Animating a 400-Year-Old Painting in Maya

Many artists have animated famous paintings before, but the husband-and-wife artistic team Rob and Nick Carter have taken it to a whole other level. They created a a three-hour animated version of an Ambrosius Bosschaert still life painting from 1618:

Every aspect of Bosschaert’s painting has been brought to life including each flower stem, insect and background scenery. The film…takes the painted scene from early morning darkness through to noon (where the film exactly resembles the original painting) into dusk and late night.

They worked with a team of nearly two dozen artists from the vfx house Moving Picture Company where they first recreated all of the painting’s elements in Maya. Then they spent two-and-a-half years animating the film. If you go to Rob and Nick’s website and click on #10, you can get a taste of the exceedingly subtle and meditative quality of the real-time animation.

This article in Computer Arts offers more details of the challenges involved in creating such a slow-paced animated sequence. The digital artwork, titled “Transforming Still Life Painting,” is being released in an edition of 12 (plus 5 artist proofs). Each one is valued at £50,000 ($80,000). The Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, which houses Bosschaert’s original painting, has already agreed to acquire one of the Carters’ digital reproductions for its collection.

(Thanks, Alex Rannie)


  • http://artnote.blog.com Stephen

    Fascinating! I love it when old art and new technology intersect.

  • http://www.BruceRichardsStudio.com B.Richards

    The technology and new innovations that takes dozens of people and thousands of man hours to geometricize a masterpiece is a silly one. The 4:40 final results do not improve on the original, just make it a different thing entirely. By removing, or “cleaning up” the original by hardening the line and edges the artist made with a brush and oil paints, his series of glazings etc. of the flesh of the flower’s petals, so much has been lost in this translation of it. This tour the animation gives is a Disneyfied version of the beautiful work and makes it a stiffened puppet when the artist was capturing a moment. The original is meditative and iconic. This makes it a spectator sport, not a private dialogue with the viewer.This is like “Bug’s Life” goes to the Metropolitan Museum . Maybe they can next spend 2 1/2 years to make the Mona Lisa sing opera?

    • Some Botonist

      You sound like you’re a lot of fun at parties.

      • Tak

        Hey man, I’d listen to Mr B.Richards at a party.
        He sounds like he’s got nice strong opinions built out of a great amount of learned thought & observations, is articulate & simply knows what he likes. I’m sure he also knows a couple of great jokes & funny one liners too, so don’t knock him on the socialising front too quickly. Look to learn from other people, anyone, and look for their good characteristics because even the seemingly sh*ttiest people can have them.

    • euro

      This isn’t an “improvement” on the original, it’s a new piece in itself…
      Ever heard the quote “good artists copy, great artists steal”??

      … and how is it “disneyfied”??? You sound like you have a very closed and conservative mind on the artistic applications with digital technology. Computers are their own tools, that exist in their own medium, they’re not advanced pencils.

      • B.Richards

        You are absolutely correct,” it is not an improvement on the original, it is a piece in itself….”, it is computer art. It is a 400 year later follow up to the original and makes it into an entirely different set of concepts and issues and media. Art has always developed from the past endeavors. To rephrase euro,this work “steals from great art and makes it just good”. I prefer the “Venus of Willendorf” to a Barbie doll. What “credibility” would this have without the “original” however ? It goes point by point in the most laborious fashion to be on model, is this a creative act or an exercise in mathematics? It is “Disneyfied” in that it takes the work and makes it a 3 hour “ride” for the visitor ( the reason the Museum wanted it) like building the “Matterhorn” in the Park or the “Eiffel Tower” in Vegas. I prefer experiencing the originals when possible to the attractions based on them. I would rather spend 3 hours in the museum with the Bosserchat and other works of that period of still life painting than viewing this computer generated work for 3 hours. Computers are not “advanced pencils” (wow). I don’t think pencils ( original name for a brush) need advancing in the right hands. I just have a differing opinion about the merits of this animation than Some Botonist and euro and to be in agreement with Yawn.

      • euro

        This is a transformative work, similar in the likes of L.H.O.O.Q.
        It is not a cheap copy. It’s applying new ideas to old subjects in a vivid form. No different to the functions of collage or remixing. Every artist “steals” from their influences/inspirations, whether conscious or subconscious. And many try and hide theses sources in a desperation to appear “original”.

        Fair enough if you don’t like it and can’t see any originality in it, but credit should be given where credit is deserved.

      • Tak

        No one should be unhappy simply because they feel they’re not getting their due credit for something. No matter how laborious or sophisticated your task might have been, no one owes you any major credit for that. Perhaps the recognition that yes, this took a sh*t load of time & a ton of difficult & painful steps to birth & produce, but beyond that if the piece doesn’t resonate with others, well…sorry, all that work is just a long sad story, and “Them’s the breaks kid.” “That’s just how the cookie crumbles.” yadda yadda yadda. You don’t get accolades simply based on hours. Or maybe you do in some places, but nowhere I would ever like to be.

        I think the general comment here is that even 394 years later, utilising state of the art techniques built on thousands of achievements & advances in the still new & completely revolutionary field of CGI technique the original & simple painting is not out done. But I guess that has more to do with a lack of a bigger purpose or goal behind this project. As was said before, the piece is little more than a study or an exercise. CGI can be GREAT, but without real thought, aim & purpose, it’s not. This is true for everything. In short, it’s underwhelming simply because it never aimed to be anything more than a 3D GCI representation (along with some very mundane and naturalistic motion & fine details) of a panting that already existed.

        Tak “The cheeky Bastard” says:
        Amazing what they could do with textures & forms of projection & perspective geometry mapping in 1999… Props on the animation & rendering though, that stuff looks straight out of 2010. I wonder why
        the transpositioning of graphic 2D art to 3D wasn’t done years ago… and better.

        At any rate, if those who created this read my comments I hope they take them less an insult and more as a challenge. I know they probably did this project based on commission or contract for the Museum. Hopefully $ exchanged bank accounts & everyone moved on with their lives.

      • euro

        “I think the general comment here is that even 394 years later, utilising state of the art techniques built on thousands of achievements & advances in the still new & completely revolutionary field of CGI technique the original & simple painting is not out done.”

        Again, why do people have the notion that just because this is a derivative of an earlier work, that it has to be “better” than the original? It’s like the same mindset that thinks the sequel should always succeed. You’re looking at in completely the wrong way… And you clearly can’t detach from the little traditions of 3D animation, to see it as it’s own art form, rather than an expansion on film and visual effects.

  • evan

    Like Warhol’s films, it’s interesting and beautiful for about 3 minutes… If you like this, I’d recommend the similar yet highly impressive film “The Mill and The Cross” about Pieter Bruegel’s paintings.

  • Yawn.

    Three……Hours…..Long? Two and a Half years working on essentially a ‘screen saver’?

    Wow.

  • Rick R.

    That is a beautiful idea. Nice to see someone finally making “artworks of the future” and not just as props in movies.

  • Some Botonist

    I love art that makes me look like a lazy slacker.

    (Seriously, this is incredible. I love the snails!)

  • http://www.sneezemeaway.com Ryan G

    So many thoughts about this running through my head…let’s see:

    1. It’s a copy of another art piece. Sure it’s been replicated (or should I say, recreated) in another medium, but essentially it is an unoriginal piece of work.

    2. Two and a half years of their lives spent animating a *three hour painting*. The dedication to such a project must have been staggering. One must wonder how long would it have taken if they did not hire an outside company to help with the process.

    3. The money. Let’s face it, we are talking about a potential earning of nearly one million dollars for two and a half years of work, minus the costs from MPC of course. That’s a nice potential return for time involved, that’s for sure.

    4. Why? Of all the projects to undertake why this one? What was the thought process that eventually came up with the idea of doing this?

    5. Is it fine art? Would the art boffins and critics accept this as fine art? Would it be called it art, or a recreation of art? What does this mean for the future of digital art in the fine art circles?

    • Tak

      Reading the comments I’m so glad to see so many people THINKING. It gives me a sense of hope for humanity. Now if only we all had the time & financial freedom to all congregate & try to actually think about & solve some of the pressing issues in the world, rather than waste time between shifts on cartoon brew. Oh well ;-p

  • steve

    is it just me, or is the fact that all of the flowers seem to be moving independent of each other really distracting? like they are moving, just to move. something more subtle might be nice.

    • GeneRasputinHole

      subtle? if you watch the real-time clip, you’ll be hard-pressed to see the flowers moving *at all*.

      • steve

        oh . i missed the real time part. now i can see them barely moving. floating ever so slightly independently of each other. i guess i prefer the painting.

  • sasha

    nice thought but i think its a bit of a watse of time and talent. i would be more impressed if they did this with an original creation, or at least did not spend so much time on this…

  • Confusion

    I kind of like the idea of animating famous artworks. But THREE HOURS? That seems a tad excessive for what is basically film of a bunch of flowers gently blowing in the breeze.

  • http://www.popyea.deviantart.com nick

    I love this. It’s like a concept from sci fi.

  • http://www.frankpanucci.com Frank Panucci

    This is to be dismissed using words of curse.

  • Toast

    It’s lovely! The creators looked like they enjoyed making it as well. In my opinion there’s nothing wrong with such an idea. I’m pretty glad CGI artists are taking hints from the old masters.

    On another note, it would be both fascinating and terrifying if the same concept is done to a Hieronymous Bosch or Peter Bruegel the Elder painting.

  • http://www.BruceRichardsStudio.com B.Richards

    As a reference point this started 500 years ago by applying the technique of linear perspective described by Filippo Brunelleschi. Paolo Uccello’s perspective drawing of a chalice ( google it) executed in 1450 is the direct predecessor of the Maya software used for this work. Perspective theory was the first conceptual art, where the artist could create a space without actually seeing it in front of him / her. Perspective also allowed the Industrial Revolution to spread more rapidly by enabling someone to read drawn plans and slowly do away with the master / student dynamic. It is a fascinating field of study. It ‘s understanding by an artist of any field allows for far greater abilities in concepts to develop. Ryan G. posses other equally interesting areas to consider.