When Marcy Erb over at Illustrated Poetry offered up an actual planet for the Kick-About 11, I had an idea I knew I couldn’t achieve alone. In recent months, I’ve littered Red’s Kingdom with photographic evidence of my multiple escapes into impressionist landscapes, often characterised by the contradiction between their sensorial splendour and their utter ubiquity. Local fields, meadows and scrublands have yielded other-worldly imagery.
Much has been written by many about the ways in which the shrinking-powers of the pandemic have heightened the sights and sounds of the natural world; I’m tempted to call it the ‘Dorothy effect’ after that wonderful moment in The Wizard Of Oz when Dorothy Gale first leaves her tornado-tossed farmhouse and enters Oz for the first time, sepia giving way to the sugar rush of Technicolour.
As I write this, the UK is having its expectations managed further regarding the continuing effects of the COVID on our spheres of activity and interaction. Our respective worlds look set to shrink a little more. The idea I had – but couldn’t accomplish – was to literalise the idea that my various escapes out into the landscape had indeed been welcome journeys to other worlds. Anyway, the word ‘planet’ derives from the Greek word for ‘wanderer’; how apt, considering my own wanderings through these gauzy landscapes of vivid vegetation and gaseous colour.
But how to turn a high-resolution digital photograph of an East Kent meadow into a planet and its accompanying nebula?! Fortunately, I knew just the person to help me realise this cunning plan, VFX whiz-zkid, Deanna Crisbacher, who I had the pleasure of teaching and working alongside back when Dee was an undergraduate, and again afterwards when I roped her into a bunch of other ‘impossible things’.
My email conversation with Dee went like this:
Me: I’ve got this idea of wrapping some of my photos around some ‘planets’, so producing my own constellation of ‘strange new words’ presented similarly to the one in the prompt image… tell me if this is a thing we could do without it being too much work?
Dee: Hey Phil, sure I’m happy to play around with some alien planet-like objects! I love that sort of experimental stuff, as you know…
You have to know what I’m about to write next in no way gives credit to the hours and hours and hours of time, energy and perseverance it has taken Dee to be able to do the stuff she can do using the technology she does. When I write ‘So, Dee took my photographs and plugged them into her CGI-dream machine to produce a bunch of digital planets’, I’m explaining nothing at all about the actual process or acknowledging the breadth and depth of Dee’s skillset. Simple to say, she’s a bit of a magician (only it’s not magic, it’s knowledge and experience). Dee and I tried it a few different ways at first, with one test resulting in these rather wonderful-looking artefacts!
A few more attempts later, and Dee was able to use one of my later Boughton Scrub photographs to produce this planet (below), with the details in the image driving all the implied topology. Dee and I were very happy with this result. You’re also looking at lots of decisions around lighting and rendering – but those decisions are Dee’s; my role was just to say ‘yes!’ very delightedly when it started to look cool!
I asked Dee to grab a few screen captures from her computer when she was developing the planets. I don’t think it’s important that non-3D literate visitors understand what they’re looking at here. What’s important is understanding nothing here is happening automatically or at the hands of ‘the computer’, but rather at the hands of an artist with a very powerful tool at her disposal!
With huge thanks to Dee then, I can now present a collection of ten planets and corresponding nebulae, all of which originate directly from photographs taken while I wandered through the fields and meadows of the ‘new normal’.