American artist Ian Cheng’s edgy animations complement the raw sound for which the Liars are known. As the Liars reflected, “For the Brats video, it was exciting for us to work with Ian, a visual artist who considers himself less of a video director, though is eager to explore the role. He seemed brave and enthusiastic in his choices, animating the human form in a unique, drunken pulse of an amoeba. His newness to the world of video allows his CGI to capture and express a less polished, more unique way of highlighting imperfection, something we try to highlight within our songwriting.” Neither Liars nor Cheng hesitate to highlight imperfection, resulting in a striking collaboration.
Dazed Digital: So tell us how the collaboration with Liars for the Brats video came about.
Ian Cheng: Liars had seen my previous work ‘This Papaya Tastes Perfect‘ through a friend Patrick Daughters and they asked me to propose something. I’ve been a fan of Liars for a long time. I’ve sometimes thought of their music as a format for imprinting the landscape they exist in, both geographically and psychologically. They’re like futuristic cavemen making stone rubbings of the scorched land and the folds in their brain.
I wanted to bring this elemental recording spirit to the Brats video. I’m originally from LA, and I’m familiar with what grows there – movies, porn, visual effects, cartoonish people, cartoonish pets, cartoons, jet engines. The last few Liars videos mimed the slick cinematic methods native to LA, so for the Brats video it seemed appropriate to imprint the landscape using its other recording methods – motion capture and animation. Julian, Aaron, Angus were really generous to give me total creative freedom.
DD: What interests you in the motion capture process?
Ian Cheng: Motion capture is a great imperfect interface between analogue reality and the virtual. It records the physical movements of a performer as digital information, but it does it in a dumb rote way that produces translation errors and miscalculations caused by the performer wearing the motion capture suit ungracefully. I found that to do motion capture the ‘right way’, you actually have to be quite a skilled and rehearsed performer to smoothly negotiate all the technical bondage gear attached to your body.
And even still in the VFX industry, there’s a whole invisible labour division of digital janitors who clean up this raw data to make the recorded movements look even more ideal. I’ve been working with the choreographer Madeline Hollander, who very precisely conditions the professional performers to become less talented – to still do amazing things of course, but to do them as homo sapiens and not smooth cartoons. I’m not really into glitches for the sake of it, but what I like about dumb raw motion capture is that it feels really physical, it feels accurate in spirit to the unprofessional movements of the human body. It acknowledges the inherent friction in displacing matter into information.
DD: Why did you decide to live in New York City over your hometown, Los Angeles?
Ian Cheng: I came to New York in 2007 for grad school at Columbia and just checked email for two years. Some wise someone said LA is the site of production, NYC is the site of reception. Maybe it’s true? I’m receiving lots more email now.
DD: What’s coming up next?
Ian Cheng: A few things. I’m slowly learning how to make iPhone apps– its a perfect horrible little medium to work in. I’m working on a feature-length 3D animated film in collaboration with the artist Christian de Vietri. It will document the ‘sculpting’ of copyright of CGI celebrities from iconic protagonists into a heterogenous deformed digital mess. I’m also co-authoring a romance/self-help novel with the artist and girlfriend Rachel Rose. It’s called ACTIVE SOCIAL PERSONAL WORK LIFE and begins with a gangbang. But really what’s next is basically trying to get better at living.