The History of Jazz, Animated in Shadow Art
What five rooms and bleeding-edge software have to do with the cultural heritage of music.
By Maria Popova
We love, love, love jazz. And we have a soft spot for good animation. So we’re all over Silhouettes of Jazz — a brilliant animated short film from SIGGRAPH Asia 2009, outlining the history of jazz in a virtual shadow art museum.
Shadow art is a unique form of sculptural art that exploits the fact that we can recognize objects from their shadows or silhouettes. Improvisation, a key ingredient of jazz music, is mirrored in the ambiguity of a shadow sculpture: many different 3D shapes can cast the same 2D shadow.
The film focuses on five milestone eras in the evolution of jazz — the early music of field workers, ragtime, New Orleans jazz, swing, and bebop — each represented by a separate room, in which 3D sculptures cast complex shadow images in different directions simultaneously, making each form interpretable as multiple symbolic objects.
The animators used a novel computational method, building 3D shadow volumes through global geometric optimization that allows the artist to later edit the silhouette using 3D modeling tools.
Published December 2, 2009