Adorable, Original Flipbooks “Hand-Drawn” By Computer Code

Matthias Dörfelt collaborates with a non-human to create small, one-of-a-kind stories with infinite, unpredictable outcomes.

The element of surprise is an inherent part of the creative process. Even those who meticulously plan out their projects can be unexpectedly stymied or inspired by the friend/foe of a blank canvas, resulting in finished work that looks nothing like what they anticipated. Los Angeles-based communication designer and media artist Matthias Dörfelt counts on that inconsistency. He collaborates with a computer, using code to produce work that only partially comes from his own imagination. “You can never fully anticipate what is going to happen,” he tells Co.Design. “Randomness can potentially make the number of unique outputs infinite.”


His latest output is in the form of flipbooks–those analog faves that require an old-school physical rifling through to enjoy–updated for the digital age. I Follow is an open-ended series of mini picture-books. Each tells the same sweet, simple story: a character jaunts through a somewhat rocky landscape, trailing a balloon that’s blowing away just out of reach. Once Dörfelt set those parameters, it was a matter of filtering his vision through PaperJS, a JavaScript framework for vector drawing (which he also used for his wildly engaging Weird Faces study).

And how does that work to introduce randomness? Think about when you sit down to sketch, say, a face. You go into it with a rough outline in your head (a circular outline around eyes that go above a nose which is placed atop a mouth, etc.) and then you make your artistic decisions from there. Dörfelt explains that he asks PaperJS to take a somewhat similar approach. “I translated the rules about how I would manually draw into software,” he says. “Therefore the software can now determine how all the elements are animated,” essentially making varied artistic decisions that build on his basic blueprint. “For instance, there are different presets for the body shapes of the creatures, which are randomly chosen within a certain range of values, like minimum and maximum size.”

Putting each creature (and all else) through the randomization process generates a whole new adventure for each flipbook, which the man behind the machine makes and sends to lucky friends–sometimes customizing software behaviors based on the spirit of his relationship to the recipient. Each color and intriguingly strange “call noise” (words like raaiboo, yelloocaa, and siiigh) was imagined and then hand-drawn by Dörfelt.

He’s certainly found his stride by combining a talent for traditional illustration with a technological assist, feeding one-of-a-kind flipbooks as well as his growing affinity for processing and programming. “Working with code,” he says, “was a lot more satisfying and exciting to me than just drawing with my hands.”

(h/t Wired Design (heyo Kyle!))