Watching the last couple of videos posted by Beeple (Mike Winkelmann), you’d think the renowned visual artist has some sort of technology phobia, but quite the opposite is true, actually. In fact, Winkelmann has always been fascinated by machines, and he loves creating animations in which machines’ actions are extraordinarily tightly synced with music. 

The video’s voiceover is not science fiction but taken almost entirely from actual news reports. 

His latest project, Zero-Day (above), for which he used Cinema 4D After Effects and Octane, focuses on the potential for cyber weapons to cause physical harm and follows last year’s Transparent Machines, which explores our relationship with privacy and cyberspace. But unlike Transparent Machines, Zero-Day is also considered to be Instrumental Video Eleven, as is it part of his ongoing Instrumental Video series in which machines of one kind or another work together to make music. 

Read on to hear Winkelmann’s take on his latest project. 

Q: First, let me just ask if you still live in Appleton, Wisconsin. You’re so well known now for your Everydays, and your films and your live visuals that have been used by so many artists and DJs like Avicii, Zedd, Skrillex, Tiësto and Flying Lotus, everyone figures you've moved to LA or New York City by now. 

Winkelmann paid special attention to lighting for this project, opting to light scenes from behind to get more of a silhouette effect when possible. 

Winkelmann: No, I still live in Wisconsin. I like it here. But I did quit my web design job and now I’m freelance doing mostly concert visuals, a lot of EDM stuff and award shows. I just spent eight months working full-time on concert visuals for Zedd’s tour, which he’s on now. 

Q: How do you see Zero-Day fitting into the Instrumental Video series, as well as some of your other current work?  

Every visual has a corresponding beat in Winkelmann’s IV:10.

Winkelmann: To me it seems like a very natural progression because you’ve got the instruments that you’re moving through, which is like IV.10. But instead of cartoon characters, the instruments in this video are robots similar to the robots in Instrumental Video Nine. But this also has elements of Transparent Machines in it because there’s an element of social commentary. This is the first time I’ve done that in this series and I think I’d say that the message should be taken with a grain of salt. I’m really being more sensational here, really, because I think cyber security is definitely a concern and something we need to address better, but I’m not at all anti-technology. 

Q: Between the voiceover talking about cyber attacks and the robot-like look of the visuals, I admit I wouldn’t have thought of the machines as instruments. But now that you explain it, that’s very clear. What were your inspirations for this? 

One of the biggest challenges was making things symmetrical. “I learned that if you can’t get the symmetry object to do what you need it to, just scale everything to negative one and flip it to get the mirror image you want,” Winkelmann explains. 

Winkelmann: Well, most of that voiceover is real coverage of something that’s actually happened. But I’m also interested in STUXNET, a new digital weapon. What you’re seeing in the video is a virus going down a tunnel, like it knows the path it needs to take to do what it needs to do. 

Q: How long did this take you?

Winkelmann packed as much detail into the environment as possible so every frame of the video could stand on it’s own as something interesting to look at. 

Winkelmann: It was about an hour or two a day for a little over a year and a half. I had a couple of months where I couldn’t work on it because I had too many freelance projects, but other than that I did something every day. 

Process video

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your process?

The huge columns coming down from the ceiling in the background were created from box models and extruded shapes. The Boolean tool was used to cut out shapes. 

Winkelmann: I started out the same way as I have with the last few Instrumental Videos. I modeled all of the instruments in C4D and then my friend Kyle did the sound design for each one. Kyle wrote the music and then I sequenced out all of the individual instruments by hand so they would sync up with the visuals. It was a ton of work and a lot of back and forth. We had to think about how long the hallways were in each shot and what the tempo had to be to make it down the hall, and we couldn't put too many instruments together because they can’t all fit on the screen at the same time. 

Q: What did you use for references and how did you deal with making all of the details in the tunnels and on the machines?

“Being able to see things in real time using Octane really helped in setting up lighting and experimenting with different looks,” Winkelmann says. 

Winkelmann: There’s a ridiculous amount of detail. I took references of robots and machines that I’ve seen and mixed and matched them and just built things up from there. I used a lot of instances to keep the scene file size down. But even though I made everything from scratch, I didn’t have to make it all for the video because I reused a lot of stuff I created for my Everydays. 

Q: You usually do your own music for your Instrumental Videos. Why did decide to work with your friend Kyle, Standingwave, this time? 

Winkelmann: This is the first time I’ve had someone else do the music for an Instrumental Video but I asked by friend Kyle to do it because I wanted the music to be better than anything I could do. We went back and forth really easily. I modeled and animated all of the instruments in Cinema and then Kyle made a sound for each of them. 

Q: As you always do, you released all of your project files on Creative Commons. Do you really not care that people take your work and do what they want with it?

Winkelmann used footage he found on YouTube about riots and cyber security to create the stream of catastrophic events seen in the video. 

Winkelmann: I really don’t care. There are no restrictions on what people can do with the files. People think that’s really generous, but I don’t see it that way. I don’t have a use for the files once I’m done with a project so if someone else can use them them, great. I’d really like to see this sort of sharing be the future of filmmaking. I know that won’t work for every situation, but I think independent filmmaking will move that way organically over time. 

Meleah Maynard is a freelance writer and editor in Minneapolis, Minnesota.