Köthen was a battle. Campusfest is the last night on Earth.

In this course, I worked on two separate tasks for the two aforementioned shows. For the DJ battle at Sachsen-Anhalt Tag in Köthen, I worked with three of my classmates to construct a 3D scene, with individual components reacting dynamically to the music based on the DJs’ inputs. At Campusfest, I decided to branch off from the group and focus on a separate, but related project, drafted with the idea of more interaction and immersion in the DJ’s sphere of influence. This then developed into a motion tracking and projection experience for the guests walking by the DJ show. Both sub-projects provided me with countless challenges and exposure to new material and ideas. I found that I profited most greatly by being ‘thrown into the deep end’ in regards to the programming language Processing, with which I had never before worked.

 

Life Support

Thus named is the end result of my part of the Köthen show. The final output is in the form of a Processing ‘sketch’, a single page of code integrated into a rendering engine with all the rest of the classes’. However, the project started off much more nebulous.

In the first few weeks, my group and I brainstormed ideas relating to the DJ Dagonaut’s personal theme of outer space. A great many ideas were tossed around and, instead of choosing one, we sought to integrate the best parts of each into one concept. The original idea was a layered system: the top layer would be technological field of circuit boards, wires and displays, able to break away at a moment’s notice; below would lay an organic system of organs connected by pumping veins and sinew. Each layer was to have a central component: a CPU and a heart, respectively.

Some early sketches of differently-styled hearts.

Some early sketches of differently-styled hearts.

Unfortunately, this didn’t pan out, due mainly to technological constraints of the rendering engine. My groupmates and I decided to split the project in two, with me at the helm of the organic layer. I still found the interplay of technology and biology too interesting to pass up, so keeping the heart as the central component, I decided to surround it with technology and veins, connected in both senses of the word.

A few styles and references I used for technological components.

A few styles and references I used for technological components.

Styles and reference images I used for organic components - mainly the heart.

Styles and reference images I used for organic components – mainly the heart.

Once I began some concrete style research, I found myself drawn both to shiny futurism and matte retro tech. I incorporated ideas from both and decided on a final visual style of lo-poly hi-tech. To give some backstory to the scene, I imagined this machinery resting in a derelict East German spacecraft, still dutifully functioning centuries after its launch. The heart has evolved and begun to take over the machine, or perhaps even form a symbiosis.

Exploded components of the heart, ready for modelling.

Exploded components of the heart, ready for modelling.

Individual pieces of technology, about to come together to form the whole.

Individual pieces of technology, about to come together to form the whole.

With a style in mind, I began doing more technical sketches, dissecting the individual components, so that I could better understand and rebuild them in 3D. The hardest part was the modelling of the heart. I didn’t have much experience in creating organic objects, so I poured a lot of time into researching just how real hearts work, grossing out my classmates in the process by watching a pumping heart video on loop! Shapes for the surrounding technology were based on the topology of the façade of the building onto which we projected. I kept the position of the main columns and the arch, in order to keep things looking in line.

A final still render of my contributions to the Life Support sketch.

A final still render of my contributions to the Life Support sketch.

A part upon which I felt I could have improved upon was the integration of the music with my 3D structures. The heart clearly pumps with the beat, but in the background, only the EKGs at the top spike and spark with the music. Other animations were relegated to simple looping, as I didn’t want there to be an on/off feel to the whole scene. I feel I could have achieved a better integration by keeping this more in mind from the concept phase and also by doing more research into beat recognition. Time constraints, however, kept us all moving forward, as the show needed to run flawlessly after only a month of work!

All in all, I was pleased with the results of my sketch and am extremely thankful to my groupmate who really brought the scene to life through the programming, as I had focused solely on 3D modelling animation for the duration of this sub-project. Our group had excellent integration and I felt I could always benefit from their different areas of expertise.

 

Re-entry

After Sachsen-Anhalt Tag, the class, along with Dagonaut, regrouped and re-evaluated the work. At Campusfest, we would now be projecting onto the façade of Building 06, with Dagonaut commanding his spaceship from the stage out front. Theme: Last Night on Earth. While we didn’t want to heap new work on everyone, new ideas were allowed to be thrown around. One problem we noticed in Köthen was that, despite the many people present, not many seemed interested in staying to watch the show or dancing around. Of a few different brainstormed solutions, I latched onto one of motion tracking the guests, then projecting graphics on the ground around their feet, inspiring them to deviate from their course and instead join the throngs partying with the DJ.

Originally, I envisioned the party to take place inside, as per previous information from the Campusfest organizers. Therefore, I assumed some more shy people would congregate around the rear. To get those people in the party mood and also connect them to one another, I designed a few concepts of ‘ID circles’, where each person would have a ring around their feet with an avatar. When two people got with a certain distance, a connection would form, inspiring them to strike up a conversation (or also move away, I guess).

Top: original sketches showing user connections. Below: second concept of atmospheric re-entry.

Top: original sketches showing user connections. Below: second concept of atmospheric re-entry.

However, the final plans changed to be an outdoor DJ show and I needed to modify my concept.  Another constraint, about which I had not originally considered, was the fact that I would never be able to project anything fully around anyone’s feet, a physical limitation of using a single projector. After consideration with Prof. Klöckner, I decided to line up my concept with the ‘Last Night on Earth’ theme and give passersby fire and flames from aerodynamic heating, as if they were entering the atmosphere and reign of influence of Dagonaut.

Feeling like an architecture student: mock-up with cut-outs.

Feeling like an architecture student: mock-up with cut-outs.

With styles in mind, I researched how objects look when they re-enter the atmosphere from space. Layering images from NASA and elsewhere, I created a simple mock-up in Photoshop, then animated it lightly to visually represent my ideas to the class.

Technical solutions to this concept were not immediately clear to me, but after much research, I figured I could accomplish this with an infrared camera and a projector attached to a truss high above the street. Thankfully, the Design Department had an Xbox Kinect available for me to use, which made the capturing of an infrared image even easier! Through my research, I also found a Processing library, named Blobby whose purpose was to identify ‘blobs’ of light from captured camera images. Lastly, I modified my work from the last part – what I needed was the code to play a series of png files, my projected re-entry graphics, as a video. After getting these three components running separately, I just needed to integrate them.

Once I got all the libraries and tech working well with one another, the thing that took the longest was simple calibration. Motion tracking is never perfect, and I found it difficult with limited programming experience to control the positioning and jumpiness of the projected graphics. However, I needed to remind myself that this is no art installation; no one will be carefully inspecting the projections. It’s running at night next to a pumping DJ show. People just need to feel the energy and be pulled in. If I can accomplish that, then I will be satisfied with the work.

Final Message_

Looking back through this whirlwind of a semester, I can say that I definitely profited from this ‘2-in-1’ project and I am very glad I decided to challenge myself and dive out of my comfort zone with the Processing motion tracking. Not only did I learn a lot about the language (so different from JavaScript), but I also learned much about personal responsibility and deadlines. In contrast to the American system, the German school system, with class only once a week, gave me a really great perspective and fostered my work within my small group, as well as within the class as a whole.