Fantasia’ mixes technology and art

By Blair Hodges, Staff Writer

J. Walt8212;part computer geek, part rock star8212;created entire digital worlds in a live animation performance called “Spontaneous Fantasia” at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts Friday.

With the lights in the Dumke Auditorium dimmed, Walt sat facing his animation machine, which was placed on a keyboard stand. With a drawing pad to his left, mixing board with knobs and buttons in front and joystick on the right, he appeared to play a complicated video game, or a rock song on a keyboard. In reality, it was a little bit of both.

“I’m taking animation down to its fundamentals8212;time and space,” Walt said. “Then I build it back up again as a performing art form. With the software I’ve written, I can perform animation in the way a jazz musician performs in a particular structure with the ability to improvise a lot. Each performance is unique.”

With prerecorded music playing in the background, Walt drew shapes to the beat that appear on the movie screen. The viewpoint of the three-dimensional drawing shifted as he navigated using the joystick.

Roger Altizer, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Arts and Technology, said he hopes events such as this will capture the interest of students who wish to combine technology and art.

Altizer had difficulty concealing his enthusiasm for the performance, which was a tip of the cap to the 1940 animated Disney film.

“We are extremely excited to have J. Walt here at the university, both for the computer science angle and the artistic angle,” Altizer said. “Seeing his show in person is amazing.”

He noted the work Walt has done on interactive attractions for Disney and Sony. In 2006, Walt received a Technical Academy Award for developing software to assist actors who work in a green screen environment, interacting with empty surroundings that will later be filled in with computer animation.

With so much visual media available through movies, television, computers, cell phones and elsewhere, Walt decided that live animation was unique enough to steal some attention.

Rather than being a stereotypical computer programmer “hidden from the very light of day,” Walt said he is most comfortable on stage alongside his art, instead of behind a keyboard or a completely finished product.

In the first piece, “Autocosm: Aeries,” splashes of colorful doodles appeared on the screen to the beat of a rock drummer. As the song progressed, the three-dimensional drawing grew as mountains appeared on the horizon with rivers and a giant tree in the center of a deep valley.

Walt called the piece a “self-contained world with its own logic and rules.”

One piece, “Pachelbel’s Canon,” depicted carousels drawn to the phrasing of the violins. Other pieces included alien landscapes, underwater plant life and the creation of worlds in outer space.

Michael Lee Hollingshaus, a junior Spanish major, said she was excited to see how Walt created computer animation in a live setting.

“I liked how much of what he drew wasn’t representative of things you’d see every day so you could use your imagination to define what he was creating,” Hollingshaus said. “Even when there were landscapes, it seemed abstract enough to let your mind wander.”

He said the program plans to host other distinctive performances like Walt’s in the coming months.

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Patrick Harrington

J. Walt performed Spontaneous Fantasia Friday night at the Utah Museum of Fine Art.