Mike Winkelmann’s Free, Cyberpunk Visual Effects Video Loops

ANGULAR. All images © Mike Winkelmann. Shared under Creative Commons license (CC BY 4.0).
All images © Mike Winkelmann. Shared under Creative Commons license (CC BY 4.0).

Mike Winkelmann generously creates stunning, free-to-use abstract video loops (often known as VJ Loops) intended to be used as visual sequences that complement musical performances of DJ’s, bands, and other electronic music artists. His distinct style features flashy neon, subtle film grain, high-tech, reflective, abstract structures, and all the other trappings that have come to be associated with the whole cyberpunk, blade runner aesthetic.

About the Artist

Mike Winkelmann (more commonly known as “Beeple”) is a designer, visual effects artist, and animator from Charleston, South Carolina. He creates a wide variety of digital artwork including short films, Creative Commons video loops, abstract photo-manipulations, as well as virtual and augmented reality work. The wide breadth of his work is matched only by the astounding frequency and regularity with which he produces it. He’s one of the initial originators of the ‘everyday’ concept – a challenge where artists produce one work every single day for long stretches of time. Winkelmann has kept his “everydays” going for 10 years straight without fail. That alone is insanely impressive, especially so when considering the complexity and quality that many of these everyday works exhibit. But when you do something for so long, so frequently, one can imagine how it becomes second nature. The Winkelmann’s everydays are perhaps a worthy topic for an entirely separate post. This article focuses more on Beeple’s VJ loops, methodologies, and creative philosophy.

Kickstarting a Career Through Creative Commons Licensing

Reaching initial acclaim after releasing a steady stream of widely-used VJ loops, Winkelmann went on to work on concert visuals for world famous music artists, including One Direction, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, deadmau5, Flying Lotus, and more. The creative commons licensing Winkelmann released his loops under allowed for anyone to use his work with very minimal restrictions. The only requirement is attribution to the artist. Derivative and commercial use for his VJ loops is completely unrestricted. You don’t find this kind of quality and freedom of use often, and many artists are understandably reluctant to release their work for free and under such few constraints. But in Winkelmann’s case, it seems to have worked out. The wide adoption, popularity, and usage of his VJ loops have netted him big name clients and granted him a much greater degree of exposure than would he may have otherwise hoped for. It’s a case study for those who will end up weighing the pros and cons of releasing their work under the Creative Commons license. The caveat is that success and exposure are not guaranteed. Your work has to be good.

Sharing Project Files, Knowledge, and Artistic Method

Not only does Winkelmann release many of his works under Creative Commons, but he generously makes many of his project files available to download for free, so that others can see exactly how he creates his 3D models, animations, effects, and more.

These Cinema4D project files are available under as “open source” concept. They are intended for educational use but really can be used for whatever the fuck you want. You don’t need to credit me for whatever commercial or non-commercial use you make of them, but if you could shout me a holla with any project that do come from them, I’d love to see it 🙂 

Resources page on beeple-crap.com
A process video showing a little bit of how Beeple made the original Zero-Day video. Zero-Day was widely acclaimed for its careful animated syncronization with the underlying audio. The project files have been generously made available for download free of charge, separated by measures of the film.

I love to see this kind of openness and attitude towards creativity. Many artists are very zealous in protecting their methods, workflows, trade secrets, etc. I think that kind of jealousy stems from a fear of others saturating your artistic niche, making your work less unique by copying and replicating it. Winkelmann’s willingness to make so much of his process and work available for free shows confidence in the fact that an artistic process or workflow is just a tool. The quality of a work doesn’t come from the process, but from the artist. If your work is made worthless by disclosing the process, then it wasn’t talent or merit that made the work valuable; it was just a production trick. When asked about his attitude towards creativity, Winkelmann offered an answer that reveals much about how he approaches creativity, and further explains why he makes his work and process so available.

Looking at creativity as something that’s much less precious will help you stick with it long-term. Along with that, people around you will be a lot more supportive if you’re a bit more flexible and a bit less douchey about it. Like you’re not so pretentious in terms of, “I’m an artist, I need to blah blah blah.” If you take it down a notch and just look at it as something you have to do today, just like taking a dump or eating supper, then it will be more sustainable in the long run.

Interview with The Verge

Software, Tools, and Methods Used

Winkelmann is clearly a master of a wide suite of creative software. At first glance, it’s apparent that to make these VJ loops, video animations, and everyday stills, one must have a mastery of 3D modeling, rendering, animation, video editing, photo editing, vector graphics, motion graphics, and plenty of other creative disciplines. From various interviews, Winkelmann reveals that he uses Cinema 4D for 3D Modeling, Octane Renderer for rendering, Adobe After effects for motion graphics, Photoshop for image editing, Illustrator for vector graphics, and a host of other tools to create his work. A career can arguably be made from mastery of just any one of these tools, so hats off.

See more of Beeple’s Work

Winkelmann has his own website, where he showcases his films, everydays, VJ loops, interviews, and more. You can also see his work on his Instagram profile (@beeple_crap), YouTube, Vimeo, and Behance pages.