"We wanted to create this universe which is independent and self sufficient."

Animation with spirit, an interview with AI: More than Human contributors Sam Twidale and Marija Avramovic.

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What inspired you to create Sunshowers, the live animation featured in the AI: More than Human exhibition?

The starting point of Sunshowers is based on Kurosawa’s film Dreams. It’s such an amazing piece of art. We often take inspiration from films, books, and pop-culture. We loved the idea of his dreams transcending into film in such a unique manner, we saw it as a sort of comment on both what animistic thought and practicing art are. We wanted to create this universe which is independent and self sufficient. We made more than 8000 intelligent characters: flowers, rocks, trees, rain, alongside animals, spirits and one boy, making their own decisions and learning along the way. Depending on their feelings they will behave in a certain way, so in some iterations the boy will have the courage to sneakily watch the secret ceremony of kami - the Fox Marriage.

"Ideas of non-human intelligence are moving away from the antagonistic style of Terminator...to more subtle stories about non-humans."

Why did you want to explore animism and techo-animism in your work?

We are very much into storytelling, myths, dreams, non-human agency. The idea that spirits reside in an object, a robot or a machine is a very present concept in sci-fi films and books, but also not at all new. Animistic ideas go so far back in so many cultures. Using AI in our work made us question the agency, or maybe it was the other way around… There is a mixed feeling of fascination and fear when we speak about new technologies, artificial intelligence, augmented reality... It almost has some religious mysticism around it, trusting and dreading something incomprehensible that could potentially solve our human problems.

"We made more than 8000 intelligent characters."

Are developments in AI influencing film styles such as anime?

These themes have been around in anime and in sci-fi in general for a long time now... we like to think that it goes both ways. That a kid marked by an idea from a comic book or a film will become a scientist, working in AI development. It does feel that, even outside of the anime, ideas of non-human intelligence are moving away from the antagonistic style of Terminator, or HAL 9000’s ambiguous motivations, to more subtle stories about non-humans.

Image from game Sunshowers - a serene pond

How do Japanese Shinto beliefs influence attitudes to the development of AI?

We are definitely not experts here. During the development of Sunshowers we had some great chats with Maholo Uchida who offered insight into the animistic beliefs of Shinto and pointed us in the direction of some super interesting articles such as this one. These belief systems definitely seem to affect the narrative around AI and automation - there is less of the tendency towards fear that we see so much in discussions around these subjects in western culture.

The virtual world of Sunshowers has a real sense of beauty and calm, how did you go about its creation?

In our practice we often mix mediums and we love the ideas of transformations, superimposing, shifting, in both conceptual and practical context. We’re using a narrative from a film that appeared in a dream to make a generative art work using an engine for making video games. We were making objects and characters in 2d and 3d, and our process is often bouncing between drawing and virtual. We like the inherent lightness and playfulness of video game-ish style.

"The sound is generative as well - it is driven by interactions of characters"

How was the music developed?

The music is made by Sam, with friends contributing effects and voice recordings. The sound is generative as well - it is driven by interactions of characters, the falling rain, the sun shining through the rain.

What do you think the piece makes makes people feel?

We hope it makes them curious. The animals look funny and weird and you never know what they are really gonna do. Since it’s generated in real-time, every moment we see is unique.