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Alex Roman on the making of The Third & The Seventh, ‘From Bits To The Lens’ book

We had the pleasure of talking to Alex Roman about the making of his landmark short film, "The Third & The Seventh", and his new book, From Bits To The Lens, which is based on the production of the film.

The Third & The Seventh

The Interview

You started the short by assembling a collection of personal work you’d been making for a number of years.

Yes, it all began with the idea of compiling a number of loose pieces that I had created up to that moment, adding a bit more material and then trying to put everything together in a more or less organized way in a timeline.

How did you come up with the idea of using the photographer and cameras as narrative devices for weaving the story?

I soon realized that there was a lot of material and that I needed a logical thread to put the pieces together. In the beginning it was a collection of “pretty things” with no apparent relationship between them. The camera and photographer are the real guiding threads through the spaces, but there are also others that I see as evolving characters in themselves, such as passage of time, the wind, water, light (and its change through time), etc.

The intention behind the structure is similar to the one from Maurice Ravel’s Bolero: a structure and its main pattern keep repeating, but each time it’s different because new elements keep adding visually, metaphorically and through music.

There’s frequent use of sensory images that help make the short alive. Was this intentional?

It was completely intentional, though without looking for a specific final outcome. It’s the result of an internal experimentation (visual and acoustic) for personal stimulation. But in some way you can sense that if it’s stimulating for you as a director, it should stimulate the audience in the same way. In the end, that is what interested me the most: getting the spectator to experiment the same feelings I went through while creating the piece.

Lighting is a subject that has always fascinated you. What differences do you see between the method you use in your search for light in 3D in comparison with the ones you used previously in oil painting?

Lighting has been and still is one of my obsessions when creating art. I think it’s a key element on many levels: as a tool for composition, narration, in the emotions it provokes, etc. I don’t think they’re techniques or approximations that are completely opposite, but, without a doubt, they’re very different.

I see light in traditional art as a process of induction while in the digital environment it’s approached in a more deductive way. In both fields one has to have a perfect understanding about how light behaves around us, but also how it interacts with materials and shapes, since without these, light is simply not visible. For an optimum representation when using traditional techniques, your brain needs to have an idea of the final result you want to achieve at the moment you start drafting the piece, so that in order to represent it in all its beauty the road usually entails going backwards until one reaches the end.

In photography and 3D it’s usually the other way around. Thanks to great advances in CG algorithms in the last years, and thanks to global illumination in particular, lighting virtual environments has turned into a technique that is almost identical to lighting in reality. We have at our disposal shapes, colors, temperatures and light power measurements that are identical to the real ones. Nowadays, all knowledge related to lighting in photography is applicable to 3D techniques.

Painting and 3D have different approaches, each one with its particular style, with their pros and cons, but summing up I would say that in photography as well as in synthetic images the process is more straightforward, more linear and leaves less space for creative freedom. However, they make it possible to achieve photorealistic results faster.


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  • Midge Sinnaeve

    Can’t wait for the book, looks great!

  • Josh Pabst

    Amazing work – I remember seeing it on Vimeo a number of years ago. Always fun to get a behind the scenes glimpse.