The art of animation

In the June issue of Creative Review, we featured a collaboration between MPC Advertising and artists Rob and Nick Carter to turn classic paintings into 3D animations. The project is now complete and will be on display at London’s Fine Art Society this month…

In the June issue of Creative Review, we featured a collaboration between MPC Advertising and artists Rob and Nick Carter to turn classic paintings into 3D animations. The project is now complete and will be on display at London’s Fine Art Society this month…

When Italian artist Giorgione painted Sleeping Venus in the early 1500s, he caused quite a stir in the art world. The piece is widely credited as the first example of a female reclining nude painting in Europe. Five hundred years later, his work is making headlines again as part of Rob and Nick Carter’s new exhibition, Transforming – a project Sir Peter Blake says has created “an entirely new genre of art”.

Rob and Nick Carter, Transforming Nude Painting (2013), After Giorgone’s The Sleeping Venus (1510), in collaboration with MPC. 2.5 hour looped film, Apple iMac, Framed, Edition of 12, 5 AP

Working with MPC Advertising, Rob and Nick have spent three years creating four animations of classic paintings and two 3D printed bronze sculptures, one based on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and the other on Judith Leyster’s Black Tulip. Each piece uses cutting edge technology to bring 2D artworks to life while retaining the brush strokes, shadows and fine details of the originals.




The re-working of Giorgione’s piece, titled Transforming Nude, looks exactly like the original from afar, but is in fact a two-and-a-half hour animation sequence in which clouds move across the sky, trees rustle in the breeze and the scene changes from dawn to dusk (above).

To make the piece, MPC filmed a series of hour-long takes of model Ivory Flame and digitally distorted her body to closely match the original subject. The surrounding environment then had to be re-created as a digital model and textured by projecting the painting onto it. Shadows were determined by recreating the path across the sun’s sky, and MPC’s fur and feather software was used to make the foliage move.




The first artwork created for the series – a CG replica of Ambrosius Boschaert’s The Elder’s Vase with Flowers in a Window titled Transforming Still Life – simulates 24 hours in the life of a vase of flowers. A three-hour loop, it was the longest animation piece MPC had ever worked on and to create it, the team had to study thousands of hours of nature footage before animating butterflies and ladybirds, dewdrops at dawn and morning mist.

Rob and Nick Carter, Transforming Still Life (2012), After Ambrosius Bosschaert The Elder’s Vase with Flowers in a Window (1618), in collaboration with MPC. Framed and Apple iMac, Edition of 12 with 5 Artist Proofs

MPC also had to simulate the natural movement and behaviour of insects and maggots. Transforming Diptych, a digital re-imagining of Justus Juncker’s 1765 paintings of an apple and a pear, features flies, dragonflies and ladybirds, rendered in the same style as the painting. The piece uses a huge database of flight animation sequences so insects take a different flight path each time they appear in either piece.

Rob and Nick Carter, Transforming Diptych (2013), After Justus Juncker’s (1765), in collaboration with MPC, 2 works conjoined by random events, framed iPads, Edition of 12, 5 AP

For Transforming Vanitas, based on Ambrosius Bosschaert the Younger’s Dead Frog With Flies, MPC created a frog in various stages of decay, simulating vanishing skin and collapsing bone. The flies and maggots were given “intelligence attributes” meaning that on screen, they will behave as they would in real life, avoiding each other and heading for the most decomposed areas of the body.

Rob and Nick Carter, Transforming Vanitas Painting (2012-2013), After Ambrosius Bosschaert The Younger’s Dead Frog with Flies (c.1630), in collaboration with MPC, 21.5 inch screen, Apple iMac, frame, Edition of 12 with 5 Artist Proofs

All six works will be on display at the Fine Art Society in London from October 4 until November 2. Apps on accompanying iPads will explain how each piece was made, and a book on the making of the exhibition will also be on sale. Part catalogue, part retrospective, it includes a look at work from throughout Rob and Nick’s 15-year partnership, as well as essays on Transforming by art critic Alastair Sooke and a few words from Blake, who owns an edition of Transforming Still Life.




It’s a fascinating project and one that has taken more than three years to complete. Using MPC’s most advanced technology, Rob and Nick have taken the simple idea of ‘bringing a painting to life’ and created a show that could transform the way artists and VFX teams work together.

Instead of downplaying MPC’s involvement in the project, Rob and Nick have been keen to explain the digital trickery and techniques behind each Transforming piece. Rather than ruining the magic, Carter believes this will only add to the experience. “I think that knowing what’s gone into each piece somehow makes it more engaging,” he told CR.

See Transforming at the Fine Art Society Contemporary, 148 New Bond Street, London W1S 2JT. To see more of Rob and Nick Carter’s work, click here.

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