The year a cypherpunk dream was turned into code
The final '2008' NFT artwork is a 3-minute animation about the year a toxic debt bubble caused a global financial crisis. The year bitcoin was invented: 2008.
Year one in the historic "Chronicles" collection by Not Fungible
The release of 2008 kicks off the Chronicles series by Not Fungible. The Chronicles collection is using a select group of prominent NFT artists, each known for iconic works of crypto art. Other artists planning works for the collection such as Slime Sunday, Alotta Money, and Carlos Marcial.. Thanks to Not Fungible for the honor to create this historic piece.
5 Total NFT Editions will be dropped
- Edition 1 will be held by me (3+ years)
- Editions 2 and 3 will be held by Not Fungible (3+ years)
- Edition 4 will be released March 2021
- Edition 5 will be released September 2021
THAT'S A LOT TO UNPACK. WHERE SHALL WE START?
Upon the first glance of the final composition, it's plain to see where I stand in regards to the banks & government involved in the events of 2008. They live in a swamp, the swamp is radioactive thanks to the factories pumping constant streams of toxic debt into the swamp, they are all part of a big monster, etc.
Here is an overview of the two-month creative process involved in creating 2008, from inception to the first elements I created using illustrator and how I brought all these ideas & illustrated works together into a 3-minute long animation with thoughtfully-crafted sounds and visuals.
Taking my animated NFT art productions to the next level
I consider 2008 to be my most complex art piece to date. Creating it challenged me in many ways and forced me to learn a lot, including new systems for organizing all my illustrated art elements and work on them actively while creating the animations.
THE BIG PICTURE - WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Bitcoin was created to solve problems in the future that the fiat banking system is creating in the present.
Two dimensions: "Heaven and Hell"
2008 is the year a collective cypherpunk dream for a decentralized money system was turned into code. The global economy was in tatters, the banks on Wall Street that caused the crisis were being bailed out by the government, and in the background the cypherpunks were creating the technology to disrupt this and decentralize power to the people.
To represent this, I created a separation in the sky of our cypherpunk heroes above and bankers/government heads below.
Breaking down the main sections of the final composition
- Satoshi ( top center) represented with my satoshi icon mask & hood, textured using the bitcoin white paper abstract.
- Satoshi email to Cypherpunk Mailing list (top right) & Wei Dai quote (top left) capturing the ethos of the cypherpunks working on digital currency.
- Seven blocks with cypherpunks who contributed key advancements in cryptography & digital currency research, leading to the creation of bitcoin.
- From Left to Right: David Chaum, Cythia Dwork/Moni Naor, Adam Back, Wei Dai, Stefan Brands, Hal Finney, Nick Szabo.
- A technological (network) barrier separates the Cypherpunks from the chaos and toxicity below. They are in the sky, they are on the web, they are working on the future.
- Government heads & buildings:
- George Bush (President, White House)
- Ben Bernanke (Chairman, Federal Reserve)
- Hank Paulson (Secretary, U.S. Treasury)
- Timothy Geithner (New York Federal Reserve)
- Banker heads & buildings:
- Jamie Dimon (JP Morgan Chase)
- Richard Fuld (Lehman Brothers)
- Maurice Greenburg (AIG)
- Swamp monster connecting all 7 government/banker heads
- Wall Street bull with spinning stock ticker reading headline from Wall Street Journal.
ANIMATING THE ART
Of course, the animation takes the concept further and depicts the events of both the 2008 financial crisis and the cryptographic technologies developed by Satoshi & the cypherpunks.
The task at hand for me in creating this piece was to revisit the year 2008 itself - the year of the "global financial crisis" and the spreading disease in the U.S. financial system that had the U.S. economy resembling a patient in intensive care.
To capture the general tone of this financial crisis brought on by toxic assets, I set the base of this piece in a swamp. A toxic debt swamp, to be precise.
I took the time to put some details into the swamp, for some of the people who have let me know they like to take a close look at my pieces and notice all these details, from the dollar textures to the words I decorated these factories with to give some context to the story.
The U.S. subprime mortgage crisis was a was triggered by a large decline in home prices after the housing bubble popped, leading to mortgage defaults, foreclosures, and absolutely wrecked housing-related securities.
The financial institutions which caused this mess in the first place were deemed "too big to fail" and the government launched something called a "troubled asset relief program",
a.k.a. "TARP" to purchase toxic assets and equity from financial institutions to strengthen the financial sector.
As markets were plunging and showing no signs of improvement, it seemed the only way to get bulls back on board for the financial market was to inject those markets, with the Fed and Treasury orchestrating one of the biggest economic relief effort the U.S. has ever seen, buying bad debt directly from the banks who created them to keep them solvent.
Here are some shots of the bull, earlier in the creative process:
And towards the end, in more or less its final form.
The bull shown in the debt swamp also required full rigging for his scene.
The toxic asset relief program was passed by U.S. Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 3rd, 2008; a mere 4 weeks before the Bitcoin whitepaper was published to the cypherpunk mailing list.
In addition to Bush, Ben Bernanke delivered a number of important statements as Fed Chairman in 2008, including but of course not limited to: "The Federal Reserve is not currently forecasting a recession.", "The Federal Reserve will not monetize the debt.", and my personal favorite:
"The Financial Markets are now in fragile condition and I think absent a plan they will certainly get worse".
TARP allowed the U.S. Treasury, headed by Hank Paulson to purchase up to $700 Billion in troubled assets to help stabilize prices.
Other key government and banking officials include:
Timothy Geithner (President of New York Federal Reserve Bank in 2008)
Richard Fuld (CEO of Lehman Brothers during 2008)
Maurice Greenburg (CEO of AIG during 2008)
Jamie Dimon (CEO of JP Morgan Chase)
Longer animations require more art elements, more layers, and more organization
One solution I adopted while creating 2008 was Adobe's creative cloud Libraries. Here, I work on each art element in isolation, preparing them in individual layers for animation. The beauty of using this system is that it syncs my illustrator files automatically with Adobe after effects, which is what I use for animating.
I make changes directly in illustrator to my illustrated elements, and they are reflected automatically and almost instantly in after effects. This has improved my workflow in a big way - my only regret is not using it sooner.
Here's a better look at my illustrator libraries - here for example are the elements I used to compose the cypherpunk blocks featured in the piece, which included portraits of each cypherpunk who made major : David Chaum, Cynthia Dwork/Moni Naor, Adam Back, Stefan Brands, Wei Dai,Hal Finney, and Nick Szabo.
I organized some key information and contributions from each cypherpunk on one of the sides of each block, as well as the white papers or other academic papers each cypherpunk wrote, which made key advancements in cryptographic technologies, helping to make bitcoin possible.
The process of creating each character was a bit of a lengthy one, as I first tried a couple concepts out that were more closely related to the matrix movie and characters, and eventually landed on a more retro-futuristic look for each.
Screenshots from the earliest point of this ideation process. As you can see where I began selecting images found on the web to use as a base for each character, I was also searching for the text I'd eventually use to represent their contributions:
The cypherpunks portraits combine aesthetics from old-school depictions of futuristic people with a bit of gear with how I see each character fitting into the greater scheme of bitcoin's creation & the role they played in that.
From Chaum in the 1980's to Dwork/Naor and Back in the 90's, to Wei Dai & Nick Szabo in the early 2000's.
For each of the government and banker characters, I found videos on youtube of each making public statements during 2008 in reference to the financial crisis.
Here is the clip I used for Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke:
From these clips, selected some key statements and then used my 'Banker Buddy' augmented reality mask effect to create alternate videos of each character.
The mask itself, I designed using illustrator & used it as a face texture in facebook's Spark AR program, which is open for creators to create AR effects and publish them for public use on instagram.
For those who'd like to read more about the creation of this mask & what my intention is for it to represent, here's the blog post for Virus en Numeros
Also here's the link to try the banker buddy mask AR effect on instagram. It's not my most popular mask design, probably for obvious reasons, but 122K impressions is something.
Enough about the masks.. so the idea first came when I created this Be Your Own Bank a.k.a. 'Jamie Demon' piece in early 2018:
I used Jamie Dimon and most certainly wanted to depict him as one of the "others" in THEY LIVE. Actually, looks like i'm up to it again.. :)
For anyone who has followed me over the years, you will notice that I like to revisit concepts I've created art with in the past and expand upon my original expression, further developing the ideas.
2008: The core concept
2008 is designed to tell viewers a complex story involving the government, banks, and the damage done to the U.S. economy when a monstrous debt bubble exploded in the hands of banks that were deemed "too big to fail".,
and so it appears that employing a combination of images, words, and sounds would be needed to best reach people with this story. As Satoshi put it so perfectly,
"The root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that's required to make it work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, but the history of fiat currencies is full of breaches of that trust. Banks must be trusted to hold our money and transfer it electronically, but they lend it out in waves of credit bubbles with barely a fraction in reserve. We have to trust them with our privacy, trust them not to let identity thieves drain our accounts."
This quote was taken from Satoshi's original Bitcoin Whitepaper email, sent to the Crytography Mailing List Oct 31st, 2008. This is featured in the final 2008 artwork.
On a personal level, this is a subject I'm extremely passionate about and from the onset of creating "2008", I set out to create a hard-hitting historic piece that hits home with people who were directly impacted by the actions of the banks who caused the financial crisis.
Here is a screen shot as I worked on one of the earliest versions of this concept, which placed more emphasis on the single characters involved, behind only the federal reserve building with a world map for the backdrop showing the US Dollar as the world reserve currency.
My family, consisting of myself, my sister, and single mother at the time were deeply impacted by the sub-prime mortgage crisis. I was in business school at the time as a finance major so I was quite interested in what was happening, understanding it well enough to know that U.S. citizens were footing the bill for a crisis manufactured by the greed of bankers who later were given "golden parachutes" a.k.a. large sums of cash on their way out of the banks they stood behind.
The helicopters dumping money on the banks and government buildings was part of the idea from the start, as well as the money trees.
One of my favorite things about Bernanke is all the cool names he's inherited for his decisions at the Fed, including my favorites: Bazooka Ben and Helicopter Ben.
The early versions of this work you see are quite less refined than the final piece, and many of the details in the work and bridging of the cypherpunk concepts all come later. You'll notice some quirks on this shot below, including the Agent Smith heads and neon fed building, just a couple ideas I was playing with at the time that didn't make the final cut.
In some of the earliest explorations into this concept, I already had my government and bank sector characters selected, the full cast you see here. You will notice how the visual appearance of each element changes over time to create a more unified style, after some rounds of experiments lead me to my choice of what styles are most suiting for the concept and tone of the overall piece.
Here are a few shots of the evolution of the composition:
In the screenshot below I was working on the government & banker heads, which each consisted of a mask layer, the portrait layer, and a couple different textures to give them a more "digitized" look.
In the final animation piece, both the final version of these heads (after they are done speaking) and a video version with visual effects applied using hexadecimal randomized code.
During one of the earliest test animations of Ben Bernanke's scene, I thought it would be cool to put his head on a sort of mechanical arm that looks like a snake with a projector head, as a way to depict these talking heads as if they are under the control of some larger machine, connected directly to it somewhere behind the government and corporate entities they represent.
Similarly to most of the rigged elements in these animated pieces, the illustration work is required to be organized into layers, which I name & save in my creative cloud library to bring into after effects for animation.
In these early versions I also tried flickering the masks on and off, decided to take the mask off for the talking scenes and glitch out into the masked versions to sort of say that their public faces don't look so bad.
In Adobe after effects, I import the 2D art & arrange the elements into layers in a 3D environment where the camera is used to explore the art. When I make these animations I feel my job is to create a guided visual experience of the full concept in the final still image.
Here in an earlier version, you can see 10 separate compositions which house isolated animations. There's one for the stage the bull stands on, one for the bull itself, one for the Fed building with animated tickers (yes they move!), one for each government head, etc.
I use particle effects for things like: Image 1) the matrix-style hex code used to compose the structures, Image 2) the government & banker character animations
Earlier in this thread I broke down how the bull & necks needed to be organized into layers & rigged for animation. Here are 2 shots from inside these compositions. I use a combination of the Duik Bassel toolset & puppet tool to animate movements for each.