The Basics

There is a Clock at the Heart of the Universe’ is an exercise in restrained rotation. At its simplest, a line is extended and rotated around a point, varying graphical effects added along its length, for a fixed number of frames. The angle at which the line rotates is increased slightly over time, though the underlying rotation value ensures it completes at least one full rotation. Colours, stroke weight and translucency are affected by time and distance, producing radial effects like the spokes of a wheel.

Render Modes

Ordinarily, the artist has the luxury of picking and choosing: I alter variables, re-render, select and reject aspects of the code to shape the piece to my vision. Releasing a generative piece based on a hash-value is a different prospect: the artist must provide parameters within which the piece can fluctuate, generate and come to life. Too narrow a range, and the piece is stifled and lacks variety; too wide a range, and we risk producing edge-case pieces that have no structure, render as featureless canvases or simply lack any interest.

There are seven render modes in There is a Clock at the Heart of the Universe, with varied levels of rarity. Two of the modes feature thin, translucent lines, and thus produce lighter pieces: to compensate for this, when this render mode is activated the required number of frames is also increased. Other renders produce darker outputs, with solid-outlines and, in once case, a coloured fill; these are also tweaked to produce viable output. Custom parameters for different render modes, carefully adjusted, help the piece to realise its potential for variance and interest.

Large-scale Details

The render modes work on a smaller scale, adding tiny detail to a 2048x2048 canvas. On top of this, larger detail is added in the form of circles, often equally-spaced, and relatively bold additions to the canvas. You may spot light or dark flashes as these are added to the canvas during the rendering process.

Similarly, a layer of noise, usually comprising circles but occasionally rectangles, is slowly formed as the piece progresses. This is a separate layer to the main render, so it always remains as an overlaid detail. It's subtle, but necessary for texture and variety.

Lastly, a line is chosen that bisects—not necessarily equally—the canvas, rendering one side slightly lighter than the other. It's subtle, but has the potential to provide serendipitious detailing, particularly if it happens to bisect the central focus of the canvas.

The Experience

Watching a piece render is not necessarily an unpleasant experience, but the early parts of the render are harsh and sudden. Subtletly comes later, as the piece builds. As a compromise between totally hiding the render process and focusing on the later aspects, I fade the piece into view as the render proceeds. I have a soft spot for unusual horror-related quotes, so a render progress bar and a little pretention have found their way into the piece.

Additionally, a detailed description of the render process and parameters is shown as the piece loads. This can be hidden with 'i', and if the viewer has not interacted with the piece by the time rendering is completed, the information is removed to reveal the full piece.


There is a Clock at the Heart of the Universe is available here.


A limited edition montage of Twelve Clocks from the Heart of the Universe is available on Versum. There are, of course, twelve editions priced at 2tz.

Source Code

Source code is available on github.