Addressing the Creative Challenge

The goal of Re:Cycle is to create an ambient work that will run indefinitely with minimal repeating of either shot sequences or specific transitional moments. The increase in playability does come with a price - a loss in aesthetic control over the details of sequencing and transition.  One can see this as a tension built into the system.   A linear video maximizes aesthetic control - the video artist carefully plans and executes the sequencing and the visual transitions. The decision to utilize random sequencing and randomized transitions has added longevity, but has sacrificed a measure of creative control.   The overall design problem becomes a subtle challenge - how to find the right balance between variability/re-playability on the one hand, and aesthetic control on the other. Each significant creative decision represents an attempt to find the appropriate solution along this continuum:

                re-playability  <=======> aesthetic control

My previous linear ambient art was situated at the far right hand side of this dynamic.  The shot sequencing and shot transition decisions were locked in, maximizing aesthetic impact at a possible cost to the long term re-playability of the works.  In the linear videos the strategy is to rely on this strong aesthetic control (careful shot selection, manipulation of time base, intricate visual transitions) to support a reasonable amount of re-playability.  The use of the generative database has increased re-playability through a strategy of recombinant variation, but the cost is the loss of aesthetic control over shot sequencing and shot transitions.  

I did restrict my choice of transitions in order to protect aesthetic quality.  There are a host of video transitional devices: the hard cut, the dissolve, innumerable shape-based wipes, and the more complex transitions such as luminance keyed transitions and chrominance keyed transitions [6].  I decided to forego most of these possible transitions, and restrict myself to luminance and chrominance keys precisely because they were more visually complex, less predictable in operation, and therefore more interesting to watch.  This decision sacrificed the re-playability of an increased transition palette in order to privilege a more aesthetically pleasing subset of transitions.  

My Future Work

I will continue to work in both linear and computationally generative ambient video art.   For my linear work, I will do more shooting in the mountains, but also wish to explore other natural and urban settings for source material.  

For my generative work, my goal is to continue the directions I've started - i.e., to increase re-playability, aesthetic impact, or both.  Two of my tactics will increase re-playability.   I will be collecting a larger number of strong shots for the shot database.   I will also be designing variations on the four basic transition algorithms to increase the variability of visual transformations.  Another tactic will increase aesthetic control at some expense to variability and re-playability.  I plan to incorporate metadata in each shot in order to nuance the random operation and maximize the visual sense of flow based on shot characteristics.  Finally, I have not yet addressed the question of creating an appropriate sound track for a generative ambient video system. All my linear videos do have a sound track (although as "living photographs" I intend them to work well with the sound turned off).  The role of sound and audio technology in a generative ambient piece is a rich and necessary direction for future creative development. 

Future Of Ambient Video 

Ambient video as a creative genre and as a cultural phenomenon should become more widespread, although it is difficult to project the timeline with certainty.  Ambient video has significant intrinsic value as a form of artistic expression and viewer experience.  In addition, ongoing technological and cultural trends should support its growth. Technologically, large flat-panel screens will continue to proliferate, grow in size, and improve in quality (beyond current HD resolution complemented by increased dynamic range and screen refresh rates).  Culturally, there is increasing awareness of the downsides of our incessant march towards fast-paced and hyper-mediated sensory overload.  Ambient video is consistent with the growing commitment to calmness and wellness as healthy alternative lifestyle choices, and their growth should support the growth of the ambient video aesthetic.

Collaboration and Acknowledgements

My creative and related scholarly work has been supported by the School of Interactive Arts and Technology and Simon Fraser University, by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and by the Banff New Media Institute.  This paper draws upon two of my earlier scholarly works.  For a fuller description of ambient video and its broader context, see my article in the online journal Fibreculture [4]. For a fuller description of Re:Cycle and the generative engine see my paper from Digital Arts and Culture Conference [8].

In this current article I have labeled the creative work in the first person - and it is true I conceived, developed and continue to direct the artistic process myself.  However, the execution of both the linear and the generative ambient art works relied heavily on the talent and the dedication of other colleagues.   The linear ambient art is the work of a three-way collaborative team. Director of Photography Glen Crawford provided the sure eye and sense of place that resulted in the strong visuals that are the foundation of the videos.  Post-production specialist Christopher Bizzocchi designed the visual flow that is the hallmark of the finished pieces.  I'm fortunate to work with these two fellow artists and benefit from their own transcendent creative skills.  The generative art is supported by the scientific insights of my scholarly partners Dr. Belgacem Ben Youssef and Dr. Bernhard Riecke, and built on the coding ability of an exceptional student team: Brian Quan, Wakiko Suzuki and Majid Bagheri.


[1] Bizzocchi, Jim, Rockface, video, 12 min., 2004.

[2] Eno, Brian, Music for Airports, PVC 7908 (AMB 001) album liner notes, 1978.

[3] Eno, Brian, essay from booklet accompanying the original release of the Thursday Afternoon CD (1984), as quoted in 14 Video Paintings, Brian Eno, Ryodisk Label, London UK, 2005.

[4] Bizzocchi, J. The Aesthetics of the Ambient Video Experience, Fibreculture Journal, 2008, Issue 11

[5] Higgins, D., "Intermedia", 1965 and 1981, reprinted in Leonardo, Vol. 34, No. 1. (2001).

[6] Bizzocchi, Jim, Re:Cycle, generative video installation, 2009.

[7] The terminology "wipes", "keys", and "keyed transitions" derives from the earlier language of cinema and analog video production and post-production.

[8] Bizzocchi, J., Ben Youssef, B. Quan, B., Suzuki, W., Bagheri, M., and Riecke, B., “Re:Cycle - a Generative Ambient Video Engine”, DAC 09 [Space-Time of Ubiquity & Embedness] - Digital Arts and Culture 2009, Dec. 12-15, UC Irvine;jsessionid=D5AFC4FC8C0213A7C0AD...