For the opening titles of Ciclope Festival 2014, an international conference based in Germany dedicated to the craft of the moving image, a fuchsia booty-shaking robot acts as usher, taking us through a strange and shifting cyberdelic dream.
With this sequence artist and director Saiman Chow makes his title design debut, working with studio Blacklist and the sound designers at Antfood to create a world where spam windows overwhelm, deepsea landfills overflow with colour, pandas and A-frames float through space, and toast takes flight. Notably, instead of being translated into a consistent typeface for the sequence, the names of the conference presenters are displayed in their original logotypes, each becoming just another element in the raucous wash of visuals. The music, which dips variously into hip hop, baile funk, glitched out samples, and the throaty moans of outrageous beasts, is multifarious and perfectly matched. The sequence is a beautifully delirious jaunt that is jampacked with detail, featuring everything from eyeball-headed keytar players and Nirvana’s Nevermind album art to walls of bamboo and replicating cacti, all bouncing to the unmistakable visual chaos of Saiman Chow.
A discussion with Artist and Director SAIMAN CHOW.
Give us a little background on yourself. How would you describe your career up to this point?
SC: I was born and raised in Hong Kong and immigrated to Los Angeles at the age of 15 with my family. I work as a multi-disciplinary artist and director. My work spans animation, collage, painting, illustration, and design. At the moment, I’m working on a short film and preparing for an exhibition in New York.
It seems like there’s an element of chaos, or layered complexity, in much of your work. How do you navigate that, and how do you know when you’ve reached “enough” in a piece?
I‘m a spontaneous, process-driven artist. I usually visualize the idea in my head and then try to directly translate it in Photoshop. I rarely sketch or make storyboards for these more personal works. I would spend a day or two on a styleframe and it will go nowhere. I then scrap it and just start completely over until I get it right! Sometimes I treat the artworks like a puzzle; if I have one section that is working then I continue to build upon it or make another chunk of puzzle until they all work together. Let's just say there is a lot of trial and error in my process and it isn’t always the most time effective!
Regardless, this is the only way I know how to make my work and so maybe that is why my work has a complex, layered quality – though not intentional. Like any discipline that practice over and over again, through experience I learn to trust my instinct and I intuitively know when the result is satisfying for me.
How did this project for Ciclope Festival come to you?
The project came through my rep, Blacklist. Blacklist has been representing me since 2010. They are exceptional people and share a similar philosophy making our collaboration easy.
At the time, I was looking to work on something challenging and different from previous projects, a title sequence being one of them. Ciclope came to me with an open brief, so that was an easy decision!
You’ve given talks at festivals yourself, right? How do you approach doing talks?
I have given talks for Shout Out Loud in China, RESFest in the US, and Pictoplasma from Germany.
I found an interesting approach can be illuminating the process behind a project, individual’s habits or varying approaches. With that in mind, when preparing my own talks, I try to illustrate the behind-the-scenes moments and shed light on my process and way of developing ideas.
How did you develop the ideas for this title sequence?
My main goal was to make something fun and visually unexpected for the title sequence. I know my strengths and weaknesses as a maker, so it’s really about trying to work around what I‘m capable of – animation-wise – with little support. Since I had to include all these brands and logos in the title I gravitated towards the idea of commenting on our disposable culture and the inescapable consumerism we are living in. Growing up in Hong Kong, the tightly packed city encapsulates this, and I wanted to create a very dense visual space that served as a metaphor.
If you had to describe the story of the sequence – the events that happen – how would that go?
We start with a dancing avatar... the sexually suggestive robot dancer represents the enticing yet poisonous advertising assault that increasingly invades our daily screens. As we zoom out, we see a person sitting in front of a very bland cubicle office space.
He clicks on the spam button and chaos ensues. A massive virus-filled pop-up ad shoots across the screen and out into the real world. We follow the virus-filled computer into the abyss of our buying addiction.
On the bottom of the ocean, we realize we are on an observation deck that’s becoming a landfill for our consumer culture. Finally, the weight of capitalism shatters the aquarium glasses...
...and we momentarily retreat back to safety and a comfortable living space. Yet bizarre activity begins and creates a sense of loss of control.
As we tumble through a space-time continuum, we travel back to an ideal, surreal ’60s hippie world, free of material burden.
Ultimately history will always repeat itself as we rewind back to the beginning – to the dancing robot and the inescapable loop which begins again. I love the rewind-toast-solitaire loop towards the end because it makes me smile every time I watch it.
And how did you work with Antfood and the music?
Huge shout-out to Antfood! Wilson Brown and company did an amazing job on music and sound design, their playful approach really complements the visuals and the piece would not be half as good without their unique contribution.
Which tools and software did you use to put it all together?
Photoshop, After Effects, and tons of coffee.
How would you say your work has been evolving in the last few years?
I’ve done many types of commissioned projects throughout the years. At this point in my career, I’m trying to be more selective of the work I choose to do. The Ciclope title in some ways marks a new direction in the type of work I’m interested in doing. I'm now more focused on storytelling and experimenting with visual metaphors and structures.
Finally, what are some of your personal favourite title sequences?
Too Many Cooks! That has got to be the longest title sequence in the history of title sequences.
It’s like Freddy Krueger drags you into the hell of The Brady Bunch, slowly torturing your eyeballs and ears into eternity in a fantastic way! It never ends! It’s one of the funniest, weirdest, most original things I‘ve seen in a long time.
See more of Saiman Chow's work with Blacklist
View the credits for this sequence
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