional, it may be hard to grasp Davis’s methods. “What I do is complicated and crazy and takes a little more time,” he acknowledges. “But I have the ability to generate an infinite number of compositions, and then I get to be the critic. I get to be the designer and the critic and choose the one image I feel is most beautiful. Out of 300,000 times, this was the moment.”