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Field Zero

A series of generative self portraits that reflect the fragmental state of mind under extreme emotional impact. Glitchy pixels are misplaced depending on their distance from the lightning, and thus break apart the canvas by the shape of the strike.

produced by: Yuting Zhu



The inspiration for this project came from a very personal experience of a panic attack. In order to recreate the fragmented, multiplied, discontinuous state of self recognition, as well as the intense physical sensation of a clash, I came up with the design of a glitchy portrait cracked apart by lightning strikes.

With this project I wanted to experiment with my ability to use coding art to translate emotional and expressive themes. The advantage of generative art turned out to be a perfect handle. Its niche in "random and control" highly correlates with and hightlights this project's depiction of the struggle to stablize an out-of-control mental state.



The portrait is made up of two technical elements: Fractals and Pixels. To prep the components, the programme first generates lightning strikes following fractal rules combined with randomness (e.g. how to zigzag, when to split branches) to make them more lifelike. Then it renders the input photo into pixels by a color threshold to highlight an intense mood.

The programme then calculates the distance between each pixel from the photo (coloured) and each pixel from the lightning (white). If the coloured pixels are too close to the lightning, they get blasted away.

Then comes the most challenging part - how to "misplace" the pixels in a less predictable way yet in line with the project's aesthetic. My solution was to use a different set of index to locate the pixels slightly off, and to import sine function for periodic repitition - so that even though the photo is fragmented, it's still legible (most of the time, see some examples below that goes "too wild").


Visual Inspirations

The color scheme was inspired by Kon Satoshi's animation film Perfect Blue(1997), in which the lead character suffers from an eerie confusion between her two distinct self images. 

The idea of perserving (and reacting to) lightning on a photo was inspired by Hiroshi Sugimoto's photography series Lightning Fields(2009), which captures the trace of static eletricity in film developing. 


Code References

[1] Joe McAlister - Forest: Week 9 demo code

[2] Daniel Schiffman - Chapter 8. Fractals, The Nature of Code (

[3] Joe McAlister - pixelData: Week 8 demo code