Karlos Gil
Animated GIF

Client: Karlos Gil, Dos de Mayo Contemporary Art Center
Year completed: 2023
Type: Short film
Area: Contemporary Art, exhibition
Location: Madrid (ES)

I was approached by Spanish artist Karlos Gil to make CG recreations of ctenophores, marine creatures known for their unusual features, specially their luminiscent properties. These videos were included in the generative film "Peripheral", part of his exhibition "Timefall", at Ca2M. This marked the largest exhibtion of his work to date. The exhibition was curated by Peio Aguirre, curator  of the Spanish Pavillion at the 2019 Venice Biennale.

The film is displayed in close dialogue with Karlos´ "De-extinction" sculptures, which are made from derelict and found neon signs. An artificial character was pivotal for the film, as evidenced by the references that composed the foundation for the visual identity. We sought an intersection between a scientific replica and a stylized, science fiction creature, reaching a point where reality meets fiction.

Given the very specific nature of their skin, these creatures posed a challenge to manufacture. To guarantee a high level of fidelity, and to understand their body volume (formed by several overlapping, translucid skin layers) small size clay sculptures of various ctenophores were modeled in the early stages. The second main challenge was the animation of the cilia, comb-like protuberances that grants ctenophores their movement, also responsible for their luminiscence. For this, I developed a physically accurate simulation using hair dynamics for the movement, and a custom specular behaviour for their surface.

A total of 28 shots were created, taking 3:40 minutes, included in the final film along with other footage. It was shown in a large scale LED wall, with the exhibition occupying an entire floor of the building.


Direction: Karlos Gil

Lead CG artist: David Guerrero

Storyboard by Karlos Gil, Juan José de Domingo Murillo & David Guerrero

Concept, visual development, storyboard, modeling, texturing, shading, procedural animation, cameras, lighting, rendering, grading and compositing by David Guerrero

Blocking, model retopology, rigging, body animation and general consulting by Juan José de Domingo Murillo

Special thanks to Justin Ridler

Produced by Centro de Arte dos de Mayo, 2023.

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Each shot was based on extracts of publicly available live action footage of ctenophores. We accurately replicated their movement and light interactions, stylizing them to fit into the aesthetic of the film. We brought references from hoobyist divers, documentaries, zoos...

Ctenophores are able to move using several rows of mobile appendixes called cilia. The also give them their name for their resemblance to a comb, and grant them their luminiscence. For their animation, I created a procedural hair simulation setup, taking scientific illustrations as reference.  To achieve a physically accurate look on the jellies´skin, the Snell´s law was used to calculate the refraction values of the skin. Light passes through their body at roughly the same speed as it does through water, giving a refraction number (IOR) of approximately 1. Several articles and papers were consulted to have a clear understanding of their physical attributes.

Cilia movement references. Extracted from "Cilia and the life of ctenophores" (Sidney L. Tamm, 2014)

A specific light setup was also developed for the combs. Each comb lights up when reaching a certain angle and position in relation with the light source, producing an effect similar to bioluminiscence.

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Installation View at the Ca2M. Image by Roberto Ruiz


From left to right, from top to bottom: 1.Chris Cunningham working in "Alien3" (Ridley Scott, 1992)      2.Snells´s law formula used to calculate the values for the skin shading      3.Energyzoa, online theory claiming there are jellyfish-like organic UFOs roaming the sky     4.Still from "Micocosmos" (Claude Nuridsany, Marie Perennou, 1996)     5.Active nuclear reactor   6.Still from an UFO encounter video, released by the Pentagon in 2020       7.Illustrations showcased in "Cilia and the life of ctenophores" (Sidney L. Tamm, 2014), used as reference for the ctenophore models     8.Juggernaut ship concept by Steve Burg for "Prometheus" (Ridley Scott, 2012)     9."The Abbey in the Oakwood" (1809-10), by Caspar David Friedrich     10. Neon lights     11."Artemide" lamp by Herzog & de Meuron 12.Bat scene from "Nosferatu the Vampyre"(Werner Herzog, 1979)