A massive visual tapestry synthesizing modern conceptions of our place in the universe with those of the Ancient Greeks.
I've been working sporadically on this digital painting since 2006.
It is the project I’m most proud of.
I wanted to empower my 11-yr-old daughter.
Some of her classmates had been making fun of her fascination with Greek Mythology. She had been reading the Percy Jackson book series at the time and believed that the gods and goddesses were real.
I wanted her to understand that all religions are based on stories, or myths. When taken at face value and not exploring underlying meaninng, any religion can sound crazy.
And her perspective is just as valid.
For years, I had been creating artwork for her, and immediately thought of creating something along those lines for her. I knew only a little about mythology. I had heard of Apollo, Athena and maybe a few others, but that was about it. I was pretty sure Zeus was the guy with the lightning.
Since my daughter and I are both pretty goofy, it didn’t take any coaxing when I asked if she wanted to grab whatever fruit we had in the kitchen, put it on her head and pretend she was a Greek Goddess.
I thought that would be the end of the project. :)
a seed is planted
For her birthday that year, I got my daughter an audio course on Greek Mythology that we would listen to on car rides. The stories were incredible... each one planting a seed of an image.
For example, one of the stories describes a priestess turning into a tree. I imagined Emma turning into a tree, her fingers becoming branches. To create the image, she pretended to be a tree, her limbs twisting into branches. In lieu of a green screen, my mom and sister held up a bedsheet behind her.
These photos would be used to create DAPHNE CONSOLES GAEA, one of the many vignettes that make up the final image.
To create this, I combined hundreds of unrelated photos, beginning by isolating parts of each. For example, to isolate an animal from a photo, I would cut it out down to the detail of its hair. For each animal you see in the final image, I had two or three on standby, isolated.
I then tried to arrange the elements in a way that enhanced the narrative while integrating seemlessly (trying to match lighting, shadows, etc). It was four months of work before I was done. Finally, I showed it to a friend who asked if I had photoshopped Emma's face onto the waterfall.
I'm pretty sure my eye twitched.
This motivated me to create a video describing the process.
Motivations, behind-the-scenes, and visual explainers. The incredible music "The Last Man" is by Clint Mansell.
Timelapse process for the logo, Longing For Ouranos + Nebulaic Embryo + Cronos. The amazing music is "Nature Springs" by The Good, The Bad & The Queen.
This video shows the photos I started with in the REBIRTH of GAEA - MYTHOLOGY video.
A description of the multi-layered meaning behind Rebirth of Gaea. The amazing music is "Death is the Road to Awe (featuring Kronos quartet)" by Clint Mansell.
So that the music would remain untouched, I edited the narration and choreographed the camera. The visual story arch is heavily influenced by the music's timing and emotion.
My creative process benefits from wandering down unexplored paths, looking for beauty in the details, and being open to whatever possibilities may emerge. Deep-diving into the details was a fundamental part of not only the print, but the video as well.
For example, to create the star element for the video, I put a glass ball on a turntable and took video of it rotating. The sun was setting directly behind it, and it became a self-illuminating marble. I then isolated the element and flipped it, the symmetrical component making it more readily identify as form, albeit ever-changing.
PUSHING IT FURTHER
To breathe life into this empowering Earth goddess, I used Adobe After Effects, which has allowed me to revisit Rebirth of Gaea with fresh eyes time and again to tweak some areas and completely rework others.
For example, the COSMIC MIND in the top left was completed in October 2021. The image represents the shared connection between human and divine via the NEBULAIC EMBRYO seated at the back of the brain(s) where the pineal gland would be.
The person in the image is my mom. I was sort of struck by how the larger, divine version of herself looks so different from the other, human version. For the inverted divine version, I turned her freckles into constellations of stars. A reminder of how the beauty within is timeless, to embrace the process.
THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
What else could it do?
With Gaea, there is no defined end result. Is it a weekend photoshoot? Emma as a tree? As a waterfall? Combine them into one massive collage? Do a making-of video? Or six?
Having no defined outcome continues to allow for limitless possibilities. Today, these images of an empowering earth goddess are available as NFTs here, and a virtual reality experience is in the works.
I'm up for whatever comes next.
REBIRTH of GAEA – Mythological Overview (2012)
When I first started researching which Greek deity would best personify Emma, I considered Demeter, Artemis and Aphrodite, among others. But because I was mostly focusing on Emma’s qualities of compassion and concern for the environment, it didn’t take long to decide on GAEA, the Goddess of Earth and mother to all Gods.
Guiding my decisions visually was whether someone from that time period would recognize and relate to my depiction of GAEA. This is why, for example, there are no views of Earth from space as is often used in other contemporary representations of her. In addition to researching books and the internet, I listened to a college course by Whitman College’s Elizabeth Vandiver. Here’s what I found:
Greek art expressed the ideals of harmony and balance. It is characterized by a concern both with formal proportion and with the dynamics of action and emotion. Its primary subject matter is the human figure, the form of the divine; monsters, animals, and plants are secondary. Like most other mythologies, Greek mythology developed in a preliterate culture where it was the only means to explain and discuss a whole range of phenomena -- concepts that we would approach through science, philosophy, and psychology.
Only a fraction of ancient Greek literature has survived, and these written versions “frozen” in time are more than likely only a few of the several variants that once existed. They can be obscure and even contradictory (as in the case of Oedipus whose final fate was described differently by Sophocles and Homer). Because of this, and because these were never considered an orthodoxy or sacred text like the Koran or Bible, I’ve felt comfortable drawing inspiration from various accounts.
The most complete surviving Greek account of how the universe came into being is Hesiod’s Theogony. Theogony describes the creation of the material universe through the birth of the Gods. The Gods are not separate from the universe, do not create it, and are therefore not omnipotent within it. Our modern distinction between metaphorical and literal doesn’t apply and consequently they are both physical realities and highly anthropomorphic entities: they eat, drink, sleep, mate and feel emotions. This multivalent and complex interpretation gives rise to a mythology extraordinarily rich with imagery.
Rebirth of Gaea is being brought to life by layering thousands of photographs into one seamless composition. The process starts in the traditional form: pencil on paper, where I first explore the vision, experiment with layout, etc. I then gather elements, shooting photos of both the actual components of the piece (my children, flowers, landscapes, clouds, etc.) as well as elements that are more abstract (dripping honey, flowing fabric, milk in a cloud tank, light refractions through ice, etc). With all the elements prepared and my vision clearly established, I dive into compositing them using Adobe After Effects.* At this point it becomes an incredibly free-flowing process, almost sculptural, where I become absorbed in the world being created, pushing and pulling the photos to reach the desired look.
* After Effects is created for video, not print, and I do not know of anyone else who uses it the way I do. I find that Photoshop doesn’t provide the flexibility that I require. Essentially, After Effects is like working in oils instead of acrylics, where the canvas remains “wet” and one can continue to refine the look.
It seems to me that one would have to have had a similar career path (to have started in print, moved to video, and then returned to print) to recognize this potential.
99% of everything I do is in Adobe After Effects. I use Photoshop mainly to cut mattes.
Mostly because working in After Effects is non-destructive. I like to work as free-flowing and painterly as possible. Essentially, it's the equivalent of working in oils instead of acrylics: the canvas remains "wet." For example, I can adjust the amount of blur I apply to a layer years after I first made that decision. Also, file size and speed. In the After Effects comp, I use proxies -- smaller resolution files that temporarily stand-in for the original files -- significantly increasing speed. Because it only references the files, it doesn't alter them and keeps the project file sizes infinitely smaller.
I’ve done everything on my laptop, which I recently upgraded to a 2.2 GHz MacBook Pro with 8GB RAM. I use a WACOM GD0608 tablet. I shoot mostly with my Canon EOS 7D and either a Tamron 18mm-200mm or Canon 24mm - 70mm lens.
If I had to guess, I’d say a billion.
The vast majority of photos I shot myself. I have an account with photos.com, and I purchased some photos from istockphoto.com.
I’ve broken my After Effects project down into about six sections, working from the background foreword. The combination of these project files is over 1GB. As far as elements, I am up to about 1TB of files.
30,000 x 10,000. From what I understand, 30K is the maximum that Photoshop currently allows for (while still retaining the ability to use all effects). Because it is so detailed, even with a canvas this big many of my photos have to been scaled down in the comp. The final image has 145 times more resolution than HD. In other words, to see all the details of this image at once, you would need to assemble 145 HD TVs together.
In a nutshell… conventional techniques used unconventionally. For example, one process involved using panoramic photography techniques not on landscapes, but flowers, faces, rocks etc. I have several images of Emma’s face that are at such high resolutions, they could easily fill 10 movie theatres across. Secondly, working at that resolution required using After Effects in a way it wasn’t, perhaps, originally intended to be used.
Psychologically, not getting attached when the project required me to completely rework it, again and again. Because I’ve worked on it for so long, the technology has changed, I’ve changed, my skillset has changed. I can’t hesitate to completely redo the entire piece – which I’ve done on multiple occasions.
Creatively, staying focused on the days and weeks where it was mostly a left-brain effort requiring little creative muscle. While shifting my focus to prepping elements (for example, cutting mattes of each leaf on a tree) can be nice for a day or two to cleanse the creative palette, after several weeks, it becomes hard to retain a vision that encompasses the bigger picture.
Technically, understanding color profiles and color spaces and how they are handled within different applications and between the worlds of print and video. Also, content management and project structure. This piece involves so many elements which have to fit seamlessly together. Intuitively organizing these elements so they are only a thought away at any time is the first part of that. The second part is breaking down the project into several smaller projects (due to technical limitations of today’s computers) and then re-constructing a seamless final piece.
Personally, convincing those close to me that I should endeavor to do this. I haven’t doubted this process, and I don’t worry about “failing;” I’m enjoying it too much. The intrinsic value of having pushed myself, of having a piece that my kids will hopefully like makes it a no-brainer for me.
I can assure you, you will not meet a more methodically organized person in your life. (This doesn’t mean I’m clean). Yes, I'm backed up. Yes, multiple times. And yes, off-site as well.
I can assure you, you will not meet a more methodically organized person in your life. (This doesn’t mean I’m clean, as my wife will be quick to point out). I’m meticulous in my backups – keeping some offsite (and of state). For better or worse, I write down everything. I’ve kept a journal since I was 5, create annual Year-in-Review documents (ranking the top 10 most influential life experiences and synopses of my art, travel, insights, health, schedule, relationships, finances, etc. for the year). I have Filemaker Pro documents ranking movies, books, memories (each one categorized with regards to the emotion, the intensity, the year, the people involved, etc). I have a resource library that could rival any major visual effects studio. Yes, I’m backed up.
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Super Bowl LVCreative Director for augmented reality graphics, 2021 (Silver Spoon Animation)
TENCENTDesign + Execution, 2020 (Ntropic)
The GrammysVFX, 2020 (Ntropic)
Reality via PerceptionPersonal Project, 2020
Sand Water FirePersonal Project, 2020
Lost In SpaceDesign + Execution, 2019 (The Resistance)
The SecretVFX, 2019 (Resistance)
Landscape PaintingPersonal Project, 2018
Justice LeagueDesign + Execution, 2017 (Resistance)
PeriscapeCreative Direction + Execution, 2017
United States NavyDesign + Execution, 2017 (Resistance)
CastrolVFX, 2014 (Suspect)
Easy SkankingPersonal Project, 2015
Jamaica's 50th AnniversaryDesign + Execution, 2012 (Water Works)
The Monkey KingDesign + Execution, 2013 (Global Star)
Flowing MeditationPersonal Project, 2011
Nebulaic EmbryoPersonal Project, 2012
ShapeshifterVFX + Compositing, 2010 (Charlex)
DodgeVFX + Compositing, 2008 (Charlex)
AvrilVFX + Compositing, 2009 (Suspect)
ToshibaDesign + Execution, 2007 (Charlex)
MMsCompositing, 2005 (Charlex)
Verizon "It's The Network"Compositing, 2005 (Charlex)
One Rat ShortCompositing + UI, 2006 (Charlex)
© Jesse Michael Newman, 2021