Night Fishing with Cormorants Process

"Night Fishing with Cormorants" is a very loose and abstract meditation, inspired in part by the 17th Century Japanese screen painting by Kano Tanyu, "Night Fishing with Cormorants", and by the very stark and beautiful 20th Century novel of Akira Yoshimura, "Shipwrecks". I am not telling a naturalistic story in this piece, but rather I have tried to make a work that will hold in equal reverence the spirit of the bird, the fish, and the fisherman.

Night Fishing with Cormorants by Tano Kanyu.  Six-fold screen, Mid-17th century.


The Kano Tanyu landscape dates from 1650 and is a very delicate and stylized view of a scene from that era.  Akira Yoshimura's novel, "Shipwrecks", written in 1996, is set in a Japanese fishing village in the feudal era, perhaps very similar to the world presented in Kano's landscape.  However, the villagers in Yoshimura's tale are brought to life as individuals with penetrating observation and detail.  They are living in exceptionally harsh conditions and extreme poverty and in these circumstances they make some very desperate and catastrophic moral choices.  

My challenge to myself, since I loved both of these works of art, but for very different reasons....could I make a piece that addressed  two such disparate world views, the zoomed out and the zoomed in, and make it feel whole, and convincing and abstract.  That we see people from a distance is not a problem or attitude specific to feudal Japan.  What do we see and what do we really know about how others live their lives, what are their struggles, what choices are they making.



I wanted something very simple with the feeling of compressed energy that can be found in some classical sumi ink drawings, so I intentionally limited myself in the 3D program (Cinema 4D) to five simple 3D cubes, and created the entire animation with this restricted palette of shapes.  To get the flowing likeness to ink washes, I used a particle effect which pulled the polygons off of one shape and migrated them to another shape, and then followed this was a very large amount of motion blur.  I wanted the blur to become its own shape, and for this to succeed, I had to increase the speed of the particles very dramatically, otherwise the blur wouldn’t be noticeable. Then I slowed everything down again when I arranged and edited it in Modul8.

I choreographed and recorded many small interactions between these basic shapes, always looking for a balance of stillness, space, movement, coming together, exploding into and out of one another.  The clip below shows the separations occurring in the 3D work space.  At this point I had assigned color to each cube in order to keep track of them.  Later in the editing I changed the color to black to resemble ink.  Even though my concept was rather serious, I had lots of fun making this movie.  In the clip below  I've created a chase scene...right, every movie needs a chase scene.


Then I moved these 3D renders into the VJ application, Modul8, where I could explore further associations of time, sequencing, and effects.  I composed the final mix using this real-time VJ software and a midi controller.  Audio was added after the final visual mix was completed.

This recording is a one-off, mixed live and recorded at that time, and impossible to reproduce the same mix again because of the dynamics of the process.  Just like recording a live jazz performance.

When I was first working on this piece in Spring, 2008, I was listening to Jonny Greenwood’s score to the film “There Will Be Blood”, but knew that I didn’t want to use that music as a soundtrack and probably could never have gotten around all the copyright hurdles anyway.  So I set the film aside for a year, knowing that I needed to keep looking for the right music, and did nothing further to it until Spring 2009, when The Headroom Project released his new CD, “Dominatus Illuminato Mea”, and I felt it was a perfect fit to my visuals.  I feel that his beautiful music was an important contributor to the success of the film, and when I saw it playing on the large screen in Hiroshima, I thought, "this is an opera."

The Animation page has a list of screenings and prizes for Night Fishing with Cormorants.