[ ! [ NOTE: VIDEO CONTAINS FLASHING LIGHTS ] ! ]
MY CRT is a tribute animation to Petscop. It was my first time using Blender extensively, my first time trying to make any kind of extended animation like this, and took a bit over a month to make. It's set to "My CRT" by Dream Puzzles, who happen to have a page right here on Neocities!
Making this video was a huge learning experience. I made it all as I learned, and tried not to go back on what I had finished, even when I later grew unsatisfied with it. I think it turned out better because of this—I think amateurishness always adds a bit of personality to anything, and if I tried to revise every error I saw, there would never be a video to watch... because I never would've finished it.
It's been a few months since I published this video, so I thought it'd be nice to reflect on. Below you'll find my thoughts and a couple of screencaps!
Petscop is one of my all time favorite pieces of art. It's so special and evocative to me in a way that has remained unmatched, and I sometimes struggle to articulate why. Even after writing an entire essay trying to explain how I see it, words never seem to be enough for this series. That's mostly what motivated me to make this video.
In December 2021, I decided that I would dedicate all of next year to learning 3D modeling, but it took me until April to really start. 3D art has a sharp learning curve right at the start, and I was having trouble finding the inspiration to clear that initial jump. Until, of course, I decided to rewatch Petscop on a whim.
After maybe a month of being out of my mind about it, I found that I still couldn't get the series off my mind. At that point, it had already inspired what I consider to be some of my best writing and art ever, but even that wasn't enough. I wanted to define and replicate the very heart of the series so I could amplify it and magnify it infinitely; I wanted what I saw to be seen. But at the time, everything I made felt like it failed to do this. I wanted to scream what I saw at the top of my lungs, but I was frustrated beyond words. If the mediums I knew best weren't working, what else was left?
(Looking back, I don't know why I felt I failed. I think when your feelings about something are that all-consuming, properly expressing seems genuinely impossible. In the moment, maybe it is.)
Then came the incredibly obvious: Petscop uses relatively simple 3D art, and that was exactly what I wanted to learn. I craved to encapsulate everything I love about the series—to create a perfect, all-encompassing apotheosis—and in my hands was a simple tool: a mirror. All I had to do was hold it up in front of me, and record each and every reflection that passed through. I had the perfect song to go with it, too!
Petscop is a nonexistent PlayStation game, with silly looking sprites animating across rudimentary 3D surfaces. Its whole world is expressed through very limited means. Stories, characters, people—all are reduced to simple pixels and polygons. But those very limitations are what allow its world to be expressed so vividly. You have to fill in the gaps, interpret objects and places abstractly, because the game physically cannot present things as they are.
I had a similar set of limitations in my lack of skill. Why not work with them? I knew from the start that I wouldn't be able to make dynamic character models or complex, photorealistic scenery—and that was perfect. By reflecting the simplicity of Petscop's style, I would be able to speak the same strange, uncanny visual language, and communicate just as the series does itself.
Out of all my artistic struggles, I'd say my trouble drawing scenery ranks pretty high. Properly projecting 3D space and keeping consistent perspective on a 2D plane is really hard. But when you're working in 3D spaces... this isn't an issue. In 3D space, everything is kept consistent by virtue of it existing with one additional axis. Light and shadow are calculated, not created. The way objects reflect those rays of light is determined by their material properties, so all you need to do is define those properties, then they'll always stay the same. Some materials reflect light well, some don't; some create light through emissions, such as the CRT screen in this video.
The CRT screen uses a material that processes and emits image textures as individual RGB rectangles, similar to an actual CRT monitor. The subtle distortions this creates are captured as the camera is angled around the screen; something like that can't easily be done in a 2D medium. In 3D space, rules are kept exactly as they're defined. Everything is strictly, inherently consistent. That might sound stifling, but for me, it's the exact opposite. You're in charge of the camera: you can choose how things appear. You define the inconsistencies—the distortions—by creating things exactly how you want them to be seen. This invisible lens is incredibly easy to distort, and equally fun!
In this video, every character is seen secondhand. They are shown only as reflections: flat images of faces I painted stretched across 3D surfaces. Whether these reflections are cast upon the screen or created by the screen isn't important—what matters is that they're 2D. I didn't yet have the skill to create good character models, but I didn't need to. Vector graphics projected by the CRT and image planes reflected on its screen would communicate these characters far better.
The only character that breaks this rule is Marvin. I wasn't very good at modeling or animating organic objects, but in this case, that's exactly what I wanted. His hands are briefly shown, intended as an uncanny contrast to everything else. In the scene where he appears, you can see Care's face reflected on the vase after his hands lurch forward to grab it. One of these characters is animate, alive, and moving; the other is frozen in place.
Through all the rules both created and broken in the process of making this animation, there was only one 'distortion' that was entirely unintentional. You can see it at 1:15 in the video, when the CRT screen flashes violently. Something, somehow, went incredibly wrong while rendering that scene, and I still cannot tell why it happened. Glowing, glitchy black and red gashes are gouged across the video, flicker through a few frames, then vanish as the light from the monitor fades. My best guess is that this was a bizarre GPU glitch, probably caused in part by the brightness of the monitor's emission. This only happened once, and was entirely absent in every re-render I tried. I ended up using the initial render in the video because... I mean, how could I not?
I think the worst part is how well these flashes illuminate the pair of glasses I put in the scene. I intended them to be almost entirely invisible—you'd have to squint to see it. Then something that wasn't me made them slightly more visible out of its own nonexistent volition, defying the rules I set for the scene, breaking the illusion of 3D space by slashing sharp pixelated wounds straight through the façade, for a reason I can't really comprehend. And it vanished as soon as it appeared.
... Glitches and ghosts are actually the same thing.
I mainly used 2D images and video clips to portray Petscop's characters (and the game itself), but I had a few other fun uses for them. The pieces of paper around Rainer's desk are definitely my favorite, because those pictures are photos of actual pieces of paper I had hanging around my own desk! When I was first struck with inspiration for the video, I needed to scribble my ideas down as fast as possible. I put them on paper because the sequences were simple enough to draw, and paper is physical enough to hang above my computer and easily glance up at. The only idea I didn't draw out was the one where crude, somewhat strange planning papers are hung all around Rainer's desk. Because I didn't need to! Because it was literally right in front of me.
To me, Rainer is the most interesting character in Petscop, and one of my favorite characters ever. I'm not going to pretend that I don't see pieces of myself reflected in him, because I do, which is part of why I find him so compelling. I put up all those storyboard sketches, took a step back to admire what I had planned, and that single step of distance was all I needed to see something so stupidly on-the-nose that I just burst out laughing. Rainer himself was the one who wove Petscop's narrative, the same narrative that compelled me enough to iterate upon. I wanted to impart the idea of a character who is creating something—very closely, very carefully—and planning each piece of a far-off apotheosis, until he finally brings it to fruition. Of course his plans would include parts of the video itself!
I also wanted to impart the image of Rainer that exists in my mind, and I thought including that little bit of reality might help convey it, at least on some ambiguous level. I wanted to show someone who spent hours hunched over his desk, poring over his own unparseable creations. Someone who slaved away in furious isolation, illuminated only by the glow of a bright, burning computer screen. Someone who was slightly sweaty the entire time because his CPU was on the verge of spontaneous combustion, and the room was at least one degree too hot because of it. Someone who saw into a mirror and thought it looked a little too clear for his liking. Someone who couldn't say anything without it becoming some kind of stupid extended metaphor. I'm fuming with rage right now by the way.
Reflections inside reflections inside reflections, inside a million more individual imperceptible reflections.
All in all: this animation is incredibly important to me, and it will probably never stop being important to me. Neither will Petscop. I could talk to death about every detail, but I'll stop here. I'm proud of it, even though my skills have markedly improved though the past through months. Everything about it is rudimentary, and as I keep creating more, I imagine it'll only even look more crude relative to my other works. But it represents a start, the the effort it took to achieve that start, and most importantly, I ended up with exactly what I set out to make.
Honestly, I don't know if I'd even be able to recreate this video now. Looking back at the files for this project, I see so many strange flaws and incomprehensible decisions that I don't think I could reverse engineer now. Maybe now I could fix all the bizarre geometry, clean up my messy keyframes and materials, and add so much more on top of that. I could make a something even closer to that perfect apotheosis I needed to create. I could make something that isn't a crude project cobbled together in a furious impassioned frenzy with strange graphics and glitches, clipping cameras, and someone's screaming soul at the center, desperately holding it all together.
I don't think I'd want to make something like that, though.