Real Virtual Things

I have always found it fascinating when reality of real-time imagery collides with the actual one. In an earlier post I discussed an artist called Susy Oliveira who, I would assume inadvertently, mimicked aesthetics of polygonal graphics in some of her sculptures, and how peculiar it is to encounter such aesthetic outside the virtual realm at large. Then there is Aram Bartholl, an artist as well, who exports, very deliberately, visual concepts only previously seen in the digital realm, like video games, into the physical reality in which they produce often an interesting visual conflict. One of his newest concepts, Dust, in particular seems quite impressive, especially if one has played heavily Counter Strike at some point his/her life.

My personal hero, though, in this field is Harrison Krix who is most well known for the Guy-Manuel helmet replica he did some years ago. However, a substantial portion of Krix’s body of work seems to consist of constructing physical props found in video games – everything from scratch. And it goes without saying that he’s ridiculously good at what he does. The attention to detail that goes into Krix’s projects is unrivaled, and it’s really freakish to see familiar digital objects, such as the Portal Gun, brought to life in such a meticulous fashion.

So, it was Krix’s work that got me thinking the exact point in the history of real-time imagery after which making such physical replicas of virtual objects became reasonable.

The most obvious technological requirement must be that the virtual object has to consist of polygons, since polygons were the first genuine solution for simulating 3D space. So, in theory, one could make, and in fact, a gentleman named Niklas Roy has made, a physical artifact based on a mere wireframe model. However, the appearance of such a physical object doesn’t really adhere to the logic of our common physical world, like Krix’s Portal Gun for instance, but of the digital realm, meaning we don’t usually have green wireframe objects lying around. Of course, the prop maker could use some imagination and make the digital wireframe object appear more of an actual object by discarding the original visual principle, but that would defeat the whole purpose of such an endeavor, wouldn’t it?

So, my wonderment lies in the question as follows: When did it become reasonable to put together a credible physical object based on a digital one without resorting too much to artistic license? Obviously there is no a definitive answer to that since it depends a lot on the shape and form of the virtual object itself (among other things), but I would say that generally speaking it may have been the introduction of normal mapping that finally rendered virtual objects sophisticated enough to be replicated in the physical world, along with relatively high polycount and texture resolution. To put it in gaming terms, the line would lie roughly somewhere between Quake 3 and Half-life 2, meaning the art assets in the former were still too abstract to be constructed and sold as real world objects, unlike those of the latter.

This all comes down to something that fascinates me more than anything, which is the indexes that correlate with the evolution of real-time imagery. Harrison Krix’s creations are indeed indexical in the sense that real-time imagery has had to evolve to a certain point to enable such a prop-making endeavor. I’m really having hard time to see Krix making abstract and blurry prop weapons from, say, Quake 2 and be equally passionate about it, but what do I know?