Robert Hodgin Interview

“Growth v02” by Flight404

Who are you?

Hello! My name is Robert Hodgin. I am a digital artist and I live and work in Brooklyn. I am also a partner and Interactive Director at a design and technology studio called Rare Volume.

When did you start making art?

I remember myself being somewhat artistic from an early age. I drew a lot as a kid, and because my dad was an early adopter of PCs, I had access to Deluxe Paint and other computer drawing programs. I attended RISD where I got a degree in Sculpture, but started to get very involved with digital art in my senior year around the time that Macromedia’s Flash 3 came out. I was able to convince my senior thesis advisor that my heart was in digital art, and he allowed me to focus my final year at RISD on learning Flash, Photoshop, and basic HTML.

When did you start making art with code?

Flash was a huge first step, but I didn’t really explore the code side of art until I began to work with Processing. That was where I really fell in love with coding. I found keyframing animation to be very tedious so the concept of scripting behaviors was very appealing. After a long stint with Processing, I started coding C++ in the Cinder framework. And eventually made my way to Houdini where much of what I create is code based.

“Growth v02 #499” by Flight404

How did you learn about Tezos & FxHash?

A couple of my friends in the digital arts were showcasing their work on FxHash. I hadn’t heard of it so I did a little research and reached out to them to find out what they thought about the experience. James “Presstube” Paterson was very quick to tell me that I should create some new pieces and put them up on FxHash. Another friend, Rich Lord, had some success on a different generative art platform and I picked his brain about the idea. 

“Growth v01” was your Genesis Piece on FxHash. How did this come to be?

The Growth algorithm was originally created to generate plausible road networks for a series of generative maps I was creating in Houdini. The code was reasonably straightforward and I thought it would be a good learning experience to try and port it to JavaScript. Once I got the basics in place, I started tweaking the parameters to try and generate something more organic than a road network. The final look I achieved was very exciting to me because it felt surprising every time I hit refresh.

I did notice after launch that a few of the pieces got a bad combination of random numbers causing the network to curl in on itself and not evolve the way I had hoped. I made sure to reach out via Twitter and Discord to let people know I offer full refunds for any pieces that turned out to be duds. I gave 3 or 4 refunds. I learned an important lesson: No matter how many times you test a generative piece, there might be some less than desirable results. I plan to keep the refund policy in place. I don’t want collectors to feel like they gambled and lost because of a random number generator not rolling in their favor. Nevertheless, I feel it was a successful genesis and I am very proud of the piece.

“Growth v01 by Flight404

Your next mint was “Subatomic Compositions” showcasing your love of physics. What did you hope to learn and show from this work? Also how accurate is it to real particle motion?

Prior to going to RISD for a degree in the arts, I went to an accelerated science and math boarding school because I had an aptitude for those subjects. It was there I was first exposed to the concept of subatomic particles and was drawn in by the mystery of it all. I decided to turn it into a FxHash project because I knew I could make something that ran at realtime frame rates because the simulation would only need to keep track of a few dozen particles at most.

As far as its accuracy, it is mostly artistic fabrication. I don’t quite have the mental capacity to model subatomic particle collisions, but I referenced a lot of bubble chamber photographs and annotations to come up with an aesthetic that felt true to the source material, but still would make compositionally interesting line art.

What new discoveries did you observe while creating and exploring these compositions?

I think the thing that intrigued me the most about Subatomic Compositions is that I kept trying to push the number of particles higher and higher because I had this feeling like 1000 particles should be more interesting than 100. Every time I increased the count, the scene felt messy and lacking in personality and visual interest. When I dropped the particle count, the resulting compositions suddenly gained personality and a sense of controlled chaos. It felt contrary to what I would have expected and it was a pleasant surprise. More isn’t always better.

“Subatomic Compositions #404 by Flight404

Your latest mint “Growth v02” has seen immense success since release. What emotions, feelings, or thoughts did you hope to capture in this work?

I am very happy with how Growth v02 turned out. Growth v01 was special to me because it was the genesis and I was happy I was able to make the algorithm work the way I wanted in a language I was not used to coding. However I didn’t push the color palette generation as far as I would have liked. I also wished there was more variance in the thickness of the lines. These are both things I wanted to revisit for Growth v02. 

After some initial refactoring of the code and some fiddling with variables, I had a nice simulation that created really lovely organic flowing curves. My husband remarked that they reminded him of old William Morris wallpaper patterns and that was the moment where Growth v02 found its soul. I researched Morris’ 1800’s patterns and found my way to Kehinde Wiley who incorporates a lot of the same motifs in his paintings and portraits. I used their color sensibilities in generating the palettes for the piece.

Once I get some downtime, I want to port this piece back to Houdini and continue to explore the aesthetic and try to have some patterns printed on fabric or wallpaper.

“Growth v02 by Flight404

Do you have any favorite “Growth v02” mints?

I don’t want to introduce any subjective rarity, but there are some palettes that definitely appeal to me more than others. One thing that surprised me with Growth was that people tend to let the simulation “finish” before saving out an image. I think the series looks more interesting about half way through when you can still see the negative space of the background as well as the midground stripes. That was the main reason I added some user controls so the simulation can be paused and reseeded.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

All the best advice ends up being cliches. Floss daily, dont put off until tomorrow what you can finish today, Rome wasn’t built in a day, keep it simple stupid. But lately, I have been functioning under the mantra of “What’s the worst that could happen?” It allows me to take more risks.

Do you have anything exciting planned for 2022 that you can share with us?

I plan to revisit the Meander Map series and make some new prints sometime in the next couple months. I will also continue to create generative art for online platforms like FxHash. And I’m planning my 50th birthday celebration extravaganza in Iceland, Covid-pending.

“Growth v02 #503” by Flight404

How have you enjoyed your stay at FxHash so far?

It’s complicated. But it has been mostly incredible. The support I have gotten has been fantastic and I am constantly impressed at how the scene evolves and how much care is put into making sure that both artists and collectors get equal attention from the experience. 

It is complicated because there are certainly problems that are plaguing these platforms. It is a shame that true lovers of the arts have to compete with bots whose only purpose is to turn a profit. But I understand the phenomenon and it certainly isn’t unique to FxHash. It is also a bit of a wild ride to be able to look at social media to get real-time commentary about the quality of your work being a direct result of its ability to be resold at a profit. It is an element of making art that had been hidden from me until now.

What adds value to your art?

You tell me! But if I had to say, I think it would be a combination of my two decades of experience in this field combined with my imposter syndrome constantly telling me that what I have made isn’t quite good enough. 

“Growth v01 #460” by Flight404

Is there anyone you want to shout-out?

I have leaned on many people during this last month as I learned about NFT art communities and I’m very grateful for their advice. In particular, I want to thank James Patterson for the mentorship and Clay Heaton for a ton of technical bits and deeper thinking about the community.

Anything else?


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