Giant mecha fighters with the baby doll heads. Caterpillars the size of tractors grazing in lush wetlands. Chinese pagodas floating peacefully on hunks of rock suspended in mid-air between sky-high mountain cliffs. Each day Mike Winkelmann, aka Beeple, creates an entire surreal world where scales are warped, the laws of physics are repealed, and chaos-sowing robots mingle with hyper-intelligent interdimensional aliens.
Twelve years ago Winklemann decided to start creating at least one piece of art every day, and he hasn’t missed a day since. At the beginning of this ongoing experiment he was an unknown artist sketching with pen and pad. Now he’s one of the most popular 3D artists in the world, with a specialty in creating arena-worthy video shows for some of the biggest live acts in the world–like Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Childish Gambino, and Zedd–and a devoted Instagram following a million deep. (He also directed a music video for Intersect performer Flying Lotus that Pitchfork called “the friendliest crazed-robot music video you’ve ever seen.”) A lot of the credit, he says, goes to his “everydays” as he calls them.
“I think a lot of people have put art up on a pedestal as this sort of mystical thing that you only do when you’re in this magical mood and then you sit down and create this thing,” he explains. “When you do something every single day it kind of demystifies that a lot. I think it’s made me look at it different from that.”
There’s also the old adage that practice makes perfect. Over the course of a decade-plus of everydays he’s gone from an absolute novice in 3D software to an undeniable expert, while developing and refining a style that blends abstract art with cinematic narrative, and a whimiscal sci-fi vision with sharp social commentary.
“I think there’s been tons of lessons beyond just improving technical skills,” he says. “It’s informed a lot of my beliefs about the role of art in somebody’s life.”
While the static images he posts to social media have earned him a massive audience there, his video work is even better known, even if his name isn’t always attached. Winkelmann began making abstract CGI videos a decade ago, with the idea of using them to VJ for some of the bands in Wisconsin he was friends with. “That didn’t go over so well,” he remembers, “because it was before EDM and people were like ‘What the hell are you doing?’”
I think a lot of people have put art up on a pedestal as this sort of mystical thing. When you do something every single day it kind of demystifies it.
When EDM finally blew up a few years later, bringing VJing into the mainstream, Winkelmann was prepared, with a deep library of concert-worthy visuals ready to go. But instead of keeping them to himself, he made his project files public to be used, for free, by anyone who wanted to. An untold number of budding VJs took him up on the offer, as well as a few mega-popular pop acts and at least one globally recognized luxury clothing brand. He says that his files are downloaded thousands of times a day, and once you’ve seen his work you’ll notice it popping up all over the place.
“It’s to a point now where VJs almost kind of look at them as like cheating to use them,” he laughs.
Winkelmann’s currently building a video piece intended for Intersect’s Monolith, a 60-foot-tall tower covered by video screens on all sides that will inhabit the courtyard space between the superstructures where all the music, games, and other assorted types of action will be taking place. A veteran of the AWS re:Play parties that Intersect grew out of, Winkelmann says, “It feels like a space where you might come to take a break from the crowds, so doing something that feels cool and forward and technology-based is what I’m thinking at this point.”
While he pulls together his plan for Intersect, he’ll keep up the daily creative practice that’s powered his artistic journey. “I still see tons of areas where I need a lot of improvement, and I still see a ton of growth from doing everydays,” he says. “When I started doing them, I just wanted to get better that day. And to be honest that still holds true now.”