Actual Objects guide us through their innovative synthesis of bleeding edge technology and traditional techniques used to create the stunning arch fantasy of the video for Yves Tumor’s ‘Jackie’.
“Jackie was crazy,” says Actual Objects director and co-founder Rick Farin. “We love Yves Tumor and we saw it as an opportunity to just throw everything we could at a video, and, gratefully, they let us do that. We didn’t really know if it was going to turn out good or not, honestly.” Combining a conventional music video shoot, hand painted textures and an ambitious miscellany of advanced imaging techniques, including GAN-assisted deep fakes, A.I.-enabled style transfers, rotoscoping, 3D animation and 2D overpainting, the video for ‘Jackie’ sees the Actual Objects team bringing together every tool in their arsenal and in so doing gesturing towards the kinds of dense, immersive worlds they’re committed to building. Drawing influence from Panos Cosmatos’ lysergic instant cult classic Mandy, the Actual Objects team painstakingly crafted a hallucinatory landscape for Yves Tumor and Jackie, played by Dayana Lafargue, to strut, shred and sword fight in. Yet, the further you follow Jackie into the moonlit forest the more complex her story becomes. Beneath the animate Heavy Metal blacklight poster visuals and psychosexual drama storyline, a second, more subtle narrative unfurls, manifesting both an aesthetic and critical preoccupation with the potential of new graphical technologies and the systems within which they can interact with each other.
“When you talk about systems-level thinking in relation to art practice, I think that’s where the rubber hits the road with the question of whether we necessarily need to aesthetically deploy some of these tools,” says Case Miller, Actual Objects’ resident machine learning expert. “Is even the existence of those tools within the world like a meta narrative hiding beneath the surface? So much of Jackie is not just about the interaction of the two characters, but the characters with the technology.” Throughout the video, in a nod to one of Mandy‘s most affecting scenes, Tumor’s face is mapped onto Lafargue’s and vice-versa, a visual and technological metaphor for Tumor’s enigmatic relationship with their own identity. Not simply content with presenting this complex artifice as merely surface level, Miller’s application of GAN (generative adversarial network) technology to create deep fakes of Tumor and Lafargue is amplified by a considered critical engagement with the technology that excavates an ethical dimension to the illusion. “Right as we’re doing the deep fake thing, in America, the FBI issues a white paper on the dangers of deep fake and how this is a technology that threatens democracy, and we’re co-opting it to make a music video,” explains Miller. “We’re taking these processes and trying to extend out the relevance of them, or the implications of them, beyond the kind of mass media narrative of it and try to find other ways to use these tools, but at the same time acknowledging the dark underbelly of the implications.”
“If there’s one overarching systems-level narrative, it’s human-computer interaction,” says Miller. “The kind of omni-directional experience that we’re all having across platforms, technologies, and then machine learning being the driving force behind those. We’re not really interested in the intersection of art and technology, we’re interested in the intersection of technology and technology, and how do those technologies hit against each other, play off each other and subvert each other? What it’s really talking about is the way in which perturbations can be layered throughout a system. You can be all of those things at once, not just as an expression of platform logic, but as a deep sense of humanity in the 21st century.” Not satisfied simply with experimenting with new technologies to create a visual narrative for Jackie, the team at Actual Objects use this narrative to tell the story of the technology itself, a symbiotic nesting of concurrent threads that intertwine constantly in a deft blurring of the audio, visual and technical aspects of the piece. In a sense the project is a culmination of all the techniques the team have employed and developed up to this point, but at the same time the ‘Jackie’ video represents a maximalist statement of intent, as well as an indication of the new places Actual Objects want to take their singular aesthetic. “We’re not necessarily using tools that aren’t readily available, it’s really about using those tools to create something that doesn’t feel like it comes from those tools,” says Rick. “We might be using a game engine, but we’re not trying to make it look like a video game.”
This drive to push digital technology further, to subvert contemporary conventions of digitally-rendered art, is something that has grown as the Actual Objects team have honed their skills over the years, a process that, for most, dates back to well before the studio was founded. “Rick and I have been working together for eight years and I think a lot of the Actual Objects aesthetic has been developed over our collaboration,” explains Claire Farin. “We’re now married, but when we first met we learned that we had a really similar visual taste and we were both super fans of the same things. For him it was with the visuals and music he was making, for me it was my paintings, we both were looking at all the same references, so he and I have been developing a visual language really organically and collaboratively for a long time.” Jackie is just the latest testament to their collaboration. Using machine learning, the team were able to use two paintings made by Claire specifically for the video for a style transfer, a process which transfers the color palette, composition and quality of Claire’s brush strokes onto captured footage. The result is the injection of a painterly physicality into their digital toolkit, a innovative synthesis of bleeding edge and traditional techniques, as well as the perfect example of Actual Objects’ composite methodology.
This merging of techniques, disciplines and influences is fundamental to the wider creative practice of Actual Objects and it’s due to this plurality of expression that the team is able to capture the full breadth of reference each member of the studio pulls into the primary current of their output. Whether it’s the sounds of early Arca, Oneohtrix Point Never and the first wave of deconstructed club music, the visual aesthetic of auteur art house cinema or the insidious commercial and state adoption of more and more sophisticated graphical technologies, there is a place for all things in their purpose-built world. It’s for this reason that the studio’s projects are so consistent in terms of both look and feel. Whether working with a pop star or outsider artist, a high-fashion house or underground label, you get the sense that we’re all being invited to descend deeper into the Actual Objects universe, an ever-expanding digital ecosystem that operates across traditional borders separating art and commerce, narrative and theory, the virtual and the physical.
For more information about Actual Objects you can visit the studio website and follow the studio on Instagram.
Creative Direction – Actual Objects
Director – Rick Farin & Claire Farin
Producer/Executive Producer – Nick Vernet
Producer – Haley Menchel
Creative Director – Collin Fletcher
Art Director/Generative Artist – Case Miller
Production Company – Actual Objects
Director of Photography – Franklin Ricart Jr.
Line Producer – Ava Doorley & Emily Hillgren
Stylist – Peri Rosenzweig & Nick Royal
Stylist Assistant/Fabrication – Natasha Romano
Jackie – Dayana Lafargue
Hair – Fitch Lunar
Makeup – Holly Silius
Makeup Assistant – Echo Seireeni
Casting – Midland
Sword & Guitar Design – Nusi Quero
Movement Director – Jerome AB
Steadicam Operator – Zac Stank
1st AC – Mitch Boyce
2nd AC/DIT – Brooke Mueller
PA – Alex Hardy, Jeremy Herron, Matias Biraben
Electric/Condor – Chris Van Lieshout
Key Grip – Kip Rodriguez
Gaffer – Daniel Kagle, Kevin Yr Cho
Grip – Per Dan, Per Kip, Daniel Metcalf, Connor Colby
BBE – Benjamin Perez
2D Animators – Claire Cochran, Quincy Banks, Jasper Wong
A.I. Artist – Laure Michelon
VFX – Rick Farin & Claire Farin
Rotoscoping – Jacob Daly, Garrett Ingman, Jasper Wong
3D Printing Technician – Jessie Vivian, Nick Wu, Abeeha Abid
BTS Photo – Jamie Parkhurst
Management – Mahssa / Mount Analog
Label – Warp Records
Special Thanks – Fender
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