Tableau Vivant: The Living Room is a “living” painting.
It is rendered in real time: sixty frames per second, twenty four hours a day, its lighting and inner life reflect the current time of day at every given moment. Inside a sparsely lit room, a rolling ocean moves agonizingly and hauntingly slow, as the painting’s world slowly darkens with nightfall, mirroring our own world. Made with Blender and OpenFrameworks, this meditative piece utilizes realtime rendering, advanced fluid simulation and video blending to question and play with the passage of time, natural movement against stillness, and eternity itself.
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What happens when a painting is made aware of the passage of time?
Tableau Vivant: The Living Room is a meditative exploration of time, space, and the possibilities afforded by utilizing realtime rendering in traditional art contexts. The conceptual obsession with Tempus in art probably harkens as far back as art itself: throughout the generations, countless artists have attempted to capture time, stretch it indefinitely, condense it into a series of rapid-fleeting moments, or cast it away altogether in pursuit of the infinite now. Indeed, one of the most common categorizations of artistic mediums is the distinction between that which is time based (music, theater, film) and that which is atemporal (sculpture, painting, woodwork). That painting and its kin have always belonged to the timeless side of the chasm is precisely what’s attracted me to this particular experiment, and the question that opens this small essay began haunting me day and night. The advent of realtime rendering, modern Graphics Processing Units and portable, accessible display hardware creates unique possibilities in this realm.
After some deliberation, I decided on a relatively simple modus operandi. I started by creating a simple scene; while its aesthetic is motivated by subjective, nonacademic taste and considerations, two items worth mentioning are the Greek statue – which to me evokes eternity, and the very resistance to (if also acknowledgement of) the passage of time – and water, the flowing of which providing an age-old symbol for time itself. De Chirico’s Return of Ulysses (1968), with its brave sea voyager sailing the ocean in the middle of a cozy living room, was certainly another conceptual inspiration.
Once the scene was modeled, designed and furnished in Blender, I crafted a water simulation using blender’s quite lovely Ocean Modifier. Playing with various simulation speeds yielded dramatically divergent results which inspired strikingly different moods. I’ve then realized, through trial and error, that a slower-than-realtime water flow helps me attain the exact emotional flavor I’m going for. Looping a water simulation proved to be challenging in its own right, and finding the right solution to this problem took a bit of time.
Finally, there was the matter of utilizing lighting (both indoors and “outdoor lighting”, using an HDRi map) to convey the actual passage of time. After more tinkering I decided to generate about 18 different one-minute loops, with varying lighting conditions. I then created a video player in OpenFrameworks (a c++ creative coding library) to seamless blend the various loops based on the time of day. The simulation is frame-perfect, so the resulting 24-hour movie blends seamlessly while conveying the passage of time, mirroring the real world’s.
I hope that the spectator who chances upon The Living Room will take in this living painting, immerse herself in its rolling waves and soft lighting, and find herself enjoyably puzzled by the different time scales: realtime, slow motion, and infinite.
Some moments feel eternal, but this life is short and so incredibly fleeting; let us revel in its beauty while we can.