Fractal Art Isn't Random or Artificial Intelligence

The Internet published a few misleading headlines this week on my new Fractal Short ‘Fraktaal’. While Gizmodo claimed it was ‘randomly generated’, Newsweek decided to make it into a film created by Artificial Intelligence.

The Newsweek article

The Newsweek article

This is of course dead wrong. There has been no artificial intelligence involved at all in the making of this film, unlike my recent work ‘Recurrence’. But catchy headlines are good for views, and indeed, views have been racking up faster on this fractal than any of my previous work.

However, the mistake is not completely illogical. I’ve written about how I’m a ‘lazy animator’ who:

“Using fractals, I can conjure up entire worlds without having to draw or model anything. These shapes hide in the formulas, they exist in a mathematical reality, all I need to do is explore those worlds and make them reveal themselves.”

There’s nothing random about it (because each time the same process would lead to the same result) and there’s no AI involved, no neural networks, no learning, no iterative processes. On the other hand, there’s not much human input either.

No human input? Let me nuance that statement. A human (me) created the animation of the camera, the decision on lighting setups, the compositing – not to mention the music, which was of course laboriously composed by the very talented David Levy, whom I owe much gratitude for boosting this piece deep into the sci-fiosphere.

The short film in question, Fraktaal.

But imagine we would set all those artistic aspects aside for a moment. What’s left is the unimaginable alien world defined by fractal math. Does the fractal artist ‘create’ that? Although this isn’t easy to answer, I'm going to be blunt and say ‘no’.
Let me explain.

Fractal Art Isn't Art

In my work in the VFX industry I hate to use the word artist. Which is why I opted to call myself a VFX designer. VFX artists absolutely exist, but the term artist is applied so broadly that it’s lost its meaning. Roto artists are very skilled craftsmen, but are they artists? Wanna visit the Roto Museum of Modern Keys?

I absolutely do not want to start a discussion of what constitutes art, but I do want to express my opinion that I have problems with the term fractal art. In my experience, artists are people who meticulously hand-paint every detail, are constantly aware of both the small parts and the whole, and who are thoroughly disciplined. A fractal artist doesn’t have to know how to draw details, because she gets all the detail in the world for free. Also, she doesn’t need to be disciplined at all, since the computer does all the work and whatever settings you put in, something superficially amazing looking will come out no matter what.
Do not ever compare a fractal artist to a real artist.

But is this the whole picture? Is this the right comparison to make?

Not all artists draw or paint. Some dance, perform. There are those who use words as shortcuts to the detail of the imagination, yet others wield bulky photographic equipment to instantly capture detail that was there all along, only now it has been framed into a certain light.

This is the comparison I make when I talk about fractal art. It’s an art, no question about it, but the comparison should be with the photographer, not the painter. Just like the photographer for National Geographic, we are explorers. We explore vast mathematical landscapes that aren’t of our own making, but we may be called pioneers, visiting places that no human has yet gazed upon. This is exactly what the most fulfilling part of the creative process feels like. Exploring, in ultimate wonder, wondering what’s behind that ledge, or what happens when we change the Minimum Radius, or go into Julia mode.

The alien cityscape from Fraktaal I visited a long time ago, when I first started with fractals in 2013. I had forgotten about it, until I found an old picture. I had a sudden urge to go back, because now I had new skills under my belt. The place was still there, unchanged, beautifully haunting as before. So I started exploring this realm again.

A render  from early 2013, which formed the foundation of Fraktaal

A render  from early 2013, which formed the foundation of Fraktaal

And just like the photographer we know when we’ve found the right spot. We then set up our gear, we find the right angle, we set the right light.

This, to me, is what makes fractal art art. It’s not Artificial Intelligence, it’s just simple humans that found a way to explore new dimensions, other places. Travel, without moving.

The same place, revisited.

The same place, revisited.

Julius Horsthuis