About The Powers Project
The Powers Project & The Exponential Influence of Eames Films
by Peter Lucas
Film Curator and Co-Producer, The Powers Project

The name Eames has become synonymous with smart and stylish, mid-20th century furniture design. But it’s the films by Charles and Ray Eames that have had the biggest influence on 21st century culture.

Between the early-1950s and late-1970s, the husband and wife team worked simultaneously on architecture, furniture, textiles, films, and exhibitions. The variety of work that came from the multidisciplinary Eames Office over those decades is bound less by style and content than approach. They were dedicated to a playful creative process, and continually strove for simplicity and accessibility in solving any design problem—be it for the creation of a chair, a house, a film, or a toy.

But it is specifically with their film work that they became hosts and communicators for a new society. Through short films and multiple-screen film presentations, they helped people understand the complex world around them in simple terms. The films are difficult to classify—artful without being pretentious; educational without being overwhelming or dry; spectacular without being showy; and deceptively simple. The 100-plus films made by Charles and Ray Eames have influenced vast numbers of artists, designers, scientists, and academics. More than that, they’ve sparked the curiosity of countless kids who saw them at World’s Fairs, museums and schools, yet had no idea of the name Eames.

Their film, Powers of Ten, is perhaps the best example of the complex made simple, and also of a film that greatly influenced the masses without name recognition. I’ve encountered many who’ve said that they are not familiar with Powers of Ten, and then upon seeing just a moment of it said, “Oh, yes! I saw this in school. I love this film!” I, too, saw a 16mm print of Powers of Ten in grade school, and it made a strong impression. Of course, at the time, I had no idea of the magnitude of the Eames’ work (or that the film was made by the same people who designed that neat chair in our house that my mom loved so much and begged me not to hang on or knock into.)

Inspired by the book Cosmic View by Dutch educator Kees Boeke, Charles and Ray set out to make a film illustrating the relative size of things in the universe. They first made a black and white “sketch” version of Powers of Ten in 1968, and then, with the support of IBM, the help of physicist Philip Morrison, and the meticulous animation efforts of Alex Funke and Michael Wiener, they finished the final film nearly a decade later in 1977. Incorporating photographs, paintings, graphics, and narration, the film shifts the viewer’s perspective exponentially via one continuous zoom in a straight line out from a park picnic to the far galaxies, and then back in to the tiny quarks inside the atoms of the picnicker’s hand. This complex undertaking was so perfectly designed that it comes across with simple elegance. One of their final creations before Charles’ death the following year, Powers of Ten became their most viewed work worldwide.

My friend and colleague, C. Andrew Rohrmann, has always shared my great love of Eames films, and this one in particular. Following a special screening that I’d organized for the ByDesign festival in Seattle, he and I began talking about the idea of coordinating a collaborative homage to Powers of Ten that would involve some of the great filmmakers, motion graphics designers, and coders who’d been inspired by the film in their youth and now are visualizing our contemporary digital universe. On the film’s 35th anniversary and with the enthusiastic blessing of the Eames Office, we began contacting select artists and groups from around the world to ask if they would be interested in each creating one “power” of the film. The freedom to interpret the segment however they’d like, the mystery of the ‘exquisite corpse’ assemblage of the film, and the opportunity to both celebrate Powers of Ten and be a part of the Eames legacy resulted in a tremendous response.

Now completed, The Powers Project is a wildly creative re-imagining of the film featuring the contributions of dozens of the most innovative artists working in moving image today. While the structure and narration of the original film remain, the visual journey is transplanted from our physical universe to an imaginary, collaboratively-created universe of dynamic and continually changing abstractions. Rather than a strict remake of the original’s realistic journey (a remake of a perfect film would be pointless!), this is more like Powers of Ten at a party. The Powers Project is a hearty nod to an important film, a celebration of Charles and Ray Eames’ love for creative play, and a reflection of the exponential influence of their landmark film over the past 35 years.

Andrew and I are very happy to have worked with great folks at the Eames Office and the Gates Foundation, and to have connected with so many amazing collaborators in the course of producing this unique film experiment. The Powers Project is now making its way to audiences through special screenings, installations, and eventual online streaming. The zoom continues!