Beneath The Pixels

The Copenhagen Interpretation

This is the first in a series of monthly blog posts that I plan to write explaining the processes, techniques, and technology behind the digital prints I create. The scope of these articles is not meant to be tutorial in nature, but more an examination of my approach to producing digital imagery using the tools I have at my disposal.

From a production standpoint, The Copenhagen Interpretation can best be described as a composite image. This means that there are a number of different visual elements from varying sources that have been merged together to create the final piece of artwork. The concept of composite imagery can also be found in traditional art as well, such as collage and mixed-media.

The Copenhagen Interpretation, © 2012 Michael Pierre Price

The Copenhagen Interpretation, © 2012 Michael Pierre Price

It took me several iterations distilling down some key concepts in quantum mechanics for me to produce a rough mental sketch of the artistic direction I wanted to go in. I ultimately decided on a surrealistic feel overall, visually combining elements of photography, 3D, and digital art. The process and techniques used to create and then merge the individual visual elements together, resulting in the final image, are described below.

The following table lists all the visual elements in The Copenhagen Interpretation and their sources.

Image (visual element)           Source
Rusted Wall & Floor                 Photographic Image
Cat Shadow                              Bryce 3D
Open Window & Frame           Bryce 3D
Landscape Scene                    Bryce 3D
Eyeball                                      Bryce 3D
Landscape Sky                        Photographic Image
Hand                                         Photographic Image
Sculpted Objects                     Photoshop 3D

Process & Techniques

The main environment (the wall and floor) has a photographic quality, because the marriage of photography and physics reflect the rise of modern technology in the 20th century.  I decided to incorporate a rusty backdrop as a way to portray the decaying nature of classical physics in the face of quantum mechanics. I used Adobe's Lightroom program to review my collection of photos taken specifically for composite work to find just the right backdrop. The original photograph used in this piece is actually a part of a flat section of metal wall. However, since I needed to create a 3D space for the backdrop, I took the rusted wall photo into Photoshop, selected the bottom quarter of the image, and manipulated it to produce the illusion of a floor. This was accomplished by performing a perspective transform on the selection (widening the foreground) and then overlaying a gradient shadow (transparent to dark gray). Once the floor background was created, the backdrop was complete and the other visual elements could be layered in one-at-a-time.

The cat shadow was next to be added. It's included in the piece because of the famous thought-experiment known as Schrödinger's Cat. The shadow image was initially created using Bryce 3D. A simple scene was set in 3D program so that the cat model cast a shadow in the general direction needed for the final piece. The image generated from Bryce 3D was saved and imported into Photoshop. The shadow was carefully selected and copied, and then placed into a layer in the working Photoshop file for The Copenhagen Interpretation project. The shadow image was stretched to match the floor's perspective, layered in using the darken blend mode, and blurred slightly to soften its edges. In the final piece, the cat shadow "looks" in the direction of the open window, adding just another extra special surreal quality to everything.

With the placement of the cat shadow complete, the image of the open window and landscape scene was worked on next. Bryce 3D was once again used to generate the window and frame assembly, as well as the eyeball floating above the landscape which symbolizes the experimental observer. The saved image was then imported into a Photoshop layer in the working project file. The Bryce 3D sky was carefully selected and removed, then replaced with a much more dramatic sky I had photographed in the past. The entire window and landscape image was resized to fit into the surroundings, and then rotated 90° counterclockwise to orient it horizontally. A final perspective stretch was applied to the image so it would match the floor's perspective. The seemingly strange positioning of the window within the floor reflects the seemingly strange notions that quantum mechanics has caused physicists to contemplate the past 90 years or so. 

With the location of the open window established, the creation and placement of the hand followed. I wanted the hand in the finished piece to have character; one that had some years on it. I decided that I needed to photograph a hand using lighting that would both enhance dimensionality and highlight wrinkles and lines. A friend agreed to let me photograph her hand and forearm, and I picked the image that best portrayed the characteristics I was looking for. The image was brought into Photoshop and the hand and forearm was carefully selected and cropped. The cropped image was copied, placed, and resized in a new layer in the Photoshop project file. A gradient mask was applied to the layer in order for the forearm to look like it faded in from the landscape. Finally, the hand needed an "other-worldly" appearance, since it's not part of the quantum world. This was accomplished by applying the difference blend mode to the layer. As an extra benefit, the resulting iridescent quality of the hand actually helped to highlight the lines and wrinkles in the skin.

The last step in completing The Copenhagen Interpretation involved visualizing artistically the wave equation probability solutions. I needed a creative approach to portray the mathematics imbedded in quantum mechanics. After some experimentation, I decided to create three abstract sculpted wave equation objects in Photoshop 3D. The size, color, and position of each 3D object reflects the probability solution of the experiment (the chance the hand will pick the object) portrayed in the artwork. After each wave equation object was fully colored and textured in Photoshop 3D, it was then copied into a new layer of The Copenhagen Interpretation project file. Here, each was sized, rotated, and positioned individually to emphasize both the aesthetics and physics.

After some very minor tweaks, the overall image felt done. I saved the Photoshop file and designated it the master file for The Copenhagen Interpretation.