Paper makes for a fine canvas, but you know what’s even better? A building. For the next week or so, at dusk, the sails of the Sydney Opera House will transform from mere architecture into a massive living mural. The exterior of the Opera House will glow and morph from the illustrations of 22 artists, who, under the direction of Matt Pyke, have created what might best be described as a building-sized digital flip book.
Pyke is the founder of Universal Everything, a British animation studio best known for its work on Radiohead’s stunning Polyfauna app. For this project he enlisted a roster of illustrators from around the world and presented them with a creative challenge: using traditional cell animation technique—the same technique used to animate early Disney movies—the artists had to design a 30 second sequence that would make use of the Opera House’s distinctive shape.
To add to the challenge, Pyke introduced a few constraints:
- Each artist had to hand illustrate their animation.
- The artists could only use a limited color palette.
- The animations need to start and end on black (to provide a smooth transition).
- They had to respond to an assigned prompt for motion (i.e. “burst,” “ricochet,” “bounce,” “swarm”).
“We’ve always felt that by giving people limitations they’re more inventive,” Pyke says. “There’s something for them to invent their way out of.”
The resulting 15-minute film shows a wild variety of animations dancing across the building’s facade. Set to a soundtrack by Simon Pyke, you’ll see a gaggle of graceful divers illustrated by Matt Scharenboich fade into Vascolo’s colorfully abstracted interpretation of wind, which then transitions into a playful swarming of shapes animated by Universal Everything. The sequences are separate—even though the artists had to abide by the same rules, you can see their distinct styles. And yet, they all work together to build a beautifully cohesive experience defined by what Pyke refers to as “peaks and troughs” in the animation.
Despite Universal Everything’s focus on CGI, the animations in Living Mural animations aren’t high-tech. Pyke says most of them were done on a simple computer track pad—the 21st century equivalent to a pen and paper—which is probably why the film has the same mesmerizing simplicity of Fantasia. Watching the animations in action, it’s almost as though the Opera House fades away altogether, leaving us with just a series of architectural GIFs to fixate on.
Living Mural will be showing nightly at the Sydney Opera House until June 8.