A CGI Master Made a New Artwork Every Day for 10 Years. Here Are The Results
We spoke to CGI artist Mike Winkelmann, a.k.a., Beeple, about what it takes to spend 3,650 days without a break.
Images courtesy the artist
I'm relatively comfortable with commitment. I've been in a relationship for several years, I still have my email account from high school, etc. But when I realized that Mike Winkelmann, the prolific CGI artist and animator behind some of our favorite Flying Lotus and Brainfeeder videos, was approaching a decade with his everydays series, it blew my mind.
For 10 years he's been posting a new digital illustration—ranging from the abstract to representative, sci-fi to surreal, somber to sarcastic—every 24 hours. Meanwhile, I barely have a consistent relationship with breakfast, much less making something creative. Today the Appleton, Wisconsin-based artist publishes his 3,650th iteration of the series, which has gone uninterrupted through rain and shine, sickness and health, music videos and advertising work, and two children.
These days it's a common Instagram or Tumblr challenge to make a new artwork every day for a year or so. In nearly every case, the improvement from the first piece to the 365th is palpable. Beeple started his everydays series under the self-deprecating moniker Beeple Crap before it was the meme it is now. After the first year he kept going, and still hasn't stopped in 2017.
The overriding rule behind Beeple's video work is diegetic sound: every sound in the track is also visible on the screen. He's also made hundreds of open source VJ loops that inspire unique sets around the world. It's an awesome, if time-consuming process, which has amazing results when combined with the technically brilliant musicians he often works with. The limitations on his everydays, however, are more abstract, revolving around available software, mental states, and above all else, time.
Nevertheless, he insists it's well-within the reach of any artist: "Just start an everyday," he tells Creators. "It's become more popular on Instagram, but there are always more people who would benefit from doing it. Any time you're putting in the work, it pays off. And if you're worried about commitment, I miss breakfast all the time."
We spoke to Beeple about making art while shitting your pants and becoming a father (not at the same time):
Creators: Did you ever think you would make it to 10 years of everydays?
Beeple: No. I was focused on trying to get better at drawing. I wasn't thinking about an end date. After the momentum of the 2nd year, I realized I could keep doing this for a while. Once you get the momentum, that's what carries you forward.
Some days, you don't have that much ambition. It's like, "I'm fucking tired, I don't want to keep going." The momentum really helps you. You think, "Am I really going to ruin my streak for this?"
How long do you spend on each entry?
From five minutes, if that's all the time I have—like the day my first daughter was born—to a couple of hours.
How did your wife feel about you were making art while that was happening?
My wife was in labor, which isn't as dramatic as they make it seem in the movies. You're not racing, you're just driving to the hospital. So I just said, "I need to do this real quick before we go." There's no way I would have been able to make it this far without the support of my family.
What still challenges you about everydays after so long?
Challenging myself comes naturally. People are going to see it, so I don't want to make crap.
But "crap" is right there in the name.
Even though it's in the name, I still get tired of doing something similar to what I've done in the past. I push forward to find different styles, different tools. I embrace the tools that are available and appreciate and have fun with new plugins. It's like having a new toy to play with.
How do you know when you're done?
Mostly it's time. I have to go to bed or something. A lot of times there's a sense of defeat. I'm out of time and this was the best I could do?
Do you ever worry about repeating yourself?
I don't focus too much on premeditating things. Even if it might be similar to something I've done before, I just focus on that piece that day. It's too hard to focus on how a piece is within the context of the whole project.
Do any of the pieces from the past 10 years stand out in your memory?
There are certain pieces where I tried a new technique or idea, but mostly my growth is incremental. It doesn't come in huge breakthroughs. There are small discoveries like, "That's what that button does," or, "That's a nice color," rather than giant breakthroughs. But when you get thousands of those, you can see real growth.
Do you have any other rituals? Church? Gym? Tan? Laundry?
I don't, but I wish I did! everydays is the only thing I'm this devoted to, and there are plenty of other things I have trouble committing to. I'm not a unilaterally driven or focused type of person.
Momentum is so important. With most habits, something weird can happen and you lose the momentum. After a certain amount of time, the habit becomes more important than the distractions. "I'm not going to miss today, just because [insert distraction here] happened."
To me the gym is harder. I'm not sure you can do it every day. The thing that makes everydays possible is that it doesn't depend on any outside factors. That's why it's tough to compare to athletic things to aesthetic.
Have you really never skipped a day? No vacation, no hangover, creative block, plain laziness?
I really haven't. I define a day as by midnight, and there are definitely days where I go really down to the wire. Last night I cut it pretty close. The thing is, you don't always have an hour, but you always have five minutes, and you can make something creative in five minutes.
There are numerous times throughout the past 10 years when I've had food poisoning or something, and I'm puking and shitting my ass off. I come over to my computer huddled in blankets, put down some stupid crap I didn't give a shit about, then I post it and I'm done. It only takes a couple of minutes. Those are days when you're completely carried by the momentum of the project.
The other thing is there are certain days you know are going to be weird. Plan in advance. If you going to go out drinking, do your everyday first. You're not going to do it afterward. If you're traveling, wake up early and do the picture, then go through your day.
Do you think you'll ever stop? You did it for 10 years, why not take tomorrow off?
I think it's going to run it's course. I'm surprised I haven't forgotten a day. I feel like I'm still so far from where I want to be. I look at artists in a variety of mediums and think, "Why would I stop now?" Part of it is not looking at it too far down the line, and focusing on short term goals.
Who inspires you when you're working on these?
Lately the Ghost in the Shell VFX work, and GMUNK just did a piece for Lexus that was super awesome. There are so many people doing amazing work in a variety of fields. There's no shortage of people for me to look up to.
Who is your dream collaboration?
Aphex Twin would be awesome. He was extremely influential back when I started everydays. He was one of the first people making songs on his computer by himself in his basement. It was like, "Holy shit!" He didn't need a team of people, or permission, or to work with someone else's schedule. That was very influential on my work.
What's next for you?
Lately I've been doing some concepting for AR as well as concert visuals, album art. And I'll probably be doing that for a while.