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Temple of the Epiphany

Temple of the Epiphany

Akshay Tiwari
by akshay on 31 May 2019 for Rookie Awards 2019

Journey through a mindscape made in worship of the mind's capacity to act as both- a vessel and an observer of divine revelations.

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A mind births thoughts. Thoughts align and the mind must observe.

Journey through a mindscape designed in worship of the human mind's great gift of being both - a vessel and an observer of  divine revelations. 

Amidst a drought of thoughts, a stream of possibilities meanders into an oasis flanked by totems of beliefs. Weathering these monolithic totems, it is strained by a labyrinthine reservoir that splits the linear into helical. A rhythm is attained and the oasis is opened.  On the horizon, lies the temple of many visions. The helical streams brave the waters and enter the catalyst- a microcosmic shrine that shreds the streams to lose their inhibitions and propels them into the temple. 

The light is introduced as it sears through the silhouettes of the largest shrines around this place of penance. The light casts stark shadows that split the forms into clear shapes. The outer light as though being a necessity for forms to speak their truth. 

Under the obelisk, a multitude of possibilities are seen- foreshadowing what Is yet to be discovered.  The gaze of the temple looks over the remnants of thoughts. A billion bricks guard the oculus of the temple, waiting for a unique shadow to meet its core.  This journey is followed by light itself. As the sun sinks, the shadow of the obelisk ascends the anvil of time.

The shadow of the obelisk ascends the stairs to meet the oculus core. The billion bricks disperse into a well, as though a school of fish.  The oculus spirals out to let the shadow plunge into the darkness.

The inside rejects the outer photons and imprisons their influence. Labyrinths turn into libraries as the light reaches in to move the immovable core. The trains of thought run on a tightrope.

The vessels of subconscious are set in motion. In harmony, they dance to churn a pattern uncensored and irresistible.

The shadow from without and the thoughts from beneath temper the core to birth the light within. 
Born is thus, an epiphany.


:: Process

The process involved equal amount of introspection and research. It is easy to get carried away by striking visuals and technical papers, so laying the groundwork and an internal logic informed by personal taste is essential before moving on to technical and artistic execution.

| Etymology and Visual referencing

The initial ideas and thoughts that I had were a bit vague. In order to further them into art direction, I explored the word root(etymology) for 'epiphany' as well as tried to be as visual as possible while extending the metaphors into a visual grammar. I also referred to ‘Creativity’ by Mihalyi Csikzentmihalyi where he states that the common thread for these creative moments is the formulation of a problem or motive rather than the solution itself.

The process of appending meanings to building blocks of a visual grammar and then crafting compositions using the same is inspired heavily by Wassily Kandinsky's process.  

| Experiments and constructing a form library

Having decided upon an art direction, I began experimenting to create a library and vocabulary of forms that shall inform the final piece. This was done completely in Houdini. The overall strategy was to define procedures and then create parametric hybrids from them. The theme of 'quantization' was an essential link for technical explorations that could serve the narrative well.  A critical aspect was to explore ways of arranging points and having more artistic control over the negative spaces. While in this process, I made some digital assets and custom 'avoidance' assets to help me with generating forms and then arranging them over distinctly arranged points. 

Though some of the experiments resulted in some unique aesthetics (especially the spline based ones), they were not used directly since they did not support the art direction decided in the earlier stages.

| Iterations and PDG

Here, I was trying to discover a form that speaks of how data gets structured from a labyrinthine source to a library of results. Calling them data tombs and temples, these structures would be the building blocks of the tapestry that I had in mind. The procedure was inspired from the process of sculptor David Umemoto. Since Houdini 17.5 had just released, I attempted using PDG to stress test the parameters of my procedure and generating around 2592 iterations with the help of an Entagma tutorial.  

| Production and Design Considerations

Utilising grids and ratios while designing helped guide the process of laying out elements. The sense of going from chaos through rigidity and then to fluid order required that the elements be placed in particular ways. Also, these ratios help in arranging elements to be more visible from a specific angle which in turn informs the 2D rendered output. There is also a journey from bilateral symmetries to a radial one that symbolises transcending human assumptions and reach a point of hypnotic focus. 

The metaphors related to light were taken ahead while crafting the temple with the oculus. In that, the forms were inspired from shapes of caustic patterns of light. 

The tunnel had to have a sense of being more organic than the outside but yet retaining the aesthetic. Re-purposing the earlier assets to support more curved arrangements helped in achieving the muqarna-like forms.

All the elements exist together in one 3D scene. Hence, it was necessary to use a lot of instancing and also to keep in mind how each form's placement affected the others. Below is a top view of the complete mindscape.

| Render Wows and Woes

The lighting, shading and rendering was carried out in the Octane plugin for Houdini. I made the mistake of relying completely on packed primitives only to realise that it gets unpacked by Octane and not instanced. I had to rework the instancing for Octane to load most of the geometry.  Free textures from Quixel and TFM were very helpful in this process. Light itself is a character in the narrative and hence at certain points stark shadows (especially on the anvil) were necessary.

:: Closing Thoughts

It was a worthwhile challenge to design the narrative and forms from scratch. Having a personal narrative and internal logic to support every design decision helped me work with restraint and confidence. Apart from exploring techniques in Houdini, I attempted to be as mature in terms of design as I could while being experimental yet grounded. Through these poetic and metaphoric structures, the journey intends to capture the deterioration of rigid assumptions into fluid realisations which we deem as epiphanies.


All forms designed and architected in SideFX Houdini by Akshay Tiwari (me).
I would like to acknowledge the support of Serjan Burlak and Rohan Dalvi.

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