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Animation

The Beauty: A Poignant Animated Short Film Reimagines Plastic Waste as Ocean Life

March 24, 2021

Grace Ebert

“Simultaneously stunning and filthy” is how director Pascal Schelbli describes his 2019 short film “The Beauty.” A cautionary reimagining of the world’s rampant plastic pollution, the arresting animation reenvisions waste as lively sea life: a bubble-wrap fish puffs up, a serpentine tire glides through the water, and an entire school of discarded footwear swims in an undulating mass.

As it plumbs the vast expanse of the littered ocean, “The Beauty” magnifies the enduring nature of waste and lays bare the insidious effects of microplastics as they enter the food chain and impact the overall health of the ecosystem. In a statement, Schelbli describes the motivation behind the film, which won a Student Academy Award in 2020:

Instead of showing another mournful stomach full of plastic bags, I thought, ‘what if plastic could be integrated into the sea life and nature solves the problem?’ The film should take you on a journey, where all our feelings of guilt will disappear. But in the end, we wake up and realize that we need to change something.

To see more of the Zürich-based director’s poignant animations, check out his Vimeo and Instagram, and watch a recent Last Week Tonight segment that dives further into the crisis and explains how recycling isn’t the best solution.

 

 

 



Photography

A Stunning Shot of Sharks Cruising Under a French Polynesian Sunset Wins the 2021 Underwater Photographer of the Year

February 10, 2021

Grace Ebert

Category Winner. Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021 © Renee Capozzola (U.S.) /UPY2021. All images courtesy of UPY 2021, shared with permission

An exquisite shot of blacktip reef sharks circling underneath a jewel-toned sky in French Polynesia tops this year’s Underwater Photographer of the Year contest (previously). Captured by California-based Renee Capozzola, the winning entry frames a pair of the white-bellied fish and airborne seagulls, forming a serendipitous composition that combines air, land, and sea. “I dedicated several evenings to photographing in the shallows at sunset, and I was finally rewarded with this scene: glass-calm water, a rich sunset, sharks, and even birds,” she said.

This year’s competition received more than 4,500 entries from photographers in 68 countries, including images of wrecked barges, frogs peering out from a muddy pond, and two ornery blenny mid-tussle. Capozzola is the first woman to ever win the U.K.-based contest since its inception in 1965.

We’ve gathered some of our favorites below, but you can see all of the winning shots and watch interviews with the photographers on the contest’s site. (via This Isn’t Happiness)

 

Winner. British Waters Wide Angle, My Backyard © Mark Kirkland (U.K.)/UPY2021

Third Place. Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021. © Danny Lee (Australia)/UPY2021

Runner Up. Behavior. © Jing Gong Zhang (China)/UPY2021

Left: Winner. Portrait. © Ryohei Ito (Japan)/UPY202. Right: Runner Up. Portrait. © Keigo Kawamura (Japan)/UPY2021

Winner. Wrecks © Tobias Friedrich (Germany)/UPY2021

Runner Up. Macro © Steven Kovacs (U.S.)/UPY2021

Third Place. Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021 © Oleg Gaponyuk (Russian Federation)/UPY2021

Runner Up. Wide Angle © Martin Broen (U.S.)/UPY2021

Third Place. British Waters Wide Angle © Kirsty Andrews (U.K.)/UPY2021

 

 



Art

Mysterious Marine Ecosystems Populate Rich Paintings by Robert Steven Connett

January 27, 2021

Grace Ebert

“Devouring Star Jelly.” All images © Robert Steven Connett, shared with permission probes the ocean depths for

Whether rendered as a snapshot of the ocean floor or a few drops of water under a microscope, the densely inhabited paintings by Robert Steven Connett (previously) are brimming with vitality. The Los Angeles-based artist probes the planet’s bodies of water, unveiling a range of flora and fauna that populate the mysterious and sometimes psychedelic ecosystems with exacting detail.

From jellyfish and seaweed to microbes, the organisms memorialize Earth’s dwindling biodiversity. The onslaught of news concerning the climate crisis informs how Connett understands the urgency of his works—they evoke Ernst Haeckel’s illustrations but diverge from the German biologist’s drawings in color palette and foreboding elements—which serve as both earnest studies of aquatic creatures and  “a tribute to life as it was before the great extinctions began.”

Even so, Connett shares that he focuses on the immense beauty and his curiosity about the natural world.  “I don’t want to sully the pictures I paint with death and ugliness,” he says. “I’m afraid the news of the real world will supply plenty of that.” He explains further:

In the shadow of a withering planet, I create worlds that are lush and thriving. I hope my work can encourage and uplift those who are disheartened by the climate crisis. However, creating a memory of a time when our world was stable is not enough. We all must do everything we can to lessen the causes of the crisis.

Original works, prints, and other products featuring Connett’s meticulous environments are available in his shop, and you can follow his latest projects on Instagram.

 

“Hydroza”

“Flower Mimic”

“Sea Fauna”

“Space Plankton”

“Space Plankton 2”

 

 

 



Food Science

Dry Out: A Timelapse Chronicles Dozens of Leaves, Fruits, and Organisms As They Shrivel

January 7, 2021

Grace Ebert

Dry Out” plunges into the minute details of the evaporation process through a dramatic series of timelapses. Shot with macro-lenses and microscopes, the grotesque short film by Christian Stangl reveals water droplets, leaves, and succulent fares, like berries and even whole fish, transforming into their gaseous counterparts during the course of days and weeks. Watch more of Stangl’s films that dive into the lengthy processes of the natural world on Vimeo, and check out stills of the process on Flickr.

 

 

 



Design Science

Dive Into the Art of Aquascaping With a Volcanic Aquarium That Fits on a Desk

November 3, 2020

Grace Ebert

Caring for pets has a lengthy list of physical and mental health benefits, and studies show that folks who aren’t quite ready to commit to a rambunctious pup can find similar solace in a marine pal. The aquatic enthusiast behind Foo the Flowerhorn recently released a video series documenting the DIY building process for a home ecosystem, in addition to capturing the organisms’ intrepid natures. Conveying thoughtful methods for balancing inter-species relationships, the tutorial is also an example of aquascaping, or the art of aquarium design (dive into the world of competitive aquascaping here).

Beginning with a 7.6-gallon aquarium, the video chronicles the assembly of a volcano-shaped rock formation, which serves as a filter despite being enveloped by algae, and a custom-built cover to keep the adventurous creatures inside. Every species is introduced to the ecosystem in a specific order to ensure their chances of survival. The plants, snails, Amano shrimp, and tetras are added early on, with the territorial Siamese Fighting Fish following after ten days. “Adding a betta into this mix is risky. He is a chirpy little fellow, and I’m a little worried about the shrimp, especially. He has tried to catch the tetras here and there but soon realized that there is absolutely no chance of him catching one,” the designer said. (via The Kids Should See This)

 

 

 



Illustration

Neural Networks Create a Disturbing Record of Natural History in AI-Generated Illustrations by Sofia Crespo

September 30, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © Sofia Crespo, shared with permission

Sofia Crespo describes her work as the “natural history book that never was.” The Berlin-based artist uses artificial neural networks to generate illustrations that at first glance, resemble Louis Renard’s 18th Century renderings or the exotic specimens of Albertus Seba’s compendium. Upon closer inspection, though, the colorful renderings reveal unsettling combinations: two fish are conjoined with a shared fin, flower petals appear feather-like, and a study of butterflies features insects with missing wings and bizarrely formed bodies.

Titled Artificial Natural History, the ongoing project merges the desire to categorize organisms with “the very renaissance project of humanism,” Crespo says, forming a distorted series of creatures with imagined features that require a new set of biological classifications. “The specimens of the artificial natural history both celebrate and play with the seemingly endless diversity of the natural world, one that we still have very limited comprehension and awareness of,” she writes.

Crespo manufactured a similar project, Neural Zoo, that combines disparate elements of nature into composite organisms. “Our visual cortex recognizes the textures, but the brain is simultaneously aware that those elements don’t belong to any arrangement of reality that it has access to,” she says. More generally, Crespo explains her motivation behind merging artificial neural networks and natural history:

Computer vision and machine learning could offer a bridge between us and a speculative “natures” that can only be accessed through high levels of parallel computation. Starting from the level of our known reality, we could ultimately be digitizing cognitive processes and utilizing them to feed new inputs into the biological world, which feeds back into a cycle. Routines in artificial neural networks become a tool for creation, one that allows for new experiences of the familiar. Can art be reduced to the remapping of data absorbed through sensory processes?

Head to Crespo’s site to explore more of her AI-produced studies, and follow her latest pieces on Instagram.