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Bay Bridge (1) – Coming and going

Exploring a different view of panoramic footage, showing where you've been and where you're going in a single simultaneous stream.

Cast: Gian Pablo Villamil

Tags: video art and san francisco

"Visual Streams" at the Exploratorium

"Visual Streams" installation during testing

"Visual Streams" installation during testing

For the past several months I’ve been volunteering at the Exploratorium, the famous science museum and playground in San Francisco. One of the projects I’ve been working on is called “Visual Streams”, an installation that represents the different aspects of the human visual system. I’ve built on previous work by Bill Meyer and Richard Brown of the Exploratorium, and some extremely useful JavaScript programming by Bill Nye.

The quadrants of the screen represent: color vision without brightness information (equiluminance), motion, face detection and edge detection. I’ve learned a lot of interesting things in the process, not just about the human visual system, but also how difficult it is to accurately represent color using digital media. The project relies on a lot of the reliability and ease-of-use techniques that I’ve developed for use in art projects.

The installation is all built in Max/MSP, and relies heavily on the OpenCV computer vision library, in its¬†cv.jit incarnation. It’s currently in “soft launch” mode, check it out in the “Seeing” exhibit.

"At The Still Point", at Smack Mellon gallery

Installation view, photo by Etienne Frossard

Installation view, photo by Etienne Frossard

Pawel Wojtasik has a new video installation on view, at the Smack Mellon gallery in DUMBO (Brooklyn, NY). The soundtrack is by Stephen Vitiello, and I developed the software that manages the HD multi-channel projection.

“At The Still Point” was filmed in India, and covers themes of creation, destruction, and rebirth. It is presented as 5 channels of high resolution video, designed to fit in with Smack Mellon’s unique,¬†cathedral-like physical space.

An excerpt from the piece is online on Vimeo:

It’s on show until April 11, well worth a visit! Smack Mellon is at 92 Plymouth St., Brooklyn, New York.

Outdoor Exploratorium video

A little trailer about the exhibits of the Outdoor Exploratorium, located at Fort Mason. There’s far more than is shown in the video, if you’re in San Francisco check it out and go exploring!

More info at exploratorium.edu/outdoor

This video had a real 21st century workflow – all AVCHD, copied straight from SD card and edited without transcoding.

Going round in circles, Shibuya crossing

All the people going round and round, popping in and out, ending up just where they started.

Footage of Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, heavily processed optically and digitally.

Cast: Gian Pablo Villamil

Tags: japan, tokyo, ambient, strange and art

Golden Gate (2)

Crossing a bridge, revisited.

40 minutes to render, 4 hours of tweaking so that After Effects wouldn't crash...

Cast: Gian Pablo Villamil

Tags: sfo and ambient

Golden Gate (1)

An ambient meditation on crossing a bridge. Three layers of footage, shot from a car, of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Cast: Gian Pablo Villamil

Tags: sfo, vehicle mount and san francisco

Video fun with Open Sound Control

I’ve been working on some fun stuff lately, automating VJ software using the Open Sound Control protocol. It’s been an interesting experience: OSC is a potentially revolutionary way of allowing users to extend software for live performance.

I’ve been using Resolume VJ software for a while now, it is a good way of performing with live video. The latest version adds the ability to control it remotely via a system called Open Sound Control, a much more modern replacement for the venerable MIDI protocol.

Like all VJs, one of the most important things for me is being able to walk away from my system and get a beer, secure in the knowledge that things will continue to work. The old Resolume had something called “chaos mode“, which would randomly play clips for you. However, the new one does not, so I set out to replace it.

The Max/MSP programming environment is great for doing things like this, and it supports Open Sound Control, so I set out to build some tools.

My first attempt was Resolume CoPilot:

Copilot lets you trigger clips in a number of random and semi-random ways, in sync with the beat. You can download it here, and read about how to use it here.

However, Copilot is quite random really, and while it serves for quick beer breaks, I thought it would be interesting to build a much more deterministic tool. The obvious next step was a step sequencer, so that is what I built:

You can download it here and read about it here. If you have feedback or comments, please leave them on the Resolume forum, so the whole community can share.

Developing the step sequencer was fun – it ‘s interesting to go beyond basic functionality, and working on making a user interface that is usable in live performance.

I am intrigued by how Open Sound Control is opening up an interesting world of possibilities. It becomes possible to use existing software like Resolume for its fast and robust audio/video playback, while developing custom performance tools that extend it in all sorts of ways. Instead of the developers trying to anticipate every single user scenario, they can focus instead on improving performance, and making it possible for users themselves to develop new features. For example, my interactions with the Resolume developers are now about making additional functions of the program usable via Open Sound Control.

Bringing life to old media, and the death of Kodachrome

The demise of Kodachrome last week did not surprise me – in fact, I thought Kodak had long ago ceased production. I have to say I regret it. I’ve recently been working on digitizing my grandfather’s collection of slides, taken on numerous exotic trips around the world, and the difference between the Kodachrome process slides and the others is astonishing.

Here is a scan of a 48 year old Kodachrome slide, a street scene in Burma. Other than dust removal, I have done no additional processing to the image:

A Burmese Street Scene

A Burmese Street Scene

The colors are vivid and clear, the photo could have been taken yesterday. In contrast, here is an Ektrachrome slide, taken 2 weeks later on the same trip:

A Hong Kong street scene

A Hong Kong street scene

Note how all the blue information has disappeared, and the picture has taken on a strong reddish tint. At the time, this was a full color image! Apparently it took Kodak years to realize that Ektachrome slides would lose most of their color, even when stored in dark. By that time, it was too late for many photographers.

Even extensive post-processing can only do so much. At least it is possible to reduce the overwhelming red hue, and recover a little bit of the remaining green and red pigments:

hk-street-post-DEE

My grandfather purchased many commercial slides to fill out the records of the trip. Some of these commercial slides have fared even worse:

The Colosseum, Rome

The Colosseum, Rome

At least they’ve decayed in interesting ways! I intend to do something interesting with the hundreds of extremely decrepit slides that look like this.

I could not help thinking that I am probably the last person who will ever physically handle these slides. Chances are that scanning technology won’t really improve sufficiently to justify ever scanning these slides again, and the Ektachrome slides will eventually fade away entirely.

A lot of today’s media face the same fate: DVD-R’s are this generation’s Ektachrome, with a viable lifetime much, much shorter than originally thought (5 to 10 years). The only way to keep digital media current seems to be continued copies onto newer and newer media, but even hard drives are not a good archival medium (lubricants in the bearings of a hard drive will eventually freeze up if the drive is not powered up for more than a year).

Keeping media alive is major effort, and one that is time-critical. Once the physical media has degraded, the effort quickly becomes so great that it will mostly never be made. Unfortunately, digital media seems to lack the equivalent of a Kodachrome, a stable medium that will last into future generations.

Jim Power, mosaic man of the East Village, needs YOU

Jim Power, Mosaic Man

Jim Power, Mosaic Man

I finally met Jim Power, the Mosaic Man of the East Village. For the past 22 years, and without any official support (read: funding), he’s been decorating the lamp posts of the East Village with elaborate mosaics. This is not just a decorative exercise: the mosaics contain detailed references to the history and landmark of the New York, and are a conscious attempt to preserve the history and character of the neighborhood. Today he was working on repairs to a lamp post that he first worked on 22 years ago.

In spite of his age, and the time he’s already spent on the project, he’s got big ideas: he wants to restore the giant mural on the floor of the US pavilion from the World’s Fair in Flushing, and he wants to create a series of pavement mosaics on Allen Street, working with Chinese artists.

To do this, he needs some support (both moral and financial), and there are ways to provide both. They’re on the sign in the picture, but I’ll repeat them here: his PayPal username is jimpower and his phone number is (646) 236-1547. He likes hearing from people who donate.

Next time you’re in the East Village, pay closer attention to the mosaics on the lamp posts – they tell all kinds of stories. If you want to help out, now you know how!