Prix Ars Electronica 1987

The film ‘mental images’

The creators of the film mental images received an “Award of Distinction” in the category “Computer Animation” at Prix Ars Electronica 1987.

Creator Team
The movie mental images was created at Mental Images GmbH & Co KG, Berlin during autumn and winter 1986/1987 by the following team:

Rolf Herken Creative and Technical Director
John Andrew Berton Creative and Technical Director
Axel Dirksen Software Development
Hans-Christian Hege Software Development
Robert Hödicke Software Development
Ulrich Weinberg Technical Director and Sound Engineer
Roger Wilson Technical Director

Findings of the JuryfHerken
“The decision [...] is supported by the jury’s recognition of the excellent expression of the designer’s creative fantasy. The team involved in the realization has successfully shaped a seemingly real course of action into an exciting voyage. The single sequences of action and images are combined in the spectator’s mind into an unreal story with various possible associations and interpretations.”

The film begins in a subway car in a tunnel – mimicking the reality in a subway of Berlin’s public transport. The train runs into the station “mental images” and stops. With the door opening the image of the platform visible in the door window slides sideways and provides a view of an artificial, crystalline landscape. The incipient movement leads through the hilly terrain with well-preserved art-historical finds. With a fall over the edge of this area a flight over a plain boulder field begins. The rocks are furnished with paintings on the sides facing away from the observer. More and more of these paintings becomes visible during the flight as the point of view of the imaginary painter is approached. By taking this point of view the paintings comprise an image of a coastline with offshore islands. A giant drop falls into the sea. More drops follow in ever decreasing time intervals, washing the islands away on the waves. Heavy rain is falling on the water surface. Stepping back, it becomes clear that there is a pool of water, whose tiles replicate the image of the sky and the clouds. Night falls, the tiles turn into paintings of the Berlin Wall, and the water surface into a wet road. A newspaper is blown along the graffiti-covered wall, an indicator light on the subway station and a stairway to the street come in view. The shadow of a person climbing the staircase falls on the stairs. Street, wall, houses, lamps and an advertising column become visible. The gloomy atmosphere near the Berlin wall during the 60s to 80s becomes noticeable. The person takes a few steps. Its shadow glides over the curb, a cigarette butt falls, a match flares up. The person approaches a doorway. The steel door slides sideways and opens the way to a dark hall where a shiny black table shows up, illuminated by a hanging lamp. A roll of a dice on this table ends the film.

Music: Arnold Schönberg, String Quartet no 2, op. 10 (interpretation: The Juilliard String Quartet) and soundtrack of Eddie Jobson, Memories of Vienna.

Making of the Movie
The movie was created using Wavefront 3D Animation Software (Model, Preview and Image) and, by today’s standards, extensive in-house software. The in-house software was mainly required for creation of the scenes, for which fairly advanced geometrical algorithms have been used. For instance, to generate a boulder littered landscape, I created individual rocks by randomly disturbing Poissonian Delaunay tesselations of spheres and then distributing these objects spatially using geometric packing algorithms.

On the hardware side we used Silicon Graphics IRIS 3030 workstations (running UNIX System V with SGI specifics merged in) for interactive specification of the scenes and animations, and a dual processor Celerity 1260 (running BSD 4.2 Unix with System V Release 2 functionality merged in) as rendering engine. The renderings were taped with single frame recording and time-expensive pre-roll using a 1 inch (SMPTE-C) Sony video tape recorder (BVH-2500P). Later we used a costly Abekas A-60 digital disk recorder, complying to the CCIR-601 standard (10-bit, 4:2:2 color encoding, interlaced video). That allowed us to store fabulous 750 frames (30 second film snippets) on parallel striped disks and record these thereafter in real-time (!), e.g., on a Betacam recorder. The movie was distributed mainly on analog 3/4″ U-matic videocassettes.

Other winners at Prix Ars Electronica 1987
The Prix Ars Electronica jury awarded (out of the 116 submissions) the Golden Nica to John Lasseter (PIXAR, San Rafael, USA) for Luxo Jr. and a honorary mention to Mario Canali (Correnti Magnetiche, Milan, Italy) for Urbana.

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