Hidden Kingdom Animation


A collaboration between Heavy Color and musicians and villages in Eastern Congo. Dense and mysterious. A curious thread connects these interwoven musical fabrics and their trans-continental roots. Drawing from classic Afrobeat and Afropop, Minimalist Electronica, Futurist Instrumental Hip Hop and Detroit Boogie. In May of 2015 Earthwork Music asked Ben of Heavy Color and Akili Jackson of Radiant City Arts to travel to the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as a musical ambassadors as part of On the Ground's ongoing cultural exchange program which strives to create meaningful connections across cultures through creative collaboration. Sales from this album are helping fund projects in Congo that directly support gender equity and fair wages for women in farming regions as well as the ongoing support of an arts center in the city Bukavu which teaches youth dance, recording technology skills and music lessons in an all around positive, safe space.


The animation for Hidden Kingdom was entirely generated using Derivative TouchDesigner, a software that is closer to a programming language than it is a traditional animation program. Because TouchDesigner is designed for developing real-time video for projections and installations, it allows changes to be made on the fly. I sat down with Ben and Sam of Heavy Color on a couple occasions in what you might call “live coding” development sessions, where we tweaked parameters and explored new ideas for the animation. The animation leverages several techniques that allow the visuals to react directly to the music. To do this, I isolated several distinctive musical layers and mapped their volume to a variety of visual parameters. Some of these relationships are obvious, like the flower that pulses to the kick drum in the first section, while others are subtle, such as the flickering of the snake-like forms that appear later in the video.

The content was created through a variety of means – much of which was inspired by some initial direction from Heavy Color. They provided a loose structure, along with visual content relevant to their work at NDARO Cultural Center. The “tube” that you zoom down midway through the video features many images and photos taken by Ben and Sam during their visit to the Congo. The flower at the beginning was generated through failed attempts to recreate Congolese flowers through code, which was ultimately successful in capturing a flower shape – less so in its botanical accuracy. Other content came from my own fascination with the way complexity can be generated through simple rules. The other plants and branch like forms throughout the animation were created using “L-Systems,” which are systems used to generate random branching structures. The stars at the end are another example, where the motion of a particle system is governed by cellular automata, a simulation that results in chaotic patterns – most famous of which is “Conway’s Game of Life.” I enjoy the nuance of these systems, and the complexity they can bring to the visual components in an animation context.