|METRONO.ME interview with Bob WIrtz/NXR 12/22/2011|
Your name and age, company name and birthplace
Bob Wirtz. 31. NXR. Chicago, Illinois.
How long have you been doing computer generated visuals and how long have you been doing it as NXR?
I've been working with computer generated visuals for about the past seven years, and have operated under the NXR name since last October. I learned some initial programs while I was in art school, mainly After Effects and Final Cut Pro. After I graduated, I took some additional classes elsewhere in the 3D program Maya. For a period of time while in Boston I was trying to do projected visuals for different venues, but because I wasn't being practical, it didn't go far. When I moved to New York I had no intention of trying again, but I was approached by Theologian to create visuals for live shows. That was around last October, and that's when I started NXR. I'm now trying to branch into other areas, like the Internet, mobile devices, and interactive installations. Basically any way in which I can apply 3D graphics etc.
How has your art evolved since you first started?
When I was a kid I was drawing constantly. That shifted into creating tapes of sound and electronic experiments when I was in high school. It shifted again with making stop-motion animations with a video camera and working with video feedback. All along I was also working with programs like Illustrator and Photoshop. I've always been interested in computer programming, but only worked with it briefly in the past. It's only been in the past eight months or so that I've really gotten into it. The same goes for electronics. The two are very much the same thing in my mind.
I know you create computer generated videos and projections, do you make any other type of computer art, or any other kind of art or design?
Like I mentioned previously, even though I started with visual projections, I'm also getting into web and mobile areas too. I'm really interested in 3D printing and rapid-prototyping as well. I do have a small sketchbook that I always have with me that I use to write down ideas etc.
Who have you created art/visuals for and what did you create for them?
Currently I've created visuals for experimental electronic artists (to those reading this, I mean that in the most general possible way!). Most of the work I've created has been for Theologian. I've created a number of variations of the project's decagon logo. There's a monthly night at the Acheron in Bushwick, Brooklyn called Discipline with whom I've created longer animations relying more on computer programming. Ariana Paoletti is a DJ who I've created a series of distinct minimal black and white pieces for while she was DJing at another Brooklyn venue. Conrad Burnham is a composer I know who I created a couple abstract, colorful animated music videos for, as well as a corresponding live projection. The duo Teloahqaal had me create a couple of liquid-like animations for them. Factoria, a project that works with audio cassette manipulation and found sound, had me create a black and white, organic animation with their logo, as well as a corresponding video, which I'm currently completing.
What got you into creating computer visuals in the first place?
I've always been into computers and related things like robots etc. I really like a lot of sci-fi stuff, so movies like TRON have had a significant influence on me. The Mind's Eye computer animation series was a huge influence on me as a kid, and it's actually fun to be working on my own projects while listening to the soundtrack to that on my headphones. I was also obsessed with video games when I was younger, and although I don't play any games anymore at all, ideas like having immersive worlds etc has been a major deciding factor in what I'm doing now.
Did you study video post production or something related in school or are you self taught?
I learned some of the programs I use while I was in art school. I took some night courses in 3D after graduating. I'm mostly self-taught though.
What is the main inspiration for your work?
I'm not sure really. Increasingly, I'm interested in natural forms and generative stuff like cellular automata. I like psychological effects where the viewer, including myself, can't really discern what's happening.
Any other electronic gear, art or musical inspiration in particular?
Basically, I think computers themselves are inspirational to me. They're machines that can do a myriad of things that's just dependent on you the user.
Could you briefly describe your creation process and/or give a basic explanation how you create the visuals from start to finish, in particular the ones you did for Theologian?
The first and most important step is to listen to whomever I'm working for and what they want. I usually create some still images in Photoshop and will create a composition in After Effects that I'll render and re-render in different layers. I use Processing increasingly to create frames of animation. I'll also create some models in Maya or ZBrush. I just shift back and forth between those programs until I arrive at something the artist I'm working for likes. For Theologian it was an interesting challenge to create different interpretations of the project's decagon logo.
Do you have a home studio setup or do you go elsewhere to create your art?
Yes, I work from home so to speak. I want to put myself in a position where I can make the most experimental work possible. To do that logistically, I need to keep my operational costs down, so having a separate studio space wouldn't be conducive to that.
What kind of gear are you using?
I use Macs primarily, but am presently learning about Raspberry Pi computers as well. I just have two laptops, a Mac Mini, a few hard drives, a couple screens, and a Wacom tablet. I also have at least the foundations of an electronics setup for building my own circuits etc.
Any other favorite gear that you're into? Anything you're looking to acquire?
Admittedly I'm always thinking about getting stuff, but of course these things are ultimately just tools and it's what you do with them that matters. I'm in the process of most likely getting some peripheral devices that would allow for a more immersive kind of VR experience.
What music and art did you grow up listening to and checking out?
My dad owns a used record store, so I spent a lot of time there.
What's the first song or piece of art you remember that sticks in your mind?
M. C. Escher was the first artist that had an impact on me. I must have been like five. Hieronymous Bosch. Stephen Gammell, who illustrated the Scary Stories to tell in the Dark series can't be understated.
Who are your influences in general, in terms of creation and design, as well as musically and artistically?
In terms of design, at least what I consider to be design: anything about or by Buckminster Fuller. I read a book about Lockheed Martin's Skunkworks which had an impact on me. The work of Ernst Haeckel. The notebooks of Da Vinci. H. P. Lovecraft. Julius Evola is a really interesting figure. I don't agree with everything he describes, but I find him challenging, which I think is important. H. R. Giger. John Duncan. The Industrial Culture Handbook by RE/Search was pivotal for me.
Are you a musician at all? Been in any bands? Do you play any instruments? Do you any non-computer art at all?
I do like working with sound, although it is not a focus currently. I'm really interested in synthesizers and sound programs like Pro Tools. I have started creating a program that generates sound much in the same way that I've created visuals. For years when I was growing up I drew, and I have experimented briefly here and there with painting and even some sculpture, but I've found for myself that I can do all those things and more with computers.
Where have you performed or exhibited your work?
The Flat, The Acheron, Silent Barn, St. Vitus, and Public Assembly. All venues are in the Brooklyn area.
Are you involved in any other groups or projects that you'd like to mention?
NXR is the only thing I have going right now in terms of projects.
Where do you live now?
I live in New York City. I moved here a little over a year ago from New England. I grew up in Maine and Massachusetts and went to art school in Boston.
Is NXR your full time day job? Do you do anything else to make a living?
NXR is not a full time occupation yet, but I am working as methodically as possible towards making that a reality. I currently have a job that doesn't demand a lot of my energy, so I can move things forward gradually every day, which is really exciting.
Have any hobbies like stamp collecting or knitting?
I like reading, listening to music, looking up stuff on the Internet, watching the occasional movie, and playing the board game go. Exercising, especially since what I do is sedentary, is important to me.
Do you collect anything or are you a minimalist?
I used to have quite a lot of books, records, CDs, DVDs, etc. However, I've been moving almost every year since I graduated high school, so I deliberately try to keep my possessions to a bare minimum. This is also actually why I've chosen to work with computers, since I can have all my media and my work on hard drives etc. I've only ever really lost some files (my former music collection) once, and that was through negligence and not through some fragile technological glitch.
What's your favorite food of all time?
Chocolate and coffee are my weapons of choice, although I am very mindful of the things I eat!
What was the last book you read?
2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years by Jorgen Randers. I'm currently reading a history of the National Security Agency. I predominantly read non-fiction, but like to cycle through things. So I'll read a history book, then a science one, something on philosophy, and so on. I try to be as well-rounded as possible.
What are you currently listening to that you're really into?
I really like Vatican Shadow a lot. It has a very cinematic feel to it, and I especially like how it's very different from Prurient, the creator's other project (although I like that too).
Do you watch TV or listen to the radio at all? Any favorite shows, movies or broadcasts?
I watch TED talks on the internet on pretty much a daily basis and it's always fascinating and exciting. Other than that, I don't really partake of anything at all. The Prisoner, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett, The Twilight Zone, and Connections are my favorite TV programs, but since those are all older I don't really watch them except for occasionally.
Where do you go to discover new sounds/music/tech?
That's kind of hard to answer! I'd probably have to say that exploring the Internet is where I find most new things.
Been to any good shows lately?
Going to the shows and events that I've created visuals for is a lot of fun for me and it's really exciting to see something I've contributed after spending weeks or the better part of the month working on. Other than that, I actually don't go to shows that much at all honestly.
Describe a day in the life of Bob Wirtz.
I'm a night person, so I prefer getting up in the late morning. I'll have coffee etc as I check the progress of a render if it's going. Then I'll spend the day (and night) working on a project for someone, try to follow up with previous people I've done stuff for, learn new techniques. Check out interesting websites. When I need a break I'll get on the train and walk to a favorite cafe. More coffee. Play go on my iPhone. Come back. Work on projects. Fall asleep around 2 or 3 in the morning.
What does your family think of your creations and do they support you?
My family is entirely supportive of what I'm doing, especially because I'm going about things in the most flexible and practical way that I can. I used to have really rigid views of what I wanted to do in the past, and that basically didn't help me at all.
Do they have any idea what you do or what your project sounds like?
Just recently I showed them the first DVD compilation of work I've done. It was really useful to get their feedback, especially from their outside perspective. As I do design work with a specific objective in mind based on what clients want, any insight into how I could be more effective is always invaluable.
Any advice for people who are starting out on the DIY path creating visuals and computer art?
Don't be intimidated by computer programming or electronics! There's no such division between "art" and "science."
Anything new in the works or collaborations you want to talk about?
I'm working on a kind of 3D labyrinth simulator, which is also serving as kind of framework for being able to create some interactive entertainment programs of sorts.
Parting words or pearls of wisdom you'd like to share with whoever's reading this interview?
I could go on at length about this, but I would say that being persistent, remaining curious, and viewing things as if you're seeing them for the first time without the preconceptions of others are the most important. Life is a risk or nothing at all (from Emily Dickinson) and if you don't at least try then nothing will happen.