On ‘Lone Sights Unnatural’.

26 March 2017
I’ve never made anything like this before and I thoroughly enjoyed myself with this project. The process was quite exciting at every step.

For a game, I bought and used  Counter-Strike: Source specifically for being a game from the last generation of gaming – realistic, but not too real. It’s also an inspiration to this project.

I’m not a gamer, and was never good at the game, but I had spent a lot of time in my youth with my cracked copy of Counter-Strike wondering around empty maps. The maps, designed for loud firefights with a number of players, felt viscerally eerie and intensely cold when uninhabited. This feeling has stuck with me through the years and I felt compelled to convey it.

For the project, I downloaded numerous third-party game maps designed and uploaded by anonymous internet users. I edited a few of them in Hammer, the map editor used for Counter-Strike: Source. However, almost everything that made it to the video were just the unedited maps themselves.

To capture more cinematic footage from the game and weird in-game phenomena, I used cheats and commands to hide the user-interface and player elements, modify player movement speed, and allow the player camera to float and pass through objects.

I incorporated live-action since I experienced similarly eerie feelings in life from physically being in empty spaces. Most recently, I had these feelings while shooting boring shapes surroundings in quiet lifeless neighborhoods of light-industrial workplaces.

However, I decided to keep with the subtle theme of childhood I had with choosing Counter-Strike, and chose locations from my hometown of which I had vivid memories – an old one-lane bridge that my family discovered during a summer drive, and a parking structure with one of the best views of my town.

The live-action footage was shot on my mirrorless camera, with a wide-angle prime lens, specifically to mimic the depth and field-of-view of the video game’s camera. A homemade car mount was built for exterior shots, and a pushcart used for the interior shots. I used digital stabilization in post to compensate for my lack of professional mobile camera support gear.

For music, my direction largely came from listening to  drone and Daniel Lopatin/Oneohtrix Point Never (specifically the albums R Plus Seven, Replica, and Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1). Drone, for its ambient yet ominous qualities. Lopatin, for his ability to craft music that somehow manages to embody the predominantly digital nature of his music-making.

I created the music by feeding the audio of a lightly-bowed, untuned violin into a vocoder-equipped synthesizer with gate arpeggiator, into an analog ring modulator, into a distortion guitar pedal, into digital time stretching and pitch shifting effects with editing. It was completely unexpected that the result, to my ears, sounds like a small chamber orchestra.

Going into the project, I knew that I wanted something to do with aesthetically copying Lawrence Lek’s video for his site-specific installation Unreal Estate, a video game where the Royal Academy of Arts in London has been repurposed and sold off as a mansion.

I deeply admired the video for its ambient, yet eerie quality. The video is accompanied by Oliver Coates’s droning soundtrack, which I also drew inspiration from.

Thanks to the following:

1. Best friend/creative colleague/game designer Matthew Conto for helping me out with Hammer, when I (a non-game-designer) couldn’t open the map files and threw a fit. Also, the amount of curiosity he expressed in my project was a huge motivation.

2. Ann Arbor District Library for being awesome and making available a diverse set of musicmaking instruments to the public. When I was checking out the guitar pedals, I saw that they have a new binaural recording kit. Didn’t get to use it, but the fact that they have them – badass.

3. Time-based media professor Chris Reilly, for the opportunity, giving my peers and I a ton of independence, and the enthusiasm. He had an amazing reaction when he was checking what I was doing, and I tabbed over to Hammer. Turns out he did his MFA on Hammer and game modding – what!

4. Map-makers -=Grem=-, nvRm, AlexDoe, Unkown & Sandgrinder, Kotzekocher, BRON50N, malfuncti0n, Microsoft Sam, sirdogg, ph3nyx, and Bad_asS for making these maps. Every one is beautifully designed, and I can only imagine that they’re fun to play as well. Sorry I messed up your maps.

5. The web/interactive folks in my class who decided to join our viewing, and gave my project an incredibly warm reception. I really made this video for myself and didn’t expect anyone else to connect to it at all.

6. My dad. In a night with some spare time and parts, he built me the camera car mount and a makeshift dolly. I was never any good at explaining my project to him (or anyone else), but he blindly gave me a ton of help anyway, and I thank him for taking the leap and supporting me.

Lastly, apologies to my boyfriend for neglecting to show him my project. I stupidly assumed he wasn’t interested in my weird art, despite giving me a ton of moral support (during the project and in general). Turns out he cares about my video. A lot. Thank you.

Available to watch on YouTube.

I hope to return to video art soon. If this work has made any impact on you, please consider donating.