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Coding as Sketching

Zach Lieberman

Interview with

Teacher, artist, designer and co-creator of the creative coding toolkit openFrameworks,11 openFrameworks (2005) is an open source C++ toolkit for creative coding developed by Zach Lieberman, Theodore Watson and Arturo Castro with the help of its community, Zach Lieberman is known for his “digital sketches,” design experiments that he shares frequently on Instagram.22 See Zach Lieberman, “Daily Sketches in 2016,” Medium, 2016, These explorations in animation are often linked to a data flow in real time (sensors, etc.). They portray digital code as a mobile, interactive medium rather than a means of control or profit generation—a game played with machines.

Back Office Most of your experiments are with animation: is movement a specific focus of your research or is it because of your medium?

Zach Lieberman I have always loved motion. Even when I was an art student and studying printmaking, I was always thinking about animation and flip books and how you could take sequences of images and make something move. However, I didn’t go to film school and never knew how to do animation until I started programming. Then I was introduced to Flash. The thing about Flash is that you can write something like: this object position = X + 1 and then suddenly the simple line of text makes something move. For me, the essence of animation is really about bringing something to life. Some algorithms feel almost like living things. My job is to capture them in some way, be it with video or a high-resolution image. I feel almost like a wildlife photographer. I’m trying to find this really nice moment that conveys something about the system. Motion is really important because you can take the same graphical form and you can make it really happy. You can make it contemplative. You can make it subdued. You can make it extreme—just by adding movement.

BO Your deliberate choice not to use keyframes means you relinquish control. Is this something that interests you?

ZL I really like this notion of simulation, where you’re setting up the system, and then you let the system evolve and see what happens. A common example is using particles and having them interact with each other. Then you add springs and forces and it’s like you’re building a sort of weird sculpture. Then, you see what happens: maybe it falls apart or maybe something interesting happens, but you don’t have keyframes and that makes it hard. Sometimes, when I work with clients who say, “ok it has to look like this,” I have to work backwards, say I will do things in reverse. I start with something that looks like what the client wants, and then I let my wild system evolve. Some sketches are hard to control, but the joy of being an artist is sometimes just tweaking, tweaking and tweaking this living thing and seeing what kind of magic happens.