The Last Days of Fire and Steel uses a stippling, pointillist technique to build up an image over three hundred and sixty frames of animation, pushing approximately half-a-million dots to the canvas in that time. Each point's position, size, opacity and hue is controlled by the algorithm, shaped by the manipulation and constraint of random numbers.
The Last Days of Fire and Steel: An Apocalyptic Narrative
Always open to interpretation, art provides a potential mirror to reality. Is The Last Days of Fire and Steel set in an industrial past, a society on the brink of moving towards mass production? It could be… and yet these are the last days: is this an industrial complex on the edge of civilisation, a warning from the past that we are truly in the last days of, as Mitchell and Webb put it, seeing how much of the good stuff we can keep before we wreck the place?
Perhaps, then, this dark place exists in the not-so-far future, where the waters are polluted with a rainbow snakeskin of chemicals, and the light of distant nuclear impacts illuminates the sky. Seeking craft whirl through eddies of smoke, and ugly black gantries claw at the sky.
Perhaps, again, this piece is none of these: merely a fantasy of a time after an event, some apocalyptic occurence of tremendous magnitude, has left the earth scorched and black. Or maybe it's more positive: a trip along a clifftop at night, enjoying fresh air, and the glitter of the moon on the sea: the pleasures of yakamoz, of διακαμός.
Read and mint the original fiction here on fx(text).
Whilst few people would complain about a fifteen-second wait to see an artwork, I nevertheless feel there's a lot to be said for building up a render over time. Changes in The Last Days of Fire and Steel are subtle and gradual, therefore, and movement within the piece takes place over the three hundred and sixty frames taken to produce it.
Planes leave contrails in the sky; comets—or are they missiles, satellites returning to earth, the detritus of a technology-obsessed future?—plummet toward the centre of the piece; girder-like gantries fade in from the mists, and sometimes flicker with tiny points of light—a million lights that no-one will ever see.
Even when the render if complete, post-processing effects are overlaid for a further two-thousand and forty-eight frames, these subtle animations fading away as time passes to reveal the complete, static piece. Exports taken once the render is complete are free of any adulteration: the visual effects take place solely in the browser.
How It Works
The Last Days of Fire and Steel is rendered over time. Five noise fields are selected, their density and influence on the final piece chosen from carefully-curated ranges. Structures, lighting, sky events and foreground structures are also generated using random values.
The main render—the overwhelming majority of the pointillist dots—can be weighted in numerous directions, lighting the sky to the left, right or perhaps centrally. Clouds are formed from the other four noise fields, which are rendered in smaller, tighter groups.
The bottom half of the picture is dedicated to a body of water, usually in the same main colour as the sky. Dot-size and density are altered towards the bottom of the piece, providing a slight feel of perspective. Additionally, dimming effects are overlaid near to the centre of the piece to subtly enhance the feeling of depth.
The buildings—which include cuboids, spires, girders and domes—are shifted slightly over time to allow their edges to blur. Sometimes they are rotated slightly, sometimes the girders will feature small, pinpoint lights that activate towards the end of the render. Very rarely the landscape will be flat and featureless: all buildings gone. There's also a rare chance of a blurred foreground overlay of twisted girders, crooked fence posts or metal posts.
Comets, missiles, or falling satellites: whatever they are, they descend over the render, shifting slightly under the influence of gravity. Dark streaks may also traverse the sky: a seeking craft, perhaps, or something more sinister. They advance towards a central point. There is a rare chance of a meteor burst or what must be some kind of scramble: up to eight aircraft speeding to a common destination.
Stars, explosions, supernovae or distant moons illuminate the sky, sometimes as an inverted, dense point of light, other times as a halo of frosty moonglow. A rare chance of a full-spectrum rainbow star is there.
In a first for a Mandy Brigwell artwork, I've included a soundtrack for this piece. A moody, ambient layering of analogue synth and percussion can be activated by the viewer, enhancing the experience of the artwork. A double-click to go full screen, and The Last Days of Fire and Steel is ready for use as a projection or wall display.
The render is complete after three hundred and sixty frames, but some render effects continue for a further two thousand or so frames, gently fading away to nothing. This prevents a sudden completion of the work, and is included with display in mind.
Whilst I'm happy for the observer to see bright moonlight and reflected images in still, calming waters, for me there's something slightly-sinister about The Last Days of Fire and Steel. I've always loved moonlight on water, and felt a terrible thrill of fear and awe at the sight of industrial landscapes; girders and lights reaching over the horizon, shadowed by their own illumination. There's a curious mixture of fascination, the vague fear that anything could be going on inside those shadowed domes, and the curiosity as to what it would be like as a Deus Ex level…
Inspiration comes from the strangest places…
Cataract, by the Swiss artist H.R. Giger always held a deep fascination for me. The biomechanical structures at the front of the pool provide inspiration for the water in The Last Days of Fire and Steel.
The Fylingdales radar station was always a cause for slightly-uneasy intrigue on trips across the moors to Whitby. Alarming signs from the Ministry of Defence adorned the fences surrounding these alien, sinister globes. These geometrically-perfect buildings provide inspiration for the structures and domes of The Last Days of Fire and Steel.
Scarborough by Moonlight From The Steps of The Grand Hotel by John Atkinson Grimshaw. I spent many happy years in Scarborough, and it's a source of delight to me that Grimshaw relocated there in later life and took it as a study of many beautiful, night-time works.
Another artist inspired by the night scenes of Scarborough: Walter Linsley Meegan's The South Bay at Night with Full Moon.
Five-hundred and twelve editions of The Last Days of Fire and Steel were created on fxhash. Browse the marketplace to find editions that are available for purchase.
Source code is available on github.
Read or mint the story here on fx(text).