Our summer production podcast: Deluxe edition
In Episode Three of the Sonarpilot podcast, published this week, Label Manager, Jonny Miller gets under the skin of The Mirage Project with Michael ‘Sonarpilot’ Moppert and Roger Mader, the creator of the amazing fractals used in the Mirage project videos.
The three discuss what's going on behind the scenes at The Mirage Project, reflect on the production process and share some news on what’s coming next.
You can hear the full thing HERE, and below is the slightly abridged, super-deluxe written version of the podcast with added video content...
Guys, before we look to the future, I'd like to take a quick look back. What are the main things that you took away from season one of The Mirage Project…?
For me, there were three aspects which really stood out:
The first thing was the feedback that we got from our audience. We have been producing electronic music for the last 10 years. And we worked with pretty good names, artists who are known in this space. Typically, when we release an EP or an album, this is around in the news for a few weeks. Then it disappears.
With the Mirage Project, it was completely different. We released the first Mirage video in March of 2020, the first season ended in October of last year– and still today, we receive feedback from people who have seen the videos and truly connected with them. We have new subscriptions to our newsletter on a daily basis so, it's a completely different kind of engagement that we’ve experienced with the audience out there. The videos alongside the soundtracks gave the overall project a lot more depth and weight.
The second thing is how it was a more a creative all-round process. You know, I grew up musically in the 1970s and early 80s, way before CDs or any online distribution of music. Back then, we had these beautiful albums, sometimes you could open them up or there were these concept albums, maybe even double albums with additional artwork. You saved your money for those things, brought them home, sometimes they were still sealed. You opened them and put them on your record player and while you listened to it for the first time you read the liner notes and marveled at the album’s look. Some albums made a lasting impression and stayed with you for a long time. It was just a totally different experience.
Today, I'm streaming stuff, and I don't even remember If I have already listened to it and it just comes and goes. So, for me, the Mirage Project is a little bit like going back to those special concept albums - I really love that!
The third thing is a bit weird... I have stared at those fractal fractals for literally hundreds of hours while we were creating the Mirages and at the end of that process, still today, I catch myself looking at some clouds, or at a mountain ridge or cityscape and I see fractal shapes! There is this subtle overlap of the “real” and the fractal world that I find fascinating.
I look at the videos and wonder, is there a place, anywhere, maybe in some faraway galaxy, that looks a bit like one of our Mirages?
So how about you, Roger? You went through a huge learning curve… I know that at the beginning of the journey, this technology was something completely new that you had to learn from scratch. In the end, you’d clearly mastered it and had created these wonderful animations. What else did you take away from the first season?
For me, the most interesting aspect was to see what happened to the animations once I had created them and handed them over to Michael, as I’m very familiar with the look of these animations. The total rendering time for this first season was well over 30'000 hours, so I know them really well. And then I see the final project, and I can hardly recognize them!
The final Mirage Michael creates is something completely new and that's a totally new approach for me. Usually, I create a video or an animation and that's the end result but here, there is a whole process that starts after I am done and there is someone else who is heavily working with the material, making massive changes.
At the beginning that was not easy, because I try hard to achieve a certain look, then everything is cut up and re-combined to create something new. That was a really new experience, and I learned a lot from that.
The Mirage Project: Season 2
So let's talk about Season 2 of the Mirage Project. In the beginning, there were no real plans to do a second series of Mirages, so what brought us to to this decision?
You are right, in the beginning, we thought we just release those six Mirages and kinda’ see what happens. The whole experience was a huge learning curve for us all, something exciting and fresh and it opened up new creative spaces. It was fascinating to explore these worlds, create the visual elements and write soundtracks.
In that process, we developed a certain proficiency and at the end, we felt that there is so much more to explore, more amazing worlds, both visually and musically. It would have been challenging to go back and just write another regular electronic track and release it back in the conventional way. It felt way more exciting to keep exploring those new creative avenues.
I totally agree, I am really curious to dive deeper into these worlds too and in addition, I think it is very powerful that we are such a small team and can create something as rich as these Mirages.
If you take a look at the end credits of big-screen movie these days, you see massive teams of people who were needed to create all animations, effects, and the soundtrack. This approach would never be possible for us. But with these fractal words, we can just between us, create something that has an amazing level of detail and precision.
We start with half a page of a mathematical formula, and we let it ‘run’ -We never really know what's going to come out. It's a completely different approach compared to the normal animation process and that's part of the magic. We are on this journey into these worlds, and we never really know where it will take us.
So will that be the same process for season 2, this kind of exploration? Or will there be any changes in the creative process for you?
The basic approach will be the same, but we want to expand the visual and sonic universe of the Mirages. Musically, I would like to explore more avenues, use a broader spectrum of colours, so to speak. That could range from more classical instrumentation with strings and woodwinds, to maybe a more ambient track, something more abstract.
And when it comes to the editing process, I would like to how far can we take the visuals. Now that we have a certain understanding of the technology and how we deal with these worlds, we can build on it and stretch the limits.
For me also, there are two big differences compared to our first season. Both of them are a bit technical but open up a whole new spectrum of creative options.
The first new element is the way I will animate the fractals. In season one, the fractals were mostly immovable objects and I moved a virtual camera around in the space. In this season I have found a way how I can move the camera and at the same time, change the parameters of the fractal. This makes it come alive! It starts to move, while we are moving around it! It makes the whole procedure more challenging but these animations just look stunning!
The other element is that I will be working with is green screen. Let me explain, in season one we created animations that filled the whole screen. It was very difficult to isolate individual elements, combine them, or chose a different background.
But with green screen technology, the fractals are often individual shapes that can move in front of, well, a green screen.
You might have seen that in a ‘making of’, let's say, a Sci-Fi movie - the actors move in an empty studio in front of a green screen, and all the background is added later, in post-production.
We do the same with our fractals and that opens up a whole new range of crazy, visual things that we can do with these objects.
Together with the animation technology I mentioned earlier I can assure you that we will see quite some crazy stuff in Season 2!
Sounds great.. when do you think we'll be ready to release the first Mirages from Season 2?
Well, I would say that we are about in the middle of the production process right now. We started late last fall when we began to do some research to find out if there's enough material for a second season, that would be really interesting. We looked at hundreds and hundreds of fractal formulas and identified a whole bunch that look promising. Then, we started to test them.
You never know if a fractal formula will really work when you start to animate it. It might fall apart. It might take ages to produce one single frame. Remember, we need 25 frames per second of video and if one single frame takes two days of rendering time we just can't work with that formula.
Ultimately, we zoomed in on about 50 different fractals. I do four animations of each, usually about 30 seconds long. So far I have finished about 120 animations in the can and have roughly 70 ahead of me to complete.
Roger has given me what he's created so far and I have started to create some new Mirages, combining the fractals to new worlds and in parallel, I create the soundtracks for the Mirages. I am in the middle of that process too and I guess it will take another few months to have a good selection together to get started with any release. That in itself takes some additional work, we are looking at the end of 2021, early 2022 for the beginning of Season 2.
Well, working in a small team has some great creative advantages. But it also means that things can take their time.
The New Remix Project
In our last newsletter, we mentioned that we were working on “The Mirage Remixed”, a series of six remixes of the soundtracks of Season 1.
Yes, we’re almost there! Off the back of season one, we asked three of our favourite artists to come in, take the season one soundtracks and rework them, no brief, no limits, apart from doing something new and interesting with them. We specifically chose producers that we know have a really interesting streak to them, in what they do in music.
We have Jazzuelle from South Africa, Brendon Moeller from New York is returning to the label and remix for us again, and lastly, we have Martin Iverson, aka Atjazz from the UK.
In some ways, they are similar, in terms of their, their breadth of productions, the range they have and that they are certainly not your run of the mill dance music producers - they all have a unique streak to them, they are all interested and driven by getting involved with interesting projects.
Each of the three remix artists has taken two mirages from season one to rework, Jazzuelle sprinkled his magic onto CodeX and Fossil, and what was great is that he’s really into science, the world around him, and art so you know, it was his opportunity to work with some material had a much wider depth to it, which he thrives on.
The same with Martin Iverson aka Atjazz, a producer who's well versed in making music for films and computer games, it just added an extra dimension to his creativity working with elements of City in the Sky and The Last Machine.
Brendon Moeller is a scientist when it comes to electronic dub infused music and his sound we simply love – he always manages to surprise us though, he feels very much part of the team. His remixes include an amazing ambient rework of Cathedral from season one.
And when will we release those tracks?
Actually, we just received the last mix this week so we have all six remixes in the can now…They’ll be coming out in the months leading up to Christmas 2021, starting in early fall, just a few weeks from now. It’s a great project that leads up to what we’re doing with season two. We’re also going to publish some interviews and podcast episodes alongside the releases, with the remix artists in conversation, our the audience can really get to know them and what makes them tick.
NFTs: Crypto Fractals
In addition to our works on Season 2 and the remix project, we are also exploring another new creative aspect that I'd like to mention.
As we have discussed, it lies in the nature of our production process that Roger creates these beautiful fractal animations and I take them and use them as the raw material for the Mirages. But some animations don't make it into a final video, or they are heavily edited, redacted, and end up looking really different. The original animations are really very beautiful and we have literally hundreds of little fractal animations that look amazing– but they are never presented to a larger audience. Now we think we see an opportunity to publish those animations in a complimentary way, as NFTs. I let Roger explain this in more detail.
I'm sure pretty much everybody who has not spent the last two years on the rock will have heard about NFTs, or Non Fungible Tokens. There is a huge hype around this technology. You might have heard about that one NFT by digital artist, Beeple, that sold at Christies this spring for 69 Million Dollars…
If we look at the technology and forget the hype for a moment, it is a really neat way to give digital art more of a unique identity. If you have traditional artwork, there is just this one piece. If you take a photo of the Mona Lisa your photo is of course easily distinguishable from the original in the Louvre. A purely digital piece of work however can be copied down to the last pixel and there is no way to distinguish it from the original.
NFTs change that. It gives a digital piece of work a unique identity. I don't want to go into the details, but basically, it links the digital work of art to a blockchain. This turns it into a unique piece.
But isn't this just a lot of hype that will go away fairly quickly?
You’re certainly right... At the moment NFTs are getting a lot of media attention, often for the wrong reasons. But blockchain technology is a very elegant innovation that will not go away. It is more the question of what might be the best way to make use of it.
We are interested in new technologies and believe there is a fit between what we do and blockchain technology. Not so much for commercial reasons, more as an extension of the creative opportunities. With this we might be able to publish things in a meaningful way, maybe as gifts for our subscribers, maybe as collector's items.
We want to do this in a playful way that supports and complements the Mirage Project. Right now we are exploring different ways how we could do that. We are not in a hurry, it's probably a good thing to wait a bit for all this initial hype to die down. But it's another element that’s keeping us busy.
Yeah, so bottom line is that there's a lot going on! We have the videos for season two that are in the making. We have the remixes. And we have the NFT concept Michael just mentioned. We will have a lot of things for our fans and new audiences out there and are really excited to share all this with you!
Yep, and as always: We are very thankful for everyone’s support and feedback. Thanks to all for the comments and for spreading the word about the Mirage Project, we really do appreciate it!
Mirage Remixed Pt1: Jazzuelle Mixes – Sept 17th on Sonarpilot Audio
Read more about the Mirage Project team HERE
Fractal art and the production of the mirages HERE
Follow Sonarpilot and The Mirage Project on social media
Subscribe to the Sonarpilot Podcast on Spotify HERE
Stream The Mirage Project soundtracks on Spotify HERE