The Beat Goes On

For 3D artist Mike Winkelmann (aka Beeple) every visual has a corresponding beat

By day Mike Winkelmann is a graphic designer who works mostly on projects for the Web. Outside of his day job, though, he is better known as Beeple, the ingenious filmmaker and self-taught 3D artist who offers all of his source files for free through Creative Commons to anyone who would like to use them. You might know him from the Kill your co-workers video:

After earning a degree in computer programming from Purdue University and then realizing that’s not at all what he wanted to do, Winkelmann became Beeple in 2003. He got the name from a stuffed bear-like toy that was sold briefly in the 80s. The creature was cute, but what Winklemann liked was how it made a noise in reaction to light. “I thought it was great that whoever made the toy related sound and light in terms of visuals,” he explains.

Winkelmann’s interest in pairing images with sound is evident in his work, particularly the instrumental video series, which he’s been working on for the past nine years. His latest music video IV:10 (Instrumental Video Ten), was animated using Maxon’s Cinema 4D and, as always, he composed the electronica score himself.

Every action is perfectly timed to the audio in Winkelmann’s latest project: IV:10.

The result is a brightly colored, upbeat world teaming with turquoise blobs and other oddball shapes against a backdrop of blue sky and rainbows. Everything is timed to the beat of the music, including the moment when a brief storm rolls in turning everything dark and bleak. Still, the beat goes on and all ends well. Watch IV:10 down below:

An octopus arm bangs a hammer and becomes one of the many individual instruments that make up IV:10.

When he adds up all the off-work hours he spent working on IV:10, Winkelmann figures it took about a year to complete the instrumental video. He spent close to the same amount of time on IV:9, a short film in which a robotic drummer seemingly churns out a perfectly timed percussive set of sounds on some snare drums as miniature helicopters sputter by. Check out IV:9 down here:

instrumental video nine from beeple on Vimeo.

“I just wanted to make something techy and cool,” says Winkelmann of IV:9 in which a robot makes music on a variety of instruments.

Videos 9 and 10 were the first in the series for which Winkelmann used Cinema 4D. When he started the series in 2003 he used Sony Vegas before moving on to After Effects. Making the leap to C4D gave Winkelmann the opportunity to create 3D visuals to sync with the instrumental sounds that he composes.

Parts of the giant machine featured in IV:9 were modeled in Cinema 4D.

There’s just one simple rule: Whenever something happens in the audio, something has to happen in the video. “Everything is animated,” he says. “Every kick drum, every hi-hat, every snare is animated, which is why it takes so long to create these videos.”

Winkelmann’s process for creating instrumental videos is not as simple as composing a piece of music and then creating animations to correspond to particular beats. Asked to explain, he points to a part in IV:10 where a “cute little cube guy” comes down into the scene. After first spending a couple of months modeling the cube guy and all of the other instruments in the scene, as well as a stray octopus arm with a hammer, Winkelmann took all of those pieces and made unique sound effects for each of them. Next, he used those sound effects to create a whole song.

The camera never moves in IV:10. Instead, it is the world that rotates. Winkelmann brought each instrument into Cinema 4D so he could line up key frames with the wave form in order to sync the music and animation. The trick was making sure that as the world moved the key frames were right in front of the camera. “So, technically, I guess you could say that I started out in Cinema and then made pieces of music and then went back into Cinema to make all those tiny things sync up with the music,” he says.

“The speedy, intuitive interface on C4D’s timeline made it easy to keep all of the instruments and thousands of keyframes organized,” Winkelmann says

Winkelmann has no formal training in music. He creates the compositions for his videos out of necessity because everything is so intertwined it wouldn’t work to have someone else create the audio. He does, however, encourage others to build on his work. All of his 3D animation source files are available for use by filmmakers, electronica artists, VJs and anyone else who would like them. Component files can be downloaded at his website. Beeple VJ clips are also available for free here.

Thousands of individual instruments had to be synced and placed by hand to ensure that there was no overlapping geometry and that everything fit on screen.

IV:10  looks like one long cut, and it is. But Winkelmann had to break it into two Cinema 4D files because the video was huge and there was so much geometry in the scene. “Even with this much geometry Cinema never crashed and I was pushing it to its absolute limits in terms of how much information was in the scene file,” he recalls.

Winkelmann is often asked about why he gives his files away for free. The answer is simple, he says. “I’ve learned a lot from tutorials people post so I feel like this is a way to give back and, anyway, I’m not going to use the files once I’ve rendered them out so it’s cool to see somebody else do something with them.”

The camera remains stationary as all of the instruments rotate around the giant world Winkelmann created.

Winkelmann’s generosity has definitely paid off in terms of good karma and increased public exposure. “I would say only good things have happened from sharing my files,” he says. “Tons and tons of people email me on a regular basis from all around the world thanking me for the files and I get job offers too.” For now, though, the Wisconsin artist plans to stay put in Wisconsin with family and friends.