From bioengineering to creating generative art, there’s not much this NFT100 honoree can’t do. Join us as we explore the early artistic and Web3 journey of Chikai Ohazama and break down his most recent body of work, “Cinematic AI.”
Known solely by his first name in Web3, Chikai is a Florida-raised, San Francisco-based entrepreneur and artist responsible for co-creating a company named Keyhole, which would later be acquired by Google and become Google Earth.
Chikai, who thought when he was an undergraduate that he might become a professor teaching at a university, obtained a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering, where he researched the visualization and analysis of 3D cardiac ultrasound.
He shared with us that life took an unexpected turn not long after that would lead him to move to Silicon Valley in California. After spending a decade working on Google Earth and Google Maps, he then founded another startup that unfortunately didn’t see the same success.
From there, in what can only be seen as another unexpected turn, Chikai found himself in the world of Web3 and NFTs.
Art and Web3
“This has been a hard thing to own for me, the title of being an artist,” shared Chikai.
“I have so much respect for what artists do, the dedication it takes, the years of practice and commitment to truly develop your process and voice. So I feel like I need to pay respect to all of the great artists who are already out there and make sure I feel worthy of that title before calling myself one,” he further explained.
Chikai shared that this train of thought is largely because he only started making visual art at the beginning of 2023, partly because that is when AI emerged.
Like other new visual artists, Chikai holds some reservations in embracing the title, perhaps due to imposter syndrome but also out of “deep respect for what real artists do.”
However, Chikai is a “real artist.” In fact, he might be considered a multidisciplinary artist. Before Web3, generative, and AI works, Chikai practiced music — producing several albums and producing the music for two productions for his university’s theater department.
To top this off, he also wrote and directed a play performed as part of the university’s student production program.
Looking back on these accomplishments as an artist and creative, Chikai shared, “It has been a lifelong pursuit that has taken a new and exciting turn with the rapidly evolving AI technology that has now become so accessible.”
Sharing how he first got into Web3, Chikai explained that it was an accident and that he had no foresight or intention to actively pursue it. In fact, he admitted that before NFTs, he had never purchased any BTC, ETH, or any other crypto for that matter. It’s also worth noting that he additionally had no intention of entering the art world.
“I was in the process of shutting down my last startup, and I wanted something to distract me. I had read about how the Nyan Cat NFT had sold for $600K, and I was totally confused about what was going on,” he added, “So I started to research NFTs, and the more I read about it, the more curious I got. I bought an NFT, then another NFT, and eventually went down a deep rabbit hole where I discovered some mind-blowing art, and even more amazing was discovering one of the most incredible communities I had ever come across.”
Recalling his inaugural NFT purchase, Chikai mentioned it was his ENS domain, “chikai.eth,” bought to experiment with deploying some of his new ETH.
He then acquired a piece from a friend’s acquaintance and later delved into NFTs influenced by shill threads. “I actually started buying NFTs reading through shill threads. Unfortunately, I was not smart enough to buy any Artblocks or BAYC NFTs, which were launching around the time I started out in NFTs.”
Chikai’s first mint was a collaboration with artist George Williams titled “Portrait of a Collector.” While Williams was the creative force, Chikai brought a unique idea to the table. Their highlight was selling “Portrait of a Collector” (Williams Impasto)” to renowned collector Vince aka caktux for 42 ETH.
Following this success, Chikai went on to mint “a few others, mostly just for fun,” which include seasons one and two of “Circle of Frens,” a generative art project that has seen 695 ETH in combined secondary volume to date.
Speaking on the inspiration behind his latest collection, “Cinematic AI,” Chikai said: “I was thinking about how bodies of work are formed, and I think some are manifested, where you have a vision, and you make that vision a reality, but some emerge as you reflect on what you have created.”
He shared that all of the work in “Cinematic AI” was created after Runway released its image-to-video AI prompt feature and that it completely blew him away.
“I could not believe what it was generating, which sent me down a deep rabbit hole — sort of like what happened when I discovered NFTs — and I started to have a very prolific run, creating a new piece every couple of days for almost three months straight,” Chikai shared.
He admitted that initially, he wasn’t even sure anything would come of the work he was producing and that he was originally experimenting.
“A couple of times, I thought I saw a glimmer of a collection form, but then it would slip away,” he shared, adding, “The galvanizing moment came when I saw a post of the first piece that Alpha Centauri Kid had ever minted was sold on secondary, and that same day Pindar van Arman commented how he was getting so much interest in his old GAN work.”
With these observations in mind, Chikai realized he could leverage this unique moment in developing image-to-video AI and create an opportunity for himself, one that he “had to seize.”
“It’s always hard to judge one’s own work and a bit presumptuous to claim it being of any historical significance, but the only way for it to become so in the future was to actually mint it and etch my name in time,” he said, adding “The act of minting the work would make what I created and the fact that I created it – indisputable.”
The artist explained that once he had that perspective planted in his brain, the collection formed quickly and that the key thread tying it all together was a “reflection on humanity and its relationship to nature and to itself — which I think we often forget when we are caught up in our digital lives.”
Speaking about this relationship, Chikai shared, ” I do like to use animals to highlight or accentuate parts of the human experience. Sometimes it is to show our primal nature, how we are sometimes more like wild animals than civilized human beings. Other times it is to elicit compassion that sometimes we cannot feel through human characters, but only through charismatic megafauna.”
Breaking down his process, Chikai shared that many of the works in “Cinematic AI” start with the juxtaposition of two concepts that wouldn’t normally go together and that “in that dissonance discovering and pulling out a through line that reveals something about the human experience or at least makes us contemplate it.”
His process begins in Midjourney, where Chikai throws out ideas in a stream-of-consciousness flow state. Concepts sometimes stem from recent readings or observations; at other times, they emerge from meditation or introspection about his current emotions.
“This process came about from what I learned about AI in my early experimenting, where I found that the best stuff came from what you did not expect or intend. These seemingly random outputs would open up new possibilities, and that is the magic and power of AI,” Chikai shared.
Following this approach, Chikai uses Runway to convert images into footage, a manual and time-consuming process to generate various image-to-video pieces to eventually discover a narrative thread. He explained that this process is inspired by filmmaker Miyazaki’s approach of beginning with a single drawing to unravel a story without a predetermined script.
He shared that finally, “the actual threading of the narrative is done through the video editing process. This is more traditional in that I use a lot of film editing techniques, and I’m influenced a lot by the filmmaking masters, but in the end, it’s about taking the viewer on an emotional journey. It doesn’t have to make sense, but you have to feel something in the end.”
Notably, Chikai’s latest collection consists of only 17 works, a number he shared was simply where the collection landed after his curation process, a process that once saw the collection at over 20 works at one point in time. He further explained that a goal for scarcity didn’t determine the number and that “no metric was in control of that; the only thing guiding me was my gut feeling and what felt right.”
He expressed that scarcity is often about what is minted and not what is created and that he is particularly intentional in what he mints — hence the size of the collection. To Chikai, the collection must have a strong story and a reason for existing on-chain.
“Scarcity in my art practice is a by-product of my approach to minting and not a metric that I’m measuring and directing myself by,” he explained.
Like most artists, Chikai is leaving his works up to the viewers’ interpretation, but he expressed that he hopes people feel something and that it might take those individuals on an emotional journey.
Sharing his hopes for the collection, Chikai said, “First and foremost, I hope people feel something. From there, I think it’s up to the viewer what they will take away from it, and I imagine it will be different for each person. Some pieces will resonate more with some than others, but I hope they all take people on an emotional journey.
Additionally, he expressed hopes for people to recognize AI, especially cinematic AI, as a legitimate artistic medium. “We have a long way to go to gain establishment recognition,” he noted, “but this could be a step in the right direction.”
Lastly, in a note to our readers, Chikai shared, “As this space grows, the success of any artist in this space will depend more and more on collaboration.”
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