Interview with LORIN ROSER: Digital Media, Architecture, Animation

Published on June 16th, 2015 by Paul Messaris. Filed under Animation, Digital Media

Lorin Roser is a distinguished architect based in New York City. He is also a remarkably versatile artist who is equally fluent in visual media and in music. I interviewed him on the occasion of his participation in the New Museum’s IDEAS CITY Festival, which featured Roser’s recent work in collaboration with painter Nina Kuo. As Roser points out in the interview, there is a direct connection between his art and his experiences as an architect. Roser belongs to the cohort of architects whose working methods were transformed by the advent of digital media. By adopting computers in the process of architectural design, architects gained tremendous new powers in the representation of space. The transition from a two-dimensional architectural plan to a photorealistic representation of a three-dimensional structure could now be accomplished by a machine instead of human labor. Moreover, that machine could shift the representation’s point-of-view (from front to side to overhead to anything in-between) automatically, and it could produce a whole series of shifting points-of-view as well. In other words, computers made it much easier for architects to visualize the experience of moving in and around a 3D space.

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At the same time that this development was occurring in architecture, a very similar process was taking place in animated movies. In the late 1990s, when computer-generated images replaced hand-made animation in big-budget Hollywood cinema, the most striking thing about digital animation was not greater realism in its characters’ shapes (which remained, in many cases, quite cartoonish) nor greater realism in its characters’ movements (which hadn’t yet benefited from the full development of motion-capture technology) but, rather, greater realism in the representation of the 3D spaces occupied by those characters. This affinity between digital design in architecture and digital animation in movies has been an important factor in Lorin Roser’s work as an artist. Using digital tools originally designed for architectural visualization, Roser has been creating animated videos about the structure of urban spaces. Taking as their starting point the urban forms envisioned by the immensely influential architect Le Corbusier, Roser’s animations use random manipulations to explore a world of hitherto unseen shapes and structural possibilities. In my discussion with Roser, I started out by asking him for a capsule description of his current work.

PAUL MESSARIS: Could you give us a brief overview of CorbuRuption, i.e., the project that is going to be featured at the New Museum’s IDEAS CITY Festival?

LORIN ROSER:  The animation shows the hidden structure of the Invisible City. The forms of the architect, Le Corbusier, are deployed using physical simulation algorithms. The resulting eruption generates possibilities unforeseen by Urban Renewal.

MESSARIS: What kinds of digital tools have you used for this project? And, as a follow-up question, could you comment on how digital media have influenced your work as an artist, not just in this project but over your career as a whole?

ROSER:  The structures were modeled in the computer using Autodesk software and rendered in VRay. I began using CGI to enable architectural visualization. I began doing 3d when Tom Hudson was developing consumer software at the same time he did the T-1000 mirror man for Terminator 2  [1991]. Visualization is a great tool for architecture because building bricks and mortar is so expensive and computer animation mimics the unfolding of space as you walk through a building. Now I am obsessed with using math to create music and form. The computer excels at this type of exploration.

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MESSARIS: In your statement of purpose, you imply that you hope your current project will contribute to a new understanding of public space on the part of your audience. At the risk of violating the boundaries between audio-visual meaning and verbal messages, would you care to spell out this aspect of your goals in a little more detail?

ROSER: Corbusian ideals were corrupted by Urban Renewal into stark (not Tony Stark) housing projects, which sometimes needed to be demolished (e. g., Pruitt-Igoe). By using stochastic amalgamation I hope to show the formal beauty that might be possible using these same historical forms. In Richard Bender’s A Crack in the Rearview Mirror, he makes an argument for utilizing the computer to increase the diversity of design versus homogenizing fabrication. Three hundred years ago a matched pair of objects was a desirable thing. Now we long for bespoke items tailored to our disappearing identities.


MESSARIS: Your work appears to draw on a variety of cultural traditions. For example, one of your earlier projects with Nina Kuo featured animation based on painting that was described as “Asian-inspired.”  We live in an age of increasingly hybrid cultures, and, in my field, there is much discussion of the fact that audiences around the world are increasingly attracted by cultural hybridity in audiovisual media – for example, the hybrid styles of Bollywood dance scenes or of Korean music videos. Would you care to comment on this phenomenon as it pertains to your own work or to work that has influenced your own? What is your understanding of the growing international appeal of hybridity in art and culture?

ROSER: Globalization and the Internet meld cultures in a creative way. As the recent exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum on Chinoiserie in design showed, this is not a new phenomenon, but technology has increased the pace of these developments to a dizzying degree.

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Paul Messaris teaches visual communication and digital media at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania.

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