I’ve been further experimenting with neural style transfer techniques – and have always wanted do something with Buddhist art. I’ve always been uninspired and disappointed by modern Buddhist art, I guess though these are mere worldly expressions that don’t really aid one’s quest on the path. However, I feel obliged to try my hand. The ‘art’ in neural style transfer is finding the right source imagery to best suit / express want you want. In these examples – I used a flame fractal – full of repeating geometry, sweeping curves, and lots of recursion. When applied to some Buddhist statues and iconography – it gives it a certain sophisticated, scientific, mathematical feel – yet hand made with love and care. Buddhism is a science of the heart and mind.

Now, having been pleased with these results – I turned my mind to something quite random. I like subverting things, particularly imagery. I thought what would pornographic imagery look like through these filtered changes. So I applied the style transfer using the same flame fractal – and the result is kind of horrifying and creepy. And then I realised that this is very much connected to the Buddhist path – where it is a common meditation practice to contemplate the foulness and disgust of the human body in order to release one from desire and lust – more of a practice among dedicated monks than of lay people, understandably.
Anyway – it got me thinking about the neural theme throughout – the process is about understanding human perception, and changing it – very apt…

God, enlightenment, heaven, life, death, rebirth, mind, the universe. 

It’s not that I have a particular fascination with these themes, it’s just that they seem to creep into and shape everything I do unless someone tells me to do otherwise.

However, for me, religious and spiritual art need not always be an intense, mysterious, cosmic affair, as with most of my films.  Here are a  couple of projects that had different motivations.

 

Karmacino

This was the name of a website me and friend setup a while ago.  It was sort of a Digg.com for Buddhists, were people could post Buddhist related articles, news and stories from around the world, discussing and voting on them. 

We dreamt up the name Karmacino – a fusion of Karma and Cappuccino, which was the kind of the relaxed, enlightened atmosphere we wanted to create.  So we needed a logo, some branding and design work.  I came up with this idea of using a Bodhi leaf (classic Buddhist symbol) and a cappuccino/latte, created in 3ds Max.

I also wanted to create some wallpaper art based on this logo, using a repeating pattern technique I have refined over the years using After Effects.  I’ll write more on this technique in the future, and how my new direction using Processing will allow me to develop it much further.

The website is no more, it was just too much hassle trying to keep it up and running!

All that arises must pass away 🙂

 

Latte-mation

As a spin-off idea from the original Karmacino logo, I had a bit of fun with some animated latte art, this was just a test, done in 3ds Max.  The latte art itself was animated separately as a texture in After Effects, I then brought everything across as a separate colour/bump/displacement map into 3d.  Was a nice creative challenge to get the right look of frothy milk and coffee mixing together to create forms, everything from mandalas, Buddha statues and the Bodhi leaf itself.


A short animated guide to Buddhist breath meditation, using the metaphor of an opening lotus.  The narration was adapted from a talk given by Ajahn Brahm, a popular Buddhist teacher, author and abbot of Serpentine monastery, Perth.

The visuals are taken from ‘Lotus’, a film I had made previously.  A few years later I was listening to one of Ajahn Brahm’s mp3 talks (available from Buddhist Society of Western Australia www.bswa.org), in which he used the classic Tibetan symbol of spiritual awakening – the lotus, to explain the Buddhist practice of meditation.  I felt inspired to rework my Lotus film, and edit together the talk with some of my music, with a view to create a meditation ‘promo’ video.  There are many forms of meditation pushed around these days, and most of it is new age, pseudo-buddhist tosh.

The form Buddhism I follow is Theravadin, which is the oldest, and maintains the Buddha’s original teachings as authentically as possible.  In these teachings the Buddha teaches Anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing) – this is the same meditation method he used to gain enlightenment, and is same method used by millions of Buddhists today.

Finding a good teacher is important when it comes to the real practice of Buddhist meditation, and if you’re interested, I strongly recommend you visit the bswa website and listen to some of Ajahn Brahm’s talks freely available as mp3 downloads.

When I had finished making this film, I sent it to AJahn Brahm in Perth, and he has since used it to show his monks, and at public talks and events.  This was so inspiring for me, seeing that digital art and music can in someway, I hope, inspire and promote meditation.  This is definitely one of the highlights of my creative career!

Here’s a shot glossary on some technical terms mentioned in the film. ( from wikipedia)
Jhāna – is a meditative state of profound stillness and concentration in which the mind becomes fully immersed and absorbed in the chosen object of attention. This was the state where the Buddha himself had entered during the period of his own quest for enlightenment.

Nimitta – At the state of access concentration, some meditators may experience vivid mental image (Pāli: nimitta), which is similar to a vivid dream (as vividly as if seen by the eye), but in this case the meditator is fully aware and conscious that they are seeing mental images.

Emptiness – is a characteristic of phenomena arising from the fact (as observed and taught by the Buddha) that the impermanent nature of form means that nothing possesses essential, enduring identity. In the Buddha’s spiritual teaching, insight into the emptiness of phenomena is an aspect of the cultivation of insight that leads to wisdom and inner peace.