Nick Diaz had never worked on a music video before. And neither had his two collaborators.
After publicizing some of his digital artwork on Instagram during the #Inktober2018 challenge, the Digital Worlds alumnus caught the eyes of digital artists Simone “Funi” Fougnier and Felix Stief.
The two artists pulled Diaz (BADAS ‘17) onto their team to create an animated digital music video for electronic music producers and DJs deadmau5 (pronounced “dead mouse”) and Mr. Bill.
Diaz said the team’s main goal was to create a virtual reality (VR) work that was appealing to audiences while also adding their own twist.
They were hoping to spark something that reminded people of the value of the VR experience and push the industry to create more opportunities and positions for those that share similar views.
The team listened to the song a thousand times, Diaz said.
“We just wanted to focus more on the effect a blank slate like that gives you when you’re vibing to the work these artists made, and I think that’s what two these artists wanted,” Diaz said. “Cool vibes. Nothing more nothing less.”
In early stages, Diaz assisted in organizing the team and their communication to ensure that living in different time zones or locations would not interfere with the work. Funi—the team’s connection to Deadmau5—took on the role of editor, approving all of the team’s ideas before it was painted, and Stief was responsible for producing content.
“Felix scares me and Funi,” Diaz said. “The guy is 18 [years old] and pumps out content close to the speeds of what Goro is known for.”
As more content was finalized, Diaz began connecting the pieces and bringing together all of the ideas using Maya, a computer animation and modeling software. He also completed riggings for characters using Quill, a VR illustration and animation tool by American technology company Oculus VR.
At age 25, Diaz landed at the UF Digital Worlds Institute for his second round of undergraduate studies.
In his first round, Diaz began as a biology student pursuing a pre-med track. At the start of his third year, he felt he needed to take a new approach. His advisor at the time, Gina Astorini, suggested Diaz take an art elective and led him in the direction of Professor Jordan Massengale.
The course provided Diaz the opportunity to practice still life and painting techniques. Although he did not feel like he excelled, Diaz said he put everything he had into this newfound outlet and discovered a type of expression and affirmation that could not be replaced.
“I still look at those paintings every once in awhile,” Diaz said. “I’m still so proud of them.”
Diaz said the support he felt from artistically expressing himself gave him the courage to pursue a craft that interested and excited him.
“I went against overwhelming odds to follow a pipe dream, and by some miracle I landed at UF’s new digital art program for a chance to do it all over again,” he said.
Diaz came in ready to impress everyone around him, but it seemed he impressed himself the most. It wasn’t just about the important work he was doing, rather it was about the development in overall communication skills and recent passion to experiment and take in new information.
“It’s in those years in that program where I picked up this 2-D/3-D/VR craze I'm so into lately,” he said. “Our 3-D Professor Seung Hyuk got me excited about animating in 3-D, and I began to notice a lot of what I worked on in 2-D primed me up to the 3-D workflows, so I added tons of it to my 2-D diet until it consumed everything I do nowadays.”
During this time is when VR was beginning to boom. Diaz can still recall being completely floored by his first exposure to VR art when Tilt Brush and Quill programs went viral.
“It was like seeing the next step for 3-D art take form in such an incredible and interactive way,” he said. “Even if I wasn’t an artist, these tools are just so incredibly intuitive. That’s how I became a part of the ongoing development of a new method of art while still in its infancy.”
Diaz has previously worked for two start ups, BehaviorMe and Precision One Health. He has also done work for Perilous Orbit, a VR game studio. Since then he has been a freelancer following the work of artists including Goro Fujita, Inigo Quilez, Joe Daniels and others.
The recent music video Diaz worked on with Funi and Stief has over 190,000 views on YouTube.
“I can speak for the team when I say that we still haven’t come down from that high,” he said. “Goro ended up tweeting our video, and so did Oculus, and that’s the biggest accomplishment any of us ever had. That’s what I’ve been gunning for the past couple years now. I just wanted to be part of the group effort to move us forward.”
Diaz said the team may be continuing to work together on a new project soon.