Michelle Higa Fox is an artist and filmmaker who combines code-based visuals with hand-made animation. In 2012, she founded Slanted Studios to develop commercial projects, music videos, and interactive art installations at the intersection of animation and emerging technology. Their clients include Nike, Adult Swim, Twitter, Coach, Samsung, and Viacom. Michelle’s collaborations with MacArthur Fellow Camille Utterback have produced interactive permanent public art installations on both coasts. We asked her about art, technology, and how they intersect.
1. Artist, director, filmmaker, animator—you have so many titles and skillsets, is there one that you identify with more than the others or do you love them all equally?
It is hard to choose a single title and my responsibilities shift from month to month. If I had to pick one at this moment, I’d say executive creative director. Transitioning from an artist to the head of a studio has been a big part of my life over the last year.
The closest metaphor I can think of is going from focusing on growing a single, perfect orchid to building a greenhouse where you can grow multiple orchids simultaneously. Neither is better than the other, but they are fundamentally different tasks. The challenge of shifting gears has been both difficult and incredibly rewarding.
2. Your work features a healthy mix of both analog and digital elements. How do you find ways to blend traditional media with technology?
I love starting with traditional materials. There’s a level of fidelity and randomness that softens digital canvases.
3. How has technology enhanced the way you make art?
There’s three areas that come to mind where technology has enhanced how I make art:
The first is the ease of iteration. I can very quickly test ideas and play with colors, shapes or scale in real-time in a way that feels like sculpting a living object.
The second is modularity. In the software environments I work in, it’s very easy to swap one item for another. It’s a bit eery to work with a photograph as the basis for your project, and then be able to swap in something you’ve painted in its place, or a live camera feed, or the numbers from data set, and the system still spits out a result but it’s completely unexpected.
The third is distribution. As opposed to building something and only show it with people who can physically visit me, it’s lovely to be able to share things over the internet with a wider audience and get feedback. I’m really impressed with sites like SketchFab that are allowing artists to share 3D VR projects.
4. What new technology are you hoping to integrate into a future art piece?
We’ve been working a lot with the HTC Vive and Tilt Brush. We have a couple experiments going with what rotoscoping (animating by tracing frame by frame) looks like in virtual reality.
5. What are you hoping people will come away with after attending your talk?
I hope that it widens the perception of how traditional animators, painters and illustrators can work with emerging technology. In addition, I hope to focus a bit on the business side of things and what a creative career looks like in a gig-based economy.
You can catch Michelle’s talk on Friday, September 9 at 10:50 a.m. at CAM Raleigh. Be sure to check out the entire Hopscotch Design Festival lineup and visit the schedule page so you can plan out your festival. And if you haven’t already, make sure to buy tickets before they sell out.