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29 Oct 2019

In Conversation with Creative Coder Kat Zhang

Coded art by Kat Zhang

Featured work by  creative coder Kat Zhang: Full Video With Sound

Tell us a bit about your work and what you do:

I’m Kat, software engineer/artist. I make visual art with code, sometimes combined with hand drawings. Recently, I have been working on music visualization, which to me is like a form of machine-augmented synesthesia. In general, I want to make art that expands, or even redefines people’s sensory and perceptual realms.

What first got you started as a creative coder? How did you learn to incorporate that with your work as a painter?

After years of programming both at and after work, I had a burnout and just wanted to work with my bare hands again. That led me to pick up drawing. But very soon I couldn’t resist the urge to draw with code. A friend pointed me to Daniel Shiffman’s the Nature of Code, which opened a door for me to the world of creative coding. Combining hand-drawn images and animation to coded works seems very natural to me. I feel both the computer and the nature work like a blackbox in a way. Proof? Open a shader on shadertoy and see the ridiculously realistic simulations of oceans, fog, clouds, planets just from a few lines of code. It makes me think that we must have created something that has stolen the nature’s secrets to have fooled the human eye. Inviting the machine (which is a like micro god that is capable of performing miracles) to work with me is thus very empowering .

What’s your process like when coming up with a piece? Are there certain things you prioritize? 

I find my ideas evolving constantly, from the moment formed in my head, to being jotted down, to being implemented. They never stay the same. I guess that’s why I love the process so much, because it has this element of surprise, whether from myself or the machine, always feels like I am a little child perpetually playing on this massive, beautiful playground with infinite possibilities.The things I prioritize is probably my familiarity with my tools. I would spend a lot of time to improve my craft so I wouldn’t be too slowed down when I am actually “playing” in that process, although that always happens anyway.

Any new software or program that you’re excited to try out? Or do you find that there’s a few main ones you usually stick to? 

Yes! There are so many softwares/tools that I want to learn! A few at the top of my list: Quill, an illustration and animation tool for Oculus Rift; Blender, the open-sourced 3D modeling pipeline; Keras, a neural network API that I’m learning now and hopefully will work on some style transfer projects! Most of the time now, I work with Touchdesigner. It plays well with many types of input (shaders, Kinect, even VR!) while still allowing you to go as low-level as you want by just coding in Python.

Is there a particular artist who inspires you, or whose work you’re excited about?

I love Ian Cheng‘s works. I think he adds another dimension to the usual simulations (think Conway’s Game of Life, flocking/swarming behaviors, .etc) we see in creative coding, one that is critical to our experience of real life: storytelling. Agents in the simulations are concrete, even life-like. Thus it is hard not to blur the boundaries of our real-life experience with the simulations (or maybe there is none to start with?)