Life = Key Frames: How Computer Animation Simulates the Present Moment

When my career as a screenwriter stalled, I taught myself computer animation in order to create inexpensive corporate videos for small businesses; I saw video as just another output from a PC, like paper from a printer, so that I could use a board in the computer to “print” video into a VCR (dating myself) and ultimately “burn” a DVD.

As I look back on my experience in that realm, I am struck by how strongly it resonates with my recent work comparing software programming and DNA, and its implications.

Many teachings and meditation practices stress (pardon the pun) the need to focus on the present moment – the ever elusive “Now.”

In film and particularly in computer animation this can be brought down to the level of a single frame, or cell. We’ve all seen the Walt Disney analogy of the flip book of “cells” in which characters appear to move—and the beginnings of Mickey Mouse.

In computer animation things can get a bit more complex and also reveal much about our own consciousness, and the way we experience reality.

Programs like Flash and Director, for example make use of a number of features that like the syntax of computer code, when compared to life (and DNA) can really be useful in comprehending the reality of our own experience.

Many of us have sometimes felt like “we’re in a movie” – but let’s look deeper.

Flash animation uses a Stage on which to place its Symbols, so that the underlying programming code (like DNA) instructs their movements and properties.

(In Director, another sophisticated animation program, the elements are called Actors and the Timeline for each Actor is placed in a Score.)

More significantly, specific frames are designated as Key Frames, and by setting properties for such Key Frames it is then the program itself that “interpolates” or calculates out the consequence, or in the case of animation, the motion of the characters in between the key frames.

Here for example (in the image above) the two dark black dots on the “Timeline” represent key frames for the animation of the rabbit; properties set for each key frame will be calculated for each “in-between” frame by software to simulate motion.

What intrigues me about this is that both Life and we as individuals experience such key frames.

As we observe our minds we notice that we frequently focus on the past and future, and only when we are present in the Now can we really do anything.

Yet our own software (perception/consciousness) generally analyzes reality on the basis of a Past and a Future unless a new quality (observer) practices focusing on the present (frame) moment.

And while every moment (Frame) is a “Now” some “Nows” are more significant.

For example, we might obsess about the future in terms of planning for retirement, but it is only that precise moment when we actually commit to an investment or buy an annuity (execute the document) that “counts” in terms of consequences in Life. Similarly we might think about going out with someone, but only the moment when we actually call or buy the wedding ring, or set the date – really have deep impact and are matters of clear choice—or so it seems.

Certainly they are our Key Frames, and Life interpolates between them beyond our ability to control things.

And indeed Life has its own Key Frames. If a rain shower hits when we’ve planned a key frame picnic, things change abruptly. More powerful Life Key Frames would be earthquakes, hurricanes and so on.

So the macro events and key frames of Life trump our own in the vast Score in which these events play out. On the greater Stage (if we get outside our “Selves and notice), we can certainly say that the Key Frames of Life override our own “conscious” decisions.

And just as DNA is software, instructing our breathing, digestion and circulation, among other systems working harmoniously (hopefully) within us it is fascinating think how the actual events unfolding on our own “stage” seem to happen according to a vast underlying program; a program that we can influence somewhat through our attention to our own key frames (in the Now) but which runs mostly beyond our control and comprehension.

Of course, our own sense of things as moments and even key frames is a complete reduction and abstraction from the overall reality, which is that whether we are characters in an animation or players on the stage of Life, it’s really all ONE BIG MOVIE of vast complexity, and we’re just one very small (and minor) track.

Greek tragedy would inform us that even if we’re a God, King or President, our seemingly conscious and perhaps heroic actions can be dwarfed by the Stage of Life. This is the Hero plot of many popular films – the Hero’s struggle between her own objectives (Ego) and reality.

And in fact when the animated movie is rendered or projected, all of those moments and scenes merge into one fluid experience when viewed by an observer in the theatre… The key frames are accessible only to the director in the editing room or the animator and programmer on an even more basic level—and never to the actors while they are manifesting their roles on a screen in the “final version.’

We can play with this analogy forever in terms of speculating about the true nature of existence, but what is striking to me is that is another powerful example of programming and some sort of binary order unfolding beneath the apparent “content” of our own lives—an order of which we are but dimly aware but when we do focus on a frame, or present moment, becomes more conscious and alive.

Going one step further, in Flash the programmer creates a character as a Symbol with certain properties (DNA if you will) and then populates the scenes of the animation with different “Instances” (manifestations) of that Symbol, which are animated using the key frames.

Sophisticated programs like Flash (or platforms like the ones that create animation like Jurassic Park) not only use massive amounts of energy (processing power to crunch the underlying numbers) but allow for Action Scripts (blocks of programming) to refine and control the deep levels of action and interaction.

If we consider the one great intelligence of the programmer creating (or living though) the Symbols that are “Us” (in his image)—running our breath, digestion, nervous system, brain, sexuality and so in with the software that is DNA, and then each such Instance merely represents a brief manifestation of that vast intelligence or consciousness for a single human lifespan.

Interesting to consider that this becomes a pretty good analogy for how many Eastern religions view Life and Nature.

The key difference from conventional religion would be that the programmer is not really a puppet master controlling every moment or key frame, but rather that Her intention instructs an infinite set of potentialities to allow for spontaneous unfolding of events and play, according to a vast set of programs.

(In ancient Egypt these programs were called “Neters” – great spiritual forces that worked according to Law like the wind, tide, planets and so on, and internally like fertility or disease; and the great Order according to which it all played out was called “Maat.” On this basis it is fascinating to consider the Great Pyramid as a repository of that mathematical and geometric order Egyptians held “sacred.”)

But for us, as Instances or even Symbols (aware of our features and properties) we are generally limited to our own uniquely individual perspective—one track on the Score of Life—and our access to it in terms of conscious choice is available only with deliberate intention in any present moment – the Now.

One response to “Life = Key Frames: How Computer Animation Simulates the Present Moment

  1. Pingback: Juice Cleanse: A Nuclear Option for Leaving My Comfort Zone | Intelligent Life

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s