The Binary

As Animate Art


Oliver Hockenhull  

Published in THE SHARPEST POINT: ANIMATION AT THE END OF CINEMA Editors: Chris Gehman and Steve Reinke, YYZ, Toronto and Images Festival.

Code is conditions and interpretation, a deciphering, shared assumptions and cookie cutters. The transforms of binary information, of a database of inputs, becomes solely a palette of variation awaiting specific designations.



My work in CG animation – the Boilt Pixels series (2001), the Cosmic String series (2002) – were conceived via the placement of seed numbers into parametric generators: graphic equivalents of x, y, and z axes, and colour definitions, - key frames were interpolated using motion math, new x, new y, new z, colour definitions and pre-defined end points. The seed numbers werepinched from calculations derived from the dynamics of quantum fluctuations in a vacuum. These works were part of a long term study into the relationship of binary language to life processes and animated imagery.

My first works in digital animation, in 1999, were studies in L-Systems, essentially morphogenetic algorithms — growth patterns, mathematical interpreted, of skeletal frames – in the case of L-Systems these algorithms are the numbers of the stems, branches, leaf patterns, etc. of plants. These earlier experiments applied constraints and possibilities to 3D forms, playing, riffing, morphing off of the reiterations that make up growth.

These 3D environments were then animated and image sequenced to video.

 “Our typical response to a disturbing new environment is to re-create the old environment instead of heeding the new opportunities of the new environment. Failure to notice the new opportunities is also failure to understand the new powers...” Marshall McLuhan



The binary code as a vehicle for a manner of thinking – an associative emergent cloud floating in a startling open sky.


How so? By the dependence on equivalences, by an indeterminate nature –impossible similitude pushed through continual (extravagant and ultimately baroque) electronic switches, allowing and disallowing in computative procedural commands – stamping a passport to the strange.

The code of the binary needs to be engaged with directly from the perspective of the most basic rhetoric – that of yes and no; a profound yet simple logic that can emulate the most complex of analog presentations. It was Leibniz, the founder of modern symbolic logic, who developed the system that John von Neumann would use 300 years later to build the first digital computers. Leibniz was a visionary whose keen desire was to emulate the Visio Dei – the all-at-onceness of the vision of God – inclusive of all pattern.


— One of a set of independent variables that express the coordinates of a point.

— Deterministic L-systems: simple string rewriting. In 1968, Aristid Lindenmayer, a biologist who worked with yeast and filamentous fungi, published a description of L-systems (Lindenmayer systems). These were string rewriting systems that could be used to describe the growth of a filamentous cyanobacterium (blue-green alga) called Anabaena. 

Rewriting is a technique for defining complex objects by successively replacing parts of a simple initial string using a set of rewriting rules or productions (Prusinkiewicz & Lindenmayer, 1990). However, the application of L-systems took a large leap when the strings generated by the production rules were interpreted using turtle graphics by Smith (1984), so that a simple axiom and production rules could code for a relatively complex plant. This was further developed by Prusinkiewicz, Hanan and Lindenmayer in their extensive work modeling plants and trees and randomness.

In these works I am using the binary as an animate art. The subject is the processing of the data, and the data necessarily reflects a connective quality and a dial-o-matic aesthetic. The dynamics imposed, and other relative time-based visual tags, are the performances of the untoward and chance-based operations — conditioned by constraints. The art is the artifact of numbers. The image an incitement to speak a rhetoric of uncertainty and potential.

 When the unity of code and representation, code for code’s sake, numbers as active and dynamic variables, are both subject and object of attention, the message of anthropomorphic representation is undermined. The transform is a support in weightlessness, a coping method of syncretic potential in an era of fundamentalisms and blinkered certainties, a sort of Proun  of the hypermedia age — of data architectural processes.


“Multiplicity which is not reduced to unity is confusion. Unity which does not depend on multiplicity is tyranny.” Blaise Pascal, Pensees



The original source code used to generate and animate my early fractal work was created by Scott Draves, San Francisco. The After Effects port of Scott’s code was made by Drew Davidson a programmer who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. Drew went far and beyond a basic AE port and embellished aeFlame with some exceedingly handy features and settings. The aeFlame code was then taken by Evan Wies and ported to the Macintosh.

 El Lissitzky was the creator of the concept of Proun, a word derived from the expression Proekt Utverzhdeniya Novogo (Project for the Affirmation of what is New) . These nonobjective compositions broadened Malevich’s Suprematist credo of pure painting as spiritually transcendent into an interdisciplinary system of two-dimensional, architectonic forms rendered in painted collages, drawings, and prints, with both utopian and utilitarian aspirations.

Blurring the distinctions between real and abstract space—a zone that Lissitzky called the “interchange station between painting and architecture”—the Prouns dwell upon the formal examination of transparency, opacity, color, shape, line, and materiality, which Lissitzky ultimately extended into three- dimensional installations that transformed our experience of conventional, gravity-based space.

Occasionally endowed with cryptic titles reflecting an interest in science and mathematics, these works seem engineered rather than drawn by hand—further evidence of the artist’s growing conviction that art was above all rational rather than intuitive or emotional. 

"Thanks to the Prouns, a monolithic Communist city will be built on this foundation and the people of the whole world will live in it.'

El Lissitzky to Malevich, personal letter 1919.