Contemporary Art @ Bošaziçi - Interview Project, 2010

Karl Sims (USA, 1985)

Emine Nur Eren, enureren@gmail.com


Karl Sims, the founder of GenArts defines himself as “digital media artist, computer graphics research scientist, and software entrepreneur”, is working in Massachusetts Institute of Technology Labs since 1984. He has famous works and awards under the topics of computer animations, interactive works, technical papers. We may assume that his most famous works are Evolved Virtual Creatures, Liquid Selves and Primordial Dance.

I was interested in these works of him, and his welcoming attitude to my interview request was also encouraging. Below, you may find more detailed information about these art pieces of him and what he thinks about New Media Arts, through the interview that we made online with Mr. Sims.

Emine Nur Eren: You are the founder of GenArts and you have many works under the topics such as interactive works, computer animations and technical papers? So, you are using many different mediums to form your works, in this claim how would you define new media art? And would you call yourself a new media artist?

Karl Sims: I create software tools that help generation and processing of images and at times I have also used these tools myself to create animation and interactive art exhibits. So yes I suppose I am sometimes a "new media artist".

Emine Nur Eren: Could explain a little bit more about the technical papers projects? How did these works come out? What was the idea behind them at the first point? And will there be a next project?

Karl Sims: Technical papers published in SIGGRAPH proceedings and other journals, describe various different projects.  The idea is to provide some technical details that hopefully will be helpful to others in the computer graphics community.

Emine Nur Eren: You are also a scientist besides being an artist. How do you combine and carry out these two missions? Which one is the superior / primary item in your life, science or art? And why?

Karl Sims: They are both important to me, and I prefer not to pick one over the other. I enjoy developing technical tools that are useful to artists.

Emine Nur Eren: In 1984 with Evolved Virtual Creatures , in a way, you tested the Darwinian Theory on computer graphical creatures and gave some tasks to test them. Could you explain the idea behind the project?

Karl Sims: This research project involved simulated Darwinian evolutions of virtual block creatures. A population of several hundred creatures is created within a supercomputer, and each creature is tested for their ability to perform a given task, such the ability to swim in a simulated water environment. Those that are most successful survive, and their virtual genes containing coded instructions for their growth, are copied, combined, and mutated to make offspring for a new population. The new creatures are again tested, and some may be improvements on their parents. As this cycle of variation and selection continues, creatures with more and more successful behaviors
can emerge.

Emine Nur Eren: And could you explain its results when they are compared with the real world creature evolution?

Karl Sims: The results are of course very simple compared to real world evolution. The world is limited to fairly simple objects and physics, and the genetic language is limited and specific to creatures made of blocks. However this simulation can run quickly compared to real world evolution, which can make it practical for experimenting with and generating interesting results.

Emine Nur Eren: By being a digital media artist, computer graphics researcher in your work "Artificial Evolution for Computer Graphics" you talked about the genetic algorithms to generate 2D images, and we see this formulae working in Primordial Dance. Could you explain the process more detailed.

Karl Sims: These effects were created using an interactive process of "artificial evolution." The artist and computer collaborate to produce images and movements that neither could easily produce alone. The computer generates and displays a collection of experimental abstract images. The artist chooses the most aesthetically interesting images, and those survive and are "bred" to produce a new collection of images. The equations, or artificial genes, of the survivors are copied, mutated, and mated by the computer to generate new offspring pictures. This process of variation and selection is repeated, and with each cycle more complex and interesting results can occur. Finally, movements are created by performing "genetic interpolations" between these evolved images.

Emine Nur Eren: You were leading a change by using the genetic algorithms into computer graphics. How did the idea evolved?

Karl Sims: I was interested in creating virtual plants, images, and creatures, and it seemed like evolving them would be more interesting than manually designing them.

Emine Nur Eren: We know that you used a similar basis on another project called Liquid Selves. What about its story?

Karl Sims: This piece depicts the upcoming struggle between the virtual and physical sides of our selves, where our bodies are left behind as technology enhances our ability to exist in purely virtual worlds. A collection of techniques were used to produce this animation. Particle systems were used to disassemble and reconstruct various images. Artificial evolution and interpolation of 3D parametric shapes allowed the creation of unusual surface transformations. Morphing techniques produced smooth transitions between faces, and various image processing, warping, and compositing techniques were also employed.

Emine Nur Eren: Which one of your projects made you experience the results that you never thought of, the most surprising one?

Karl Sims: Artificial evolution is great for creating results that have not been thought of ahead of time, and they all succeeded in this. One of the most surprising was probably when the evolving creatures found and exploited bugs in the physics simulator to propel themselves at totally unrealistic speeds.

Emine Nur Eren: What do you think about giving a message through art works? Do you have any works in mind that you want to give a message with it?

Karl Sims: Probably the message in many of my projects would be a respect for the power of random variation and selection, in nature, ideas, art, as well as in simulation.

Emine Nur Eren: Will we be able to see you sometime soon in Turkey?

Karl Sims: No current plans, but maybe someday...