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Exploring NFT Art On Tezos (Part 10) – RubenFro

We carry on our series exploring NFT art on Tezos. In this series, we’re speaking to the artists behind the NFTs. This time it’s Anders Langberg who talks to the artist.

Part 10 of the ‘NFT Art On Tezos’ series covers RubenFro, a Tokyo-based artist who brings glimpses of an alternative, sci-fi universe to life through a unique blend of volumetric 3D, video, and audio.

An Introduction To The RubenFro Interview

In the immense output on Hic Et Nunc (H=N), there are some true masterpieces hiding. The first time I saw a clip by RubenFro I was literally blown away, and couldn’t imagine that such an artist would be on H=N. But he is, and has been active since the early days in March.

RubenFro has a very distinct style where he uses volumetric particles as a key technique to give both texture and movement to his worlds.

They all feature a heavy techno and cyberpunk vibe, sort of what I imagine the world would look like if we either transcend and use brain implants to immerse ourselves in VR, or if we augment our bodies with more senses to enhance our perception of the world and add more layers of information.

Some of RubenFro’s pieces are softer in nature (like the dissolving paintings), and others are darker and more hardcore. They are all digital in nature, most are animations and some have original sound design and music as well, making art that is born for the blockchain.

The RubenFro Interview

First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to share a little more about yourself and your art. We’ve seen that you’re based in Tokyo and create music videos outside of the art that we see. Would you mind telling us a little bit more about yourself?

I’m originally from Italy, but moved to Tokyo more than a decade ago for work.

I’ve always been interested in design and art (mainly digital art, photography and composing music), but only a couple of years ago I decided to quit my career as web and app developer, to focus on digital art and VFX for video productions and music videos.

So far, I’m extremely happy with that choice. I have worked with some amazing artists like Pussy Riot, Deathpact, Dreamers Delight, Ital Tek, and brands like Acronym and Asus.. plus many other cool things still under NDA.

Could you expand a little on your audio/visual work prior to and outside of NFT’s?

In my artworks I use large particle systems and point cloud technology. I started experimenting with it a couple of years ago, when with a couple of friends we created a series of interactive art installations called Future Cities (rubenfro.com/future-cities).

In 2018 and 2019 we exhibited around Japan, Taiwan and New Zealand.
Then finally concluded with a last installation called Memories of Tsukiji.

Finally just before the pandemic, I started doing 3D scans of small alleys in Hanoi, Vietnam, creating a series of artworks called Dissolving Realities (rubenfro.com/dissolving-realities) that helped me to establish myself as a 3D artist.

There are a few distinct lines of your work; the dissolving paintings, DAT fragments, mind relaxer, etc.. These share a common DNA in the visual style and you describe the DAT Archives as “Fragments from a world now gone”. How did you develop these concepts and are they all part of the same universe?

Yes, all my pieces are connected by this fictional “DAT” universe.

DAT (Digital AfterLife Network) is a complex network of servers running an endless virtual life simulation. Humanity has transitioned to digital form, moving into this virtual universe and leaving the physical form behind.

While DAT started as a virtual paradise, it slowly accumulated errors and data corruption, turning it into a glitchy hell. I imagine my stories as 3D fragments of a world long gone, only stored in imperfect digital fragments within DAT.

I’m planning to expand on this fictional universe in the near future, but you can find a brief introduction on my website.

Are any of the collections discontinued? Do you have any new ones coming?

Currently, the Atlantis series is concluded, although I may do some new pieces in the future.

I’ve recently started two experimental and more affordable collections, released from time to time without any previous announcements, called Spiritual Molecules (on Kalamint) and DAT Files (HeN), and will soon release a new series uniting volumetric captures to procedural generation.

From what I can see you minted your first NFT on H=N in March this year (#3337). How did you get started with NFT’s? Are the ones on H=N the first?

I admit I was a bit skeptical about NFT at the beginning, not fully understanding how everything worked. But I saw NFTs changing the lives of artist friends, finally able to repay long term debts… all this in the middle of a difficult situation like a global pandemic. I realized it was something that was going to change the world of digital art forever.

The first personal experience with NFTs was actually the Pussy Riot – Panic Attack drop on Foundation. I worked on their music video a few months before  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bdw0xjjVFpI), and Nadya from Pussy Riot decided to release it as a 4 piece drop on Foundation. It was amazing to see more than 170ETH raised from those drops, with a large percentage going to help victims of domestic abuse in Russia and activist art.

Why did you choose H=N and are the two on Kalamint experiments or a taste of the future?

I really liked the atmosphere around HeN, very focused on art and community, and that’s why I started there. It was also fascinating to see how affordable editions and extremely low gas on tez platforms, created a healthy market where artists invested heavily in other artists.

You’ve been quite active in minting works, are these all new works or have you had a backlog, just waiting for the right time and platform to release them?

Majority of my releases are new works, although from time to time I do rework and release pieces from the backlog. I used to make this kind of digital art way before NFT, sharing them on Instagram and Twitter, hoping to get noticed and land a new project. Now fortunately collectors can support art in a concrete way instead of just Likes. 

Your visual style is very distinctive and resonates extremely well with many sci-fi enthusiasts, especially cyberpunk fans. How did you develop this look?

I’ve always loved sci-fi and cyberpunk, so there are definitely many influences in my work, although I try to avoid the cyberpunk aesthetic that was quite popular a couple of years ago. Hard sci-fi is also another inspiration in creating environments and imagining how a computer-simulated reality would look like. 

All of your pieces have a strong concept followed by brilliant execution. What part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?

All of them! From creating the code and algorithms to move the points clouds, to writing a story and creating the sound design.

I enjoy all the different aspects of the creative process in making a NFT. But if I had to choose the least favorite… probably the promotion aspect.

You have taken 3D to the next level by using photogrammetry and then volumetric particles to build your world, combined with video editing and original sound design.

This is done in what’s essentially a game engine and not a traditional 3D software package, if I’m not mistaken? Can you describe a little more about the technical parts of your process?

Yes, all is running in real-time in Unity, using a series of tools and shaders I developed to render point clouds in a more cinematic way. Animations, lighting, effects, and everything you see on screen is managed by these shaders.

I started building this framework a few years ago working on a real-time installation and now it’s what I’m using for my NFT and commercial work. (I talk more in detail here: https://80.lv/articles/creating-immersive-experiences-from-point-data)

The Hanoi work reminds me of the braindance sequences in Cyberpunk 2077. Given a beefy enough GPU, would it be possible to enter your scenes as VR experiences? 

Yes. I have a few tests with those scenes running in VR, and the experience is quite powerful. 

I remember trying a scene I scanned inside a busy train in Tokyo. Seeing all those points defining reality, with people in their daily life, some reading a magazine or replying to a message on their phone, in what is essentially a single slice of life, frozen in time with 3D data,  it’s a powerful experience… and something that inspired me to create the DAT universe.

Has the technical process evolved in the works that are public now? Any new developments we should look out for in the coming releases?

When I’m not creating art or working on commissioned projects I’m constantly adding new features and effects. Recently I’ve been experimenting with procedural generation and complex voxel geometries. I also have some early experiments of interesting biologically inspired looks that I may be using in the future.

Your work has become quite popular and all new releases are scooped up immediately. As an example, the last edition of Dissolving Painting #7 was sold for 10 times the price of the other editions at auction, and any of your pieces at the secondary market are sold for many times their original price. What do you think about the balance between accessibility and pricing?

I feel the low gas fees allow a model of reasonably priced artworks, with artists releasing multiple editions and still make a good profit. This also creates a healthy secondary market.

My earliest Dissolving Paintings were priced at around 10 Tezos, and now some have reached more than 1200. The same pattern is happening again and again for many artists.

This of course, as you mentioned, means that popular releases are harder to get at release. To be more accessible I’ve created new, more affordable series. At the same time, I started accepting reservations to avoid people hoarding multiple editions.  

How do you see the future of NFT’s? Any features you’d like to see from the NFT platforms?

Extremely bright. I think we’re just at the beginning and finally in a more mature era of NFT. Artists are pushing the envelope on many fronts, doing extremely interesting experiments, and building experiences that go far beyond the art itself.

Thank you so much for your time, and I hope we’ll see much more from you in the future!

RubenFro can be found on Twitter, the web https://dat.rubenfro.com/collections/ and his art is on Hic Et Nunc and Kalamint.

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