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‘Clouds': An Experimental, Interactive Tech-Art Documentary

Wouldn’t you want a documentary film about coding and new media to be something new itself? A film like you’ve never seen before? Artists and creative technologists James George and Jonathan Minard are working hard and dreaming deep to finish their “full-screen, immersive, interactive audio-visual experience” featuring 30 new media artists, curators, designers, and critics. Why should you Kickstart Clouds? They’re not just exploring the very fringe of rapidly changing ideas and possibilities of tech-art: They’re making a piece of tech art about it.

Image credit: James George and Jonathan Minard

Everything about this project is new. The subjects are digital apparitions, 3D full color silhouettes comprised of seemingly vibrating visual bits. With a clap of their hands, they burst into a cloud of “data” and reassemble into the next subject. To achieve this unique affect, George and Minard developed their own open-source software library, the RGBDToolkit.

Using a hacked duo of HD video camera and a Microsoft XBOX Kinectdepth sensor, they’re not traditionally filming their subjects; they’re creating hybrid 3D visuals that exist within the video game environment of the documentary film. It’s a whole new visual form, custom-created for their film, unleashed generously to public.

The analogy of “clouds” goes further. Instead of a regular passive film-watching, Clouds is conceived as an interactive experience. We are, after all, talking about coding and engineering as tools for art-making, that is “code-based creations.” It’s only natural that the film will run as a “code-based creation” too — an application.

“The Clouds experience is generated from a database of richly tagged interviews,” they explain. What does that mean for you, the viewer/user? As you engage with a subject and become snagged by something particular they’re discussing, at any moment, you will be able to take tangent routes, to leave the interviewee and hear more about your specific interest point from someone else. And so forth — you will navigate the data space in whichever way you feel your intellectual whim pulling you. The subjects will be connected with thematic paths — in… a cloud! — and the journey will not be without “reasonable experience of randomness.”

Finally, CLOUDS will be a truly new film, each time you watch. The artists compare this to a choose-your-own adventure game, but it’s much more.

Pictured: Jonathan Minard and James George

“We’re trying to represent the digital reality and make it more tangible,” they explain. After we’ve spoken, there’s a certain mental adjustment that I’ve experienced. Just like the Earth isn’t flat, the digital world is not linear. It is a sprouting web of interactive, overlapping and interrupting ideas. A traditional narrative cannot represent or sustain it, cannot present enough angles of its still-developing story in an hour and a half long sit down. These ideas are all very new, dynamic, responsive — they need a new, dynamic, responsive environment for exploring them.

It looks beautiful, it blows my mind in a literal sense, and it’s about to get even better. The project has been doing well on Kickstarter, but with more funding, the artists can expand and vary their creative team, get additional coding help, and most excitingly, create an amazing, immersive score.

Interview subjects in Clouds include Bruce SterlingCasey Reas ,Daniel ShiffmanDiederick HuijbersElliot WoodsGolan LevinGreg BorensteinJer Thorp, and Kyle McDonald. Visit their Kickstarter to read more about the documentary.