J-Walt Adamczyk Animates the Planetarium
October 10, 2011
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Animation is conventionally known as a series of prerecorded images that move to give the impression of life. However, one artist’s works are giving a new meaning to the traditional definition of animation.
John Walter Adamczyk, better known by his moniker J-Walt, works with real-time animation, creating animations on the fly with the help of technology and his imagination. His current work is titled “Spontaneous Fantasia,” which he has performed in the campus planetarium since 2007.
Born in Evanston, Ill. in 1955, Adamczyk’s first animations were clay animations that he did while in high school. One of his frustrations at the time was the difficulty of creating a high-quality animation, complete with music.
“Now making animations and videos is super simple, and to me that means ‘ok that’s easy, let’s push it, let’s do more,’” said Adamczyk.
Adamczyk came to California to pursue an education in animation at USC and Cal Arts. The animation industry was in a depression when he first started studying, said Adamczyk.
“It wasn’t much of an industry, and there weren’t many jobs but the people that were into animation were really into it and the people that were doing it did it for the love of it,” Adamczyk said.
After graduating, Adamczyk found that computer animation wasn’t being used as it is today.
“Computer animation was mostly focused on commercials and there was very little in the way of feature films work.”
Before starting his work with real-time animation, Adamczyk experimented with other forms of animation. Some of his works include “Somnambulence,” a nighttime car ride simulation, and “Canon,” a colorful animation synchronized to multiple tones.
Adamczyk was inspired by classic movies from the Golden age of animation and other independent sources, such as the Canadian animator Frédéric Back. Back was known for his animated works involving pastels and won several awards for his animations.
For Adamczyk, fulfilling the vision that previous animators had of breathing life into animated works became his goal – and eventually his medium of art.
“Early on, if you see a lot of the early cartoons and animations about 1940 or so, a big theme of that is just the magic of drawing these characters and making them come to life,” said Adamczyk. “They were pretending but now I’m actually doing that more than anyone before me.”
Adamczyk’s current works are what he calls a “Spontaneous Fantasia,” a universe springing from nothing via animation in real time.
“That’s what I do with my performances, taking you out of the studio and going live with it – a spontaneous fantasia, taking what used to be only a pre-recorded medium and turning into something performable.”
“Spontaneous Fantasia” is different depending on where Adamczyk is located, but the essence is the same -— using computer animation to paint a constantly changing universe before an audience.
The visual elements of each performance are created live and vary in respect to the type of technology Adamczyk is using -— his performances have been seen on standard screens, in 3-D and on surround environments, such as the planetarium at GCC.
Each performance is done live with four interfaces -— a pad, a color mixer, a joystick and a gaming controller.
According to Adamczyk, performing live requires a different approach and mentality than that of prerecorded works.
“You can’t back up and do it from another page, like you can in movies – they’ll do 50 takes if they need to. If you see a live play, what you’re seeing is what’s going on,” said Adamczyk.
However, performing live has its benefits.
“In a live kind of thing, there’s a greater sense of continuity, and you have the challenges of trying to do more stuff without being able to break down instead of something else,” said Adamczyk. “There’s a greater sense of excitement, a greater sense of magic, of something that doesn’t seem possible become possible. The suspension of disbelief is that much greater.”
Each piece that Adamczyk does has a particular theme to it, ranging from something aesthetic such as a new graphics style or something philosophical such as humankind’s place in the universe. His current works, titled “The Omnicentric Universe,” cover the philosophical.
“The idea is to point out that each of us is at the center of the universe, that we’re each at the most important part of the universe,” said Adamczyk. “[I illustrate] that concept by creating the universe and continuing to fly down and get smaller what you’d think of as a random spot of the universe. That’s the point where you see that you can go to one particular part of the universe and find something that’s amazing, astonishing or completely beautiful.”
Music is composed beforehand by Adamczyk before the performance, matching the sounds to what the audience will see.
“I create the pieces of music to go along with the graphics, although sometimes I start to get the graphics idea from the music,” said Adamczyk. “Other times, I go back and forth to match what I want to do graphically. I try to match the style and get a good marriage of the musical and the visual.”
With every performance comes an opportunity to try new things, said Adamczyk.
“With repetition I get more practice so I get to be more bold with the system that I have,” said Adamczyk. “I’ll go back and I’ll change things around and set things up a little bit differently from month to month, so it really evolves.”
According to planetarium manager Jennifer Krestow, Adamczyk has been performing at GCC since 2007.
“J-Walt approached us several years ago with the idea for using the planetarium as a full-dome screen for his animations,” said Krestow. “He usually comes once a month, and he usually does two shows in an evening.”
Currently, Adamczyk is focusing on “Spontaneous Fantasia” as his main performance.
“People are really excited when they see it,” said Adamczyk. “I want to push it and make it something really big. I think it can be, based on the responses that I’ve got.”
Adamczyk hopes that people enjoy his works.
“Mostly I hope that they come away with a sense of wonder and amazement, but more leaning towards a practical understanding of what’s possible,” said Adamczyk. “[I want them to see] that we can create a world that we want and that it’s not about what’s possible, but more of what we can make possible.”
“The Omnicentric Universe,” Adamczyk’s most recent performance, will be at the Glendale Planetarium on Nov. 12 and Dec. 5 at 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $6 for children and $10 for general admission, and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com.