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Ziye Liu Brings Works by Yayoi Kusama & Ai Weiwei to Life

ByYunyi Lau
Ziye Liu Brings Works by Yayoi Kusama & Ai Weiwei to Life

Image courtesy of Ziye Liu

Ever wondered what it would be like if the white polka dots in Yayoi Kusama's Polka Dots came to life? Or if Ai Weiwei's Grapes started spinning and multiplying in a matrix-style effect? 3D visual artist Ziye Liu did and using his stills in computer graphics and visual effects, created just that in his film Themes & Variations for his MFA Thesis Project. Using a variety of programmes such as RenderMan RSL language with a technique called ‘Texture Bombing’, and Bullet Dynamic imported into Maya, Liu was able to model the works in 3D and manipulate them to an infinite range of posibilities. Otherwise static sculptures and objects are turned into dynamic works with the help of technology, lending them completely new perspectives and possibilities. We speak to Liu to find out more about his inspiration behind Themes & Variations and his thoughts on art and technology.


You started studying Theatre, Film, and Television Art Design in Beijing. How did that evolve into doing an MFA in Visual Effects? What drew you to studying Computer Graphics and Motion Graphics?

I have been interested in computer graphics since I was very young, at 13 years old I made my first 3D animated short film. For me, studying theater and film art is an important step to nourish myself in the world of stories, atmospheres, concepts and styles. It is vital for a visual artist to understand different aspects of aesthetics, whether they're cinematic, theatrical, architectural, musical, or conceptual. After these studies, I have a different perspective seeing computer graphics and 3D art, and it defined my style and aesthetic. 


A render of Yayoi Kusama's "Narcisuss Garden"
Courtesy of Ziye Liu


For your MFA Thesis Project you created a video sequence that involved expanding existing contemporary installation, resulting in ‘Themes & Variations’. For this, you chose works by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Why did you choose to re-imagine the works of Ai and Kusama in 3D? Are there any plans to do similar animations with other artists?

The initial idea came from my experience while visiting art museums, wandering in the architecture and pondering in front of artworks. These dots connected into lines, then eventually became the concept of Themes & Variations.

Yayoi Kusama's work has a unique characteristic that can reach into my emotion. Ai Weiwei's work is more of a mirror that it sees the outside world in a different perspective. Both artists has, or had at least once, been the center of a controversy. But I intended to avoid the comments and critiques on these two artists. Instead,  just focusing on the artwork themselves. 

Currently, I'm planning on my next artwork, and it's going to be something completely different from Themes & Variations.


A clip from 'Themes & Variations' featuring Chinese artist Ai Weiwei's "Untitled"
Courtesy of Ziye Liu 


Your work is very much an art in itself - do you see yourself as an artist? What about art is inspiring for you? Do you immerse yourself in the artworld? Which institutions and artists are particularly interesting to you?

Yes, I see myself as an artist. 

For many years, art museum and exhibitions are my first destination when I visit new cities and places. Many great artist  influence me: René Magritte, Marina Abramović, James Turrell, Yayoi Kusama, Tehching Hsieh... and Michel Gondry, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Ron Fricke, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Erik Satie, Tadao Ando, Kenya Hara... just to name a few, in a wide range of art disciplines.


A still from 'Themes & Variations' featuring Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's "Narcisuss Garden"
Courtesy of Ziye Liu 


Can you tell us a bit about the technology and development/process behind ‘Themes & Variations’? How long does it typically take you to finish a short animation?

It's a 3D short film, so after the concept and design process is finished, most of the development is about creating 3D visuals.

The basic process is as follows:

  • Making 3D models of original artworks, creating procedural animations that form the "transformation" of artworks variations.
  • Designing the art museum and building, make it into photo-realistic 3D environment for the short film, where all of the artworks are being placed in.
  • Create materials and lighting for each shots, planning on camera and subject movement. 
  • Composing the music. Color grading, editing cuts. 

It's very similar to film making process, except everything happens in a virtual world.


A clip from 'Themes & Variations' featuring Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's "Polka Dots"
Courtesy of Ziye Liu 


What other sorts of applications do you see this kind of technology moving towards? Do you think this is something that can be offered to artists to extend their works beyond flat paintings or inanimate sculpture?

I would say that computer generated art has its potentials, it introduces us to an unique world where technology and aesthetic work together in harmony. With real-time rendering, virtual reality and augmented reality technologies, these computer generated artwork can make into a whole new level, bringing an experience we have never imagined before.

Having said that, there's nothing wrong with paintings being flat or sculptures being inanimate.


A render of Ai Weiwei's "Grapes"
Courtesy of Ziye Liu


Virtual Reality is something that has become the new frontier of art, with artists and museums readily embracing the technology in different ways and to different extents. What is your position on this? How do you think the way we view art will be changed by the developments in technology?

Virtual reality artworks is beyond comparison in terms of immersion and interaction. The audiences are deeply engaged in the artwork, but the technology still has rooms to develop, such as display quality, real-time rendering speed, and the restriction of audience motion... etc. In the long term, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will make art more accessible to the general public, it's very possible for Virtual Reality to become a new category of art in itself.


A clip from 'Themes & Variations' featuring Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's "Polka Dots"
Courtesy of Ziye Liu 


What are some of the challenges you face within your industry?

Currently, I work in the 3D / VFX industry. The rapid growth of computer hardware and software is pushing the limit of 3D art into new levels every day. Things that were impossible to achieve in a few years ago, can be easily done with a personal computer today. Also, audience expectation is higher than ever. It's always a challenge to keep up with the fast growing environment while keep a clear artistic direction. 




Learn more about Liu's process and the technology behind "Themes & Variations", as well as his other projects here.

Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.

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