Cyclo, the artist behind ATTLAS’ mesmerizing visuals, delineates his creative process [Interview]
Near the beginning of 2020, ATTLAS released his massively anticipated debut record, Lavender God, the stunning culmination of a career spanning half a decade. Now, the Canadian melodic house producer is back with his second album of the year, Out Here With You, which ATTLAS describes as “calming, hopeful, and about the small good things we can control and take pride in.”
In addition to the album’s 10 tracks, Out Here With You boasts an impressive visual arsenal. Each and every track on the new record arrives with stunning videos produced by 3D motion graphics artist Cyclo. The diverse music videos showcase tranquil environments layered with effects that give the nature-inspired visuals a uniquely transfixing character. Although ATTLAS and Cyclo (aka Thomas Moore) have worked together before, to date, they’d never collaborated on anything this expansive or cohesive.
ATTLAS and Moore’s relationship took root rather innocuously, Moore disclosed in an interview with Dancing Astronaut. But, before he would go on to forge a creative partnership with ATTLAS, Moore would first take a rapturous interest in music visuals. His enthrallment with the format began when he attended his first deadmau5 show, where the mau5trap head honcho’s fabled cube left Moore awestruck. “I was just mind blown [by] how visuals could really take a concert to like a completely new level,” Moore said. “I remember being at that show and I was like, I have to learn how to make stuff like this, because I saw how much impact you could have on a whole group of people at one time.”
Following his passion, Moore began creating and uploading short visualizers to Instagram, tagging the artists to whom they corresponded along the way. A long-time ATTLAS fan, Moore would go on to produce a psychedelic and luminescent video to accompany the mau5trap artist’s track “Blood Work.” The video caught the eye of ATTLAS, who was immediately impressed by Moore’s discerning taste in visual aesthetic across all of his projects.
“I was humbled and flattered that an artist of his caliber was even paying attention to my work,” ATTLAS said. “Then, it was as simple as reaching out and saying, ‘thanks, you could’ve picked any song in the world and you decided to pick one of mine.’ It was a pretty quick introduction.”
From that point on, a friendship slowly formed between the visual and musical artists, who would chat and swap ideas for years before they would ever formally work together. Yet, when ATTLAS’ debut record, Lavender God, required music videos, Moore was the natural choice for the job.
Moore and ATTLAS began with Lavender God‘s first single, the swirling and foreboding “Sinner Complicated.” As they began fleshing out ideas for the track’s visual companion, Moore and ATTLAS settled on a video that would conceptually cut between two styles of juxtaposing imagery. One part of the imagery would focus on hyper-real scenes with a subtle sense of the otherwordly; the other would focus on imagery that was obviously unreal by design. A third element of kaleidoscopic bursts would visually break up these two graphic worlds.
After drafting the story boards, Moore began the painstaking work of creating the digital landscapes. To construct his videos, Moore must place each element into a 3D motion graphics application, meticulously paying attention to everything from the detail in the assets to the digital camera placement in the software. Each part of the landscape has to be constructed—even the light sources—a skill that Moore accredits to his time as a photographer.
“[I’m] really trying to push the boundaries of making something where people question, ‘hey, is this a real image or is this not, is this generated in the computer?’ With ATTLAS’ stuff, I’m like really trying to push the hyper-real realm where it almost feels like it’s real, but feels like it’s a little bit better than reality.”
As if “Sinner Complicated” wasn’t impressive enough when completed, Moore would further up the ante on the visual for Lavender God‘s second single, “Hotel,” featuring MAYLYN. For the comparatively upbeat melodic house tune, the video took a more synthetic style that used tiny particles to produce vibrant color palettes and mesmerizing motion patterns.
“That one was like really gnarly in terms of how it was made. I mean, in [each] scene that you see inside that video, there’s over a million particles taking place. [It’s] very computationally intense to even simulate animations like that.”
The animation for “Hotel,” which required massive amounts of data storage and drawn-out calculation processes, took more than six months to complete. Never one to make it easier on himself, Moore chose to produce the incredibly complex ATTLAS videos in 4K definition. “I decided at the beginning, well, if we’re going to do this, let’s go all the way, and really put something out that can be viewed on any device and just be able to take all of those details in that we’re putting in the time to [include],” he said.
The track “Hotel” came together in part from the visual ideas that Moore presented to ATTLAS. ATTLAS’ music helped guide Moore’s creative process, and in return, Moore’s own inventive ideas provided the finishing touches to ATTLAS’ originals. “It fits so well together,” ATTLAS said of “Hotel,” elaborating,
“The track unfolds and unfurls and curls up and around, and I think visually he was approaching that same sort of thing. You know, there’s the color and the darkness, right? And what you can do with those opportunities and those moments where musically and visually things are shimmering and evolving… like synesthesia, it’s almost an experience like that. Creatively, they’re so linked. You’re gonna write music based on visual experience, and music and auditory experiences are gonna inform the way you approach the visual craft, at least that’s my perspective.”
Several months after Lavender God‘s January 31, 2020 release, ATTLAS returned with “The Night Air Was Cool.” Unsurprisingly, the single came with another Cyclo-made visual. However, this installation in the artists’ established partnership used a new type of animation technique, resulting in a steadier and more soothing experience than its predecessors.
“The Night Air Was Cool” relies on a reactionary software that triggers specific elements of the digital rendering in tandem with the music. While all of Moore’s videos are built with the same 3D modeling techniques, “Sinner Complicated” and “Hotel” cut to different cues with jump cuts in post-production. “The Night Air Was Cool” features no cuts or heavy editing; rather, it depends on the pre-built digital landscape’s live reaction to specific elements of the song.
“I can build a scene and then depending on whatever feed I can generate from ATTLAS, I can take that and start really picking out the notes and then manipulating that whole lot,” Moore said of this alternative approach. “When I’m doing it that way, I’m doing it just off of one track. I’m not having to put stems into it; I’m just generating the final mix down on the track. If we were to replicate that live, we could play that track live and the video live and it still would react live, even if ATTLAS changed notes.”
Before COVID-19 shut down clubs and festivals, ATTLAS and Cyclo had put a lot of thought into what a live ATTLAS show could look like. In particular, they wondered how the musical and visual components could optimally coexist in a live setting.
“We [asked] ‘what does the ATTLAS show really look like if you had the budget?'” ATTLAS said, adding,
“Is it immersive? Is it a club thing? Is it a festival thing? Is it more of gallery space? Do you build a hybrid between some of the bigger energy stuff with something like storyline and then attach a visual aspect to it or does the music almost respond to the visual aspect?
You don’t want to have too much quiet, ambient space if you’re getting booked for a club, but I think if you can captivate the audience visually, you can maybe be a bit braver with some of the musical choices just because you’re supported or reinforced or [even] re-contextualized by the visual component.”
Although clubs and festivals remain on pause, Cyclo’s visuals, which most recently accompany ATTLAS’ latest album, Out Here With You, provide a taste of what the live visuals might have been like. Crafted with the same reactive software used for “The Night Air Was Cool,” the album’s 10 videos are centered around perfect loops of simple geometric themes in serene natural environments. Certain visual components react live to different musical elements.
Moore described the process of making the newest batch of visuals “like taking the song, making an environment that felt like this track lived inside of, and then making that into a visualizer for the song. And that sort of plays off of what the idea that we have for the live show. Just being able to create beautiful visuals that go along with this music that can help transport the viewer to these worlds where it’s bordering a line of reality, but just a little bit off from our reality that we’re living in now. So that’s something that’s very familiar, but then also something new to the viewer at the same time.”
Ask either ATTLAS or Cyclo, and in a heartbeat, they’ll say Out Here With You is a project that they are immensely proud of. The care, love, and dedication can be felt in every corner of the record, from the delicate yet powerful instrumentation to the striking yet serene visuals.
“[There were] definitely a lot of late nights [to pull] this one off,” Moore said. “At the end, I’ve done a lot of stuff this year. It’s been a rough year, but I’ve done a lot of things, and by far what I’ve been most proud of is what we’ve worked on for this one. Even though [there have been] a lot of hours and time invested, it’s worth it because it’s fulfilling to me just because of how much this music means to me and [because of] how closely I’ve worked with [ATTLAS] on this one.”
“I’ve been there since the beginning of a lot of these tracks, and I’ve heard various versions of each one of them, just giving my 2 cents from a viewer’s perspective. You can’t go to a concert now, but [you’re] able to sit back and like listen to an hour of original ATTLAS music and visuals. I think that that’s pretty exciting.”
Featured image: Thomas Moore