Early Experiments

The new technique we were exploring involved a lot of practical problem-solving.

We originally wanted the objects to be stand-alone beautiful – made perhaps from plaster and importantly divorced from context as we wanted to explore pure movement and so needed to suppress visual clues. Excited by the potential narrative ability of the medium we also embarked on an ambitious 2 character scene.

The first discovery was that the plaster took too long to cast was to be painted black anyway and was far too heavy for our early needs. We decided to choose the light easily carved material of polystyrene. Perhaps they would not be stand-alone beautiful but they were practical…

First of all  we cut some polystyrene blocks with a polystyrene cutter and painted them in black.

For the first test we created a simple 3D model of a bouncing block in Autodesk 3ds Max

… and recreated the animation path using polystyrene blocks. These were painted black and arranged on wooden skewers stuck into a larger block of polystyrene (also all painted black). It looked a bit like a giant gothic cheese-n-pinapple buffet display…

… but then we illuminated each block using the projection mapping technique it was exciting – we wanted magic…

This first test proved that we need a total blackout for effective interpretation of movement. But we could see that the blocks did in fact have an inherent beauty – probably because they were white painted black and then lit with white light they held a certain sepulchral charm… One of the fun things about these objects in the finished artwork is that we have made black -white! Intuitively we read them as a silvery white but know them to be black – spooky!

And this is the very first bounce we created!

Magic! The quality is new different and seductive…

Now that we know that it works were going to build a blacked-out space to make further experiments. Creating a black-out space is quite hard light leaks in everywhere with an audience. We hit on the idea of buying a gazebo and large amounts of black velvet to create a semi-portable black-out space of about 2.5 cubic metres.

We started by erecting a gazebo in Carols living room.

Then sewed and hung the Black-out velvet drapes and decided on a position for projector and Viewer…

We used a large slab of polystyrene that we painted black in order to build our path of blocks inside the gazebo.

We know that the bounce movement is working so were experimenting a new type of movement: climbing-up. We assembled a simplified ‘wall crawl’ animation (just 6 frames) and have made a sculptural form that combines three overlapping objects each to be revealed for two frames. (an animation of 1/6 of a second – pretty fast but probably enough to tell if it works). this is moving the object off a single plane.

This experiment failed as the overlapping planes are too readable when viewed in real life. Depth in real life is much stronger than on screen.

We made a virtual 3D model of a wall climb.  After watching the 3D model animation path we built this polystyrene shape:  a long wavey object that was uncut internally. This could be lit sequentially in matts and we would have no internal fissures.

The experimented didnt prove realistic enough. This is mainly because were losing the side of each block since theyre all embedded in the same shape and  could not be lit in a meaningful manner.

Experimented with ‘tremble’ movement where the object remains still and the light creates the movement. This is done by animating in virtual 3D and then translating the movement to a matt that will be projected.

The tremble movement is unsuccessful. It looks like a flickering light on a dead object (which it is) the result not only lacks any ‘magic’ but is strangely depressing if you consider the object beneath to have had life – essentially making it a corpse that is trying to be brought to life artificially. If it was a face and we had animated moving eyes and lips on it it would be in Uncanny Valley territory… and so because we know the potential liveliness of the object beneath it is sad to look at. It is ersatz movement – a theatrical sham. We now know that it is the synchronisation of the object with the light that creates magic.

We need to know if larger more sculptural change will work otherwise we will have to rethink having any movement that is not large and distinct (distinct in that it avoids any occlusion through overlap). If that is the case we will have to let go of all smaller movements and that makes characterisation very hard. Also if we must separate each object then all movements will be perforce fast and the final ‘reveal’ less attractive as there will be no new sculptural objects where time is condensed in translation to space. The space is going to fill up very quickly and our piece will be very short making creating a narrative even more challenging!

It is possible that when the viewer’s attention is already travelling in an arc they will forgive a lot of semi-decent objects and ignore lost edges and strange internal shapes. It is equally possible that their perceptions will be less forgiving…

We are left with a dilemma: How to animate the little character? Tried out a few ideas in virtual 3D. He cannot bounce walk or roll – all involve occlusion. In order for a narrative to occur we are hoping for two characters (at least) and differences in the way they move… This now looks like the narrative idea is in jeopardy.

In discussion we feel hide-bound by the cube character. Then we discuss the idea of the character being a fish. We could indicate movement through splashes and ripples as well as in the character moves and allow the ‘static’ turnaround elements to happen off-screen (underwater). Fish shape will be a hydra.

Projection mapping methodology:

We must avoid as much as possible to position the 3 dimensional objects perpendicular to the projection as only 1 side is illuminated. We worked out an optimal positioning where 3 sides are illuminated emphasizing the 3d effect.

There were problems of bleeding since the mappings images from Photoshop (pngs) where slightly distorted in FCP. The best way is to import them in AFX to animate them. AFX is more faithful to the original format it doesn’t distort. Also during the mapping it is very hard to see as everything is black and the Photoshop cursor is black too. We’re now placing a white board behind the object. This helps us see the cursor and masking the shadows in a better way. We’re using a polystyrene board which is highly reflective and expands the bleeding. By deleting the bleeding we gain precision and when we remove the white polystyrene the bleeding definitely doesn’t show anymore.

Notes for starting to work out the 2 character animation: Predator block and fish.

Get the floor (water) Ripples (plaster or perhaps plastecine?) Drops (shards)

Create narrative - dope sheet the narrative

Q: Moon and reflected moon? Predator May enter as a silhouette against the moon using occlusion

Predator swings and bounces

First animations to test: One fish bounce. One fish ripple. Predator swing in

Fish swims (slides) dives and jumps. Does not morph at all

We decide to run an experiment on the fish to see if the animation reads…

The first fish swimming is not a success: Due to an error the bodies are not cut at the right angle so that they are difficult to create light matts. Also the arc is too smooth it reads as a ‘scurry’ not a swim…

After these successful and unsuccessful experiments we decide to go ahead with our first proper experiment to show to an audience: the swing and bounce.

Leave a reply