| Jack Vanstone
It’s 00:31AM on Wednesday 1st February 2017 and for some reason I can’t sleep.
It’s times like these when I am most creative and unbeknownst to me, my inability to sleep was about to kick start the artwork design process for our tenth digital release. With the limited equipment that was available at the time I just about managed to seek out the necessary props to assist the process.
One (phone) camera, one light, one mirror, and one glass containing dilute juice later I was ready to make some headway. Initially my setup seemed more crude than creative genius, when I first visualised the inclusion of light refraction in our artwork I pictured a large warehouse space with several cascading LED lights refracting off a landscape of smoke and mirrors. Nevertheless at 00:49AM, it was time to begin testing the setup.
Looking at the diagram (above) will give you an illustration of the basic elements involved in light refraction.
Often the best ideas stand out because of the perspective from which they are perceived. Deciding to place the mirror perpendicular to the projection wall was heavily influenced by a design principle I had stumbled upon in the Optics section of the Iconographic Encyclopaedia of Science, Literature & Art whilst I was attempting to find reference material.
After a few attempts that were admittedly as amateurish as my setup, I began to get a better understanding of the components at play and how they interacted with each other. I noticed that something was missing; to fill the void I turned to a recent design that I’d been working on for one of our other | FEATURES and after much preamble I realised that the issue I was experiencing was due to the intermediate layer, the object that sits between the light source and the projection wall.
In digital form, this layer is often achieved with filter effects, layering techniques, dispersion or otherwise. I was faced with a problem; I wanted the effect caused by the intermediate layer to be present in the source (image) rather than a post edit afterthought. I panned around the room trying to locate a suitable object to act as the intermediate layer and to enhance the complexity of the refraction.
I noticed an old, perforated metal paper stand underneath my desk which I hastily added to the setup. Placing the light source at approximately 30 degrees from the mirror and 60 degrees from the projection wall illuminated the projection area with the first signs of light refraction. By this point the concept was moving quickly so I turned my attention to improving the aesthetic of the refraction that was occupying the projection area.
From my analysis I gathered that there were 2 main issues with the setup I was using; a) the light source wasn’t bright enough or sharp enough; and b) the intermediate layer wasn’t translucent enough, nor was it an ideal object to create the style of light refraction I was attempting to achieve. At this point it was getting on for 2AM, so I ordered the equipment I needed to execute the process correctly and went to sleep.
A few days later the equipment I ordered had arrived; I’d purchased a high intensity laser pointer and a triangular piece of perspex – with this I had the two most basic components of any detailed refraction, a powerful and precise light source and an angular, translucent intermediate layer.
I placed the light source at a 45 degree angle to the point of convergence, where the edges of the mirror and wall meet and sure enough a sharp line that had refracted onto the mirror was reflecting symmetrically on the wall. A combination between the intensity of the light source and the sharpness of the refraction created two defined effects on the projection wall: a sharp line – that followed the edge of the perspex prism – created a precise, straight and clear line surrounded by a rousing almost alive 3Dimensional texture.
A few hours went by whilst I was experimenting with various positions and angles for the light source, camera, prism and mirror. Once I was sure that I had exhausted all of the available combinations I settled on a layout that gave me as much flexibility as it did volume on the projection wall. Being able to capture the right shots relied heavily on the depth, variance and angle of the refraction.
Once I had collected a wide variety of shots from a multitude of angles I packed down the setup and copied the files over to my laptop. From there I went through my normal design processes, selecting the clearest and most defined areas of the top 10-15 shots to use as the main elements in the artwork and arranging them so that I could make multiple variances with ease.
Designing artwork usually consists of creating several designs that don’t work for every one that does. Something that became clear instantly and much to my surprise was that this time, I was spoilt for choice.
The three  images below show part of the design process. From left to right (mobile: top to bottom) what you are seeing is one of the original source images from the experiment – with slight tweaks to contrast and exposure; followed by an hours worth of point extraction (where the most prominent points of light and contrast are converted into a map of dots before being positioned along a 3Dimensional plane); and then finally extrusion, where each point of extraction is drawn (extruded) to add further depth to the existing structure.
The extent of variety that was possible from one image was incredible.
– and what had started as a 3rd night of mild insomnia, on a rainy Tuesday in February had turned into a naturally flowing design process. Complete just in time for mastering and without any forced moments of creative output; it was safe to conclude the late nights were worth it.
One of the last endeavours was to process the final image with a colour palette that matched the releases sound. At first I was reluctant to remove the vibrant red tone that had set a specific vibe throughout the experiment. Much to my surprise however, reseting the palette to black and white gave me a new perspective and after settling on tones and shades that complemented the release, our team were left with one task – choosing a name.
It served well to keep it simple in this instance, as the process for the artwork had played a fundamental role in shaping the EP, one word came to mind – REFRACT.