We put our satellite TV service on hold for the summer (a few too many other bills to pay at the moment), so amidst listening to a lot of NPR and watching DVDs, I’ve also been digging through some of my old VHS tapes for amusement, and recently I had a chance to sit down and watch Beyond the Mind’s Eye for the first time in years.
As far as I know, there were four Mind’s Eye videos produced: The Mind’s Eye, Beyond the Mind’s Eye, The Gate to The Mind’s Eye, and apparently one called Odyssey to the Mind’s Eye that I had completely forgotten about until I found it in our video cabinet (I’m guessing it wasn’t all that good, because I have absolutely no memory of it). Of the three that I watched back in the mid-’90s, Beyond the Mind’s Eye was my favorite, and I also had the Jan Hammer soundtrack on CD, which I’ve still been listening to off and on through the years. (There was also one produced called Virtual Nature, where the clips all featured an animal/nature theme, but since it was mostly stuff I’d already seen and the soundtrack was just okay, I never got that into that one.)
For those who aren’t familiar with the Mind’s Eye concept, it dates to the earlier days of CGI — lots of shiny metallic surfaces and undulating blobs and artist’s mannequins — and each installment is essentially a collection of clips made for commercials or companies or by students or studios showing what they could do. All those little disparate clips were then edited into surreal music video segments, creating kind of an animated video album. There wasn’t any real narrative beyond just sometimes the clips having a similar mood or atmosphere, so it was the music that really tied things all together.
Coming back to this after so many years, now that we’ve had everything from Jurassic Park to Gollum to Avatar and beyond, now that CGI imagery can depict fur and hair and every texture imaginable with incredible realism, I was worried that this was going to feel dated to the point of being laughable. And I didn’t want it to be laughable, because it was something I’d loved, and I hate outgrowing things I love.
In the end, though, I was surprised at how much I really didn’t pay attention to the simplicity of the imagery — or, to be more accurate, the simplicity of it didn’t register as something negative, something lacking. Instead, it looked like a style, like a conscious choice by artists instead of not having the tools to do any better. And all over again, I fell in love with the strangeness of the landscapes, the hypnotizing imagery presented just for a few seconds before something else shows up. Back when these were first released, watching them was cool because it was all brand-new and amazing (look, it’s all done on computers!), and it felt cutting-edge. Now, it’s still cool, but not because it feels like the latest technology — instead, it’s cool because it feels like art.
And I found myself wishing they’d bring back the Mind’s Eyes series, working from that perspective of an album/art project. Yeah, there are tons of CGI short films out there on YouTube and so on, but there’s nothing I’ve seen as a whole that strikes me quite like the Mind’s Eye concept, because more often than not the focus is either on making an animated narrative, or in showing off how realistic something can look. (And if somebody is doing something similar, point me in that direction!)
If you’ve never seen any of the Mind’s Eye segments, a lot of them (maybe all of them) are on YouTube. Here’s the one that was my all-time favorite back in the day (especially the music), “Seeds of Life” from Beyond the Mind’s Eye: