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Deus Ex

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Date Minted:  October 14, 2020

Artist Description: After seeing one of @PAK's latest artworks, I realized that tokenization may also be a form of preserving our work, our memories. I lost the original 3D files of this piece a long, long time ago, but today, in a random disk, I found the sequence files and decided to rebuild the edit and post from scratch. This animation was created for a collaborative effort called Resonance, where motion designers were paired with audio designers with the idea of explore the relationship between shape and sound. I designed this audio reactive entity that was feed the sound that Echolab designed. There's no keyframes involved besides the ones used for the cameras. Years later, while reading trough comments on Vimeo, I found out that this piece ended up being the main inspiration for the Mimics, the alien race Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt battle in Edge of Tomorrow. 

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Deux Ex is the crowning experiment in an oeuvre that is, no exaggeration, all about experimentation. Esteban Diacono’s technical brilliance is so evident, so ubiquitously displayed, and so variable of subject, that it’s hard to see this collection of works and feel like we’re seeing an artistic evolution as much we’re seeing a strong man twirl around weights of various sizes. Because there’s no apparent limit to what Diacono is able to compose masterfully, seeming as potent when wielding colors as he is when wielding forms, shapes, light, or movement. That’s where the experimentation comes from, almost like the artist is trying to find some comfort zone that he can step out of, but there’s so much confidence in his artworks —the result of “25 years experience in the motion/digital art world”— that it’s hard to believe this man has a challenge he has yet to overcome. Deus Ex is perhaps the closest he comes in his SuperRare oeuvre, but the result is as proportionally brilliant as the risk undertaken. The questions this piece seems to answer —not just those stated in the Artist Description about sound and shape, but more abstract ones about “Well, what does an entirely new kind of movement look like?” or “Can I create a solid polygon that also seems to be alive?”— are the kind of heady ponderings of a mad scientist, bored with the realms of science he has already conquered. As Diacono says in the Artist Description, “While reading through comments on Vimeo, I found out that this piece ended up being the main inspiration for the Mimics, the alien race Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt battle in Edge of Tomorrow.” So the brilliance is evident to everyone, even industry professionals, though never more than here in the original version. A frighteningly realized display of sound, action, and vibration, Deus Ex is the triumph of man over imagination. Nothing captured here has any analogue in the waking world as far as I know; and yet, here it is, a fantasy, presented to us without embellishment, as if it were captured somewhere on camera.

The 28-second video begins somewhat reductively. A quiet landscape of polygons —mostly grey cubes. A grey background and a grey floor. The entire piece is built out of a greyscale gradient. In the center is a single oddly-shaped polygon, a kind of rhombus broken apart into triangular pieces, like upside-down triforces. At the three-second mark, the rhombus becomes animated, lifting itself onto a point and spinning like a diamond-shaped top, then it ascends into the air. Suspended there for not even a second, the shape suddenly explodes, its straight edges erupting outwards into long, metallic tentacles, segmenting like vertebrae, whipping wildly around, knocking into the cubes down on the ground below it. For the bulk of the piece from this point, as cybernetic sounds play in the background —each sound mimicking the visual movement of the tentacles— the tentacles expand and contract, smash into the ground, flail around in the air, falling into pieces at one point, fraying into floating polygons at its edges. This is all happening in flashes. Now the polygon is whole; now it is a thrashing octopus; now it is contracted again. We see not the movement between states, but merely existence in those states, and we move between them as if a shoddy flipbook is being flipped for us. Boom-Boom-Boom. The giant metal monster now begins warping around the frame, into different parts of the greyscale world, causing havoc, causing sparks to fly whenever it makes contact with the ground or with another object. It seems to expand and expand and expand more each time, the kind of entity that threatens to overrun and destroy any cage it is kept in. The video ends unceremoniously: a cut to black, a few title cards, and then it restarts. 

The overall impression of the video is one of, well, impressiveness. Every detail of this video is remarkably fully-realized. Light realistically shines on every surface, and that’s the least interesting part; the movement of shapes is simply astounding. Not to rehash a previous point, but one can hardly imagine the kind of movement we’re seeing in front of us. No wonder it inspired the creation of an entire alien species, it’s a legitimately unprecedented 3D experience. 

I get the sense watching this video that it has more in common with a nature documentary than it does other 3D artworks. Elsewhere in his oeuvre, Diacono engages in more commonplace ways of demonstrating his technical mastery: human bodies given a rubber consistency, gossamer sheets imbued with life and sparkling with light, a faberge egg made of beads which spins and unfurls itself and spins back together. But this is something else. There is a savagery within this composition, a naturalism which juxtaposes interestingly against the highly and evidently artificial process by which it;s made. It’s marvelously meta to take the spontaneous human impulse, channel it into a logical and process-driven machine, and produce an output that is overwhelmingly unpredictable, wild, and frenetic too. Deus Ex, as a title, is only half a phrase, borrowing from the former half of “deux ex machina” which means “god from the machine.” Without the latter half, it seems to mean only “God from…”

Thus, a title as hard to encapsulate as the piece it describes.

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