October 02 2014

Requiem For A Dream

I’ll never forget my experience of visiting the website that made me want to build websites.

I was a junior in college sitting at a bank of computers in the Art + Design lab struggling through an assignment related to typography and grid systems. As I pushed type around on the screen I kept hearing this strange ambient noise coming from a computer two or three away from mine. Every so often there’d be a punctuated burst of muffled chanting that sounded like the studio audience on the set of a bad Ron Popeil informercial (if you’ve never heard of Mr. Popeil clearly you’re not serious about your rotisserie chicken).

I ignored it for a while, but as the minutes passed I became equal parts curious and annoyed by what was filling the lab with noise. Eventually I ended up wandering down to my classmate’s computer to investigate. 

She looked at me with a smirk on her face, as if she were surprised it took so long for someone to ask her about what she was looking at. She explained that it was a website for a new movie called Requiem for a Dream. I watched over her shoulder as she clicked around. The more she clicked, the more confused (and simultaneously fascinated) I became. It was a website, but it was unlike anything I’d seen online before. A non-linear pseudo story with seemingly endless rabbit holes to wander down. 

It didn’t overtly give you any details about the movie it was promoting. There was no plot overview. No Photoshopped images of beautiful cast members. No release date. Really nothing useful at all. It was just this strange little world living on your computer screen. And I absolutely loved everything about it.

website screen shots

Screenshots from the site

After returning to my computer and spending twenty+ minutes getting lost in this fabricated online universe I found myself wondering about the moving pieces that were bringing the whole thing to life. I was curious about how one might go about using logic to create something that appeared both illogical and random. I spent a good chunk of time obsessively clicking link after link after link trying to understand what parts of the site were driven by chance and what was predetermined, regardless of where or what I clicked. 

I walked away from the experience with a strong desire to see the movie and an even stronger one to learn more about how I might build something similar myself one day. It was the first time I remember wanting to understand exactly what it was that made a website work. It piqued my interest in the intersection of the art and science of code.

Thirteen years later I’m still as fascinated as ever.