Approximately a year ago a good friend of mine Dan Shorten (Anomic) rang me up with an offer I couldn’t refuse….
He needed a bit of a hand with some technical guidance for a project called Reveal which would be shown at LUX, Helsinki in January 2013. So after many trips to London over the last year we developed, tested and created an Isadora patch and I happy report that it all went well.
I have had quite a few people ask me how it worked, technical details and the hardware used. I decided before I went that I’d write a report when I got back so below is as much detail as I can give…
The concept was obviously driven by Dan as the artist. He had the ideas but the odd effect was influenced from me. Dan has some great ideas and nothing is too crazy! I love having a beer with Dan as I can often see him thinking of an idea and I just sit waiting for him to ask me of its possible, then between us we try and make it a reality. This was the case for Reveal.
The concept was started by finding out that Lux had given Dan a huge section of wall to project onto. This is no normal wall, it’s the side wall of a location callee the Baana which is a little tricky to describe, it’s like a mini valley running through the city which used to be a railway line. It had been converted to a walkway and cycle path last year for the locals to get quickly to and from the centre of town.
The image below shows this a little better.
We had limited knowledge as to how busy this area would be, obviously not living in Finland we didn’t know the area, the people or the conditions. We also didn’t know how active the people would be. Anyone who has worked with the public will know; people are unpredictable. Would people stop and interact and engage?
Another slight issue was the weather. Saying ‘it was cold’ just doesn’t cut it! It was so cold it hurt… But the local production crew and security firm assured us that it was a ‘good week’ and the week before had it dropped to -25 with the wind chill. This was as cold as the North Pole apparently. I will discuss problem and issues in more depth my next post.
The concept and focus of Reveal was to allow people to reveal parts of the wall and engage them in a variety of different ways. We wanted it to be somewhat random, bright and changing every 10/15 minutes. We didn’t want it to be a self contained and automated system either. We wanted it to be as interactive as possible but we could change the images/video whenever we wanted in response the the audience.
As Dan states on his website;“…’Reveal’ is an interactive and participatory video installation in which the public can influence their surroundings by “revealing” the hidden possibilities in everyday spaces. Specially composed music and the sounds help create a fascinating new environment”
So we decided for 70% of the scenes in Isadora to use layers. When no one was in the space, or if no one was moving then we would project a near exact digital replica of the wall. It was just like a digital mask. Then the people moving, or the cyclists flying by made the reveal part by becoming active or human masks; moving the digital wall out of the way to see what is underneath. The human/live camera feeds worked as the mask, this raw video feed combined with short video delays, motion blurs and lots of other isadora configurations this made the reveal much more interesting. Image shows this below:
Using the Eyes actor in Isadora (which I have a few tutorials on inside this blog!) we used simple but effective calculations, curvatures and scaling to ramp up music samples and background loops. So the louder the music became the more people moved and danced, etc.
This Baana is a new area for Helsinki and the people there where only just starting to use it. It was popular for cyclists though and we had to take that into consideration. As it was unlikely the people on bikes would stop and interact; yet we wanted them to be involved – even if they didn’t know it! So the reveal part of this worked really well because as cyclists went whizzing by the people watching got to see a really cool effect, this then spurred them on to get interactive with the space themselves.
We used an Apple Mac Pro Tower, which was amazingly specked out!
- Mac Pro tower 2x 3.06GHz 6 core Intel Xeon
- 64gig of RAM
- 1 x TB 7200 drive
- 3 x 512 SDD drives
- Mountain Lion OS
- DataPath x4 DVI graphics expansion module
- 3 x Panasonic PT EX16KE XGA (1024 x 768) LCD projectors
- DVI splitters to feed 3 x preview monitors
- Lots of cables and power.
- Coffee Machine!
Software was just Isadora running version 1.3.0f25. No additional tracking software or fancy quartz plug-ins. Isadora programming at its best!
Isadora had about 20-25 scenes all doing different things, some quite subtly different than others, some very unique. In some patches we used all three live feed cameras and in others just one (generally the middle camera). Again; this was just to mix things up. We had one crash and that was only because we where editing effects live and we messed something up. So its safe to stay isadora worked amazingly.
Dan took a hi-res photo of the wall during his first visit and stitched it together to give us something to work from in terms of scale and general planning. This helped a lot.
In London Dan started work on content for the piece. I seen a few edits whilst I was down there and they looked brilliant. All of the work was done in After Effects and Cinema 4D (which Dan is geting far to good at using!) My only input was general generation of ideas and introducing him to the 3D Element plug in from Andrew Kramer.
We had a few smaller projects on the go which helped us prepare and work out the video mapping side of things which was great. Dan also flew Isadora creator Mark Coniglio over to the UK to run a few ideas past him, ask about hardware set up and generally ask as much as we could whilst he was there. Mark always amazes me at how hard he works and he had some great ideas too.
All video and image files where 2600*600 quicktime running the ProRes codec.
We though we would have to use software edge blending but luckily the projectors had that feature built in so it was less work for the machine. And being a flat wall (well flat-ish) we didn’t require really advanced soft edge blending/warping.
Thank you to this person who filmed a bit…. (I have more videos on the way)
// So thats the end of part one…. I will post the next section in the next few days.