February 21st, 2013
I just published an epic article over on Creative Applications detailing the use of different kinds of cameras in interactive installations. Check it out, and add any additional tips in the comments there!:
December 10th, 2012
October 10th, 2012
Kyle McDonald and I had been wanting to work together on a music video for a long time and I knew he was a big fan of the band as well so I asked him to join forces with me to come up with something for “Prairie School”, the first track on the new album.
I had been playing a little bit with a lens I pulled off a PS3eye camera and found that it fit perfectly over the lens on my iPhone camera and gave me ridiculous magnification. When the option to pitch on the video came around I really wanted to put this microscopic world to good use, and Prairie School was a perfect option for that. The song had a rapid energy, a brightness but also a sense of smallness without bounds (if that makes any sense). We got a really strong kind of retro-futuristic science video vibe from the song at first and offered up something that would be a mix of filming and software to provide a sort of abstract journey from big to small, as a sort of homage to the amazing 1977 Eames short film “Powers of 10″
We also worked through a way of breaking up the song into some kind of narrative that would match the variations in the song. The song had some very clear sections that we wanted to hit with big changes in visual mood. When working on videos I like to make a chart of the song that helps me understand and visualize the entire structure and the spacing between big moments. Here is the diagram that Kyle and I worked off of when coming up with the structure for the video (click the image for big version).
The majority of the time spent making the video was just a lot of exploration. I shot a ton of stuff up close and it was never really easy to tell if something was going to be boring or gorgeous underneath the tiny lens. In all I shot about 40gb of footage and about 300 individual clips for the video. In all, i would say i shot about 80% of the video on my iPhone, about 15% on my DSLR and 5% on a 500x USB microscope. In all the time spent exploring this microscopic world we realized that staying small made more sense and offered some compelling options on it’s own. Some of our original ideas for expanding to larger worlds ended up being a little time-prohibitive, even though they seemed like they might work out at first. We were initially going to zoom out of grass in a park which would then somehow expand to some high resolution 3D maps of NYC. Here is a demo version from Kyle of what that would have looked like:
Also to cover up what might have been some odd production value in the expansion, we played around with the idea of making the video something like what an 8th grader of 2082 might make as a video for his futuristic science class. Things would have had different graphical or textual overlays attached to them, giving bogus explanations and distance scales for what you were seeing in this abstract microscopic world. This idea got pulled in favor of a more organic direction. Here are some mockups of what we were thinking the eventually scrapped overlays might look like.
The footage also didn’t have the necessary internal movement to really match the energy of the song, so we experimented with overlaying different content on top of the footage I was getting. I had a lot of old stuff I had been recording for a couple years, but I had some footage I got in 2011 at an optical illusion museum in Edinburgh. They had some awesome stuff there, but I got a ton of nice 60fps footage of the electrical arcs of a tesla ball.
We also really liked the look of screen pixels when they were blown up to be really big. They were great punctuation marks for the drum heavy parts of the song. Kyle wrote a couple Processing sketches that gave me some great RGB line microscopic motion to film off my own screen. Here are links to the source code for the sketches I filmed for the video:
As I worked with the footage, I realized I was getting sucked into the visuals of this familiar but alien world. Also all of this material exploration had given me a really personal connection with all of the footage which I feel shaped the story a little bit. Each time I filmed was this new experience with a previously familiar object, but I was experiencing it all through a screen even though it was right in front of me. The same screen I use to experience or learn about many other things I’ve never actually physically been present for, but it was still here as a barrier or a gateway. The experience of rubbing dirt in your fingers versus seeing blown up footage of the dirt getting into your nails and skin folds, just witnessing the same action on a different scales.
When working with such abstract footage it can be a challenge to shape it into something that flows together, especially when you’re not sure where you’re going (not always necessary). I didn’t want it to just be a bunch of gorgeous footage clumped together, I wanted it to have some kind of thrust or direction to it. A continuous progression like in “Powers of 10″ started to not make as much sense because the middle section of the song really held a different world than the bookending sections.
If I had to give a description about the video’s story, it would be something like “a loose narrative about an experience learning about real physical things versus learning about them on a screen.” The video starts with this really unfamiliar but engaging materials (literally just shots of my laptop and touching the speaker grill on the laptop), and these flashes of light give an extra burst of energy to the drums and other sections. This first area still has energy, but it doesn’t have a lot of color to it. In the middle section of the song, you see a lot more interaction with the recognizable natural world and there is more color and texture there. The flashes of light are still there in full force. In the end section, the de-saturated and more organic worlds start to mix with more shots of pixellated things on a screen, and finally you see the hand from earlier touching things on a screen instead of real life. In the end I wanted there to be just a little bit of ambiguity about where the world of the video just occurred, real life or on a screen. I don’t know if I really pulled that message off the right way, but it was hard to dance around it without getting too heavy handed.
The editing process for the video was really intense. This was one of those videos where I started to figure out that I have an editing “style” by now, but now I’ll have to see if I can change that around for whatever my next video is. I’ve been a fan of doing meticulous editing with music ever since I started with Final Cut (now in Premiere), and I can get into a pretty good groove with the material. It’s still a very different feeling than working with the material live, but it can be really nice to get in there and bring out certain parts of the song you really want to highlight.
Below is a super large image of my entire Premiere timeline for the video (click for full readable size to get an idea of the types of materials I was actually filming. Image size: 400px x 26000px).
I ended up shooting, dropping things in and seeing what worked and then going back and shooting more. I probably had 6-8 different established shooting periods where I collected the majority of the footage, and sometimes I just had my lens on me and would shoot stuff if it looked like it might be really unusual looking close up. It was a very different process than having to set up established shooting schedules…just being able to shoot on the fly for the video was an unusual experience. It definitely made the editing process a little more arduous. The whole video probably went through about 2 or 3 different versions before it settled into its final form. All in all, a really fun and tiring process, but I’m really happy with the result.
June 24th, 2012
Using 12 toys from Crayola called “Glow Books”, I hacked together a charming prototype of what a ~1ft deep 3D display might look like. This would be a similar concept to animating some of those famous depth paintings on dozens of panes of lit glass.
Uses an Arduino Mega to drive it all.
For the animation, I traced a cube I had digitally animated and printed out, frame by frame.
You can control the speed, scrub position/frame, and make a fade effect.
The Crayolascope has been exhibited at the NY Hall of Science in Queens, NY as part of their series that teaches kids about different aspects of animation. It has also been shown at Launchpad in Brooklyn, NY as part of the Slap Dash art series.
For the next version, I’d like to play with more powerful lighting and more full edge lighting, as well as solve the issue of internal reflectivity between panels degrading the quality of the “image”. Once the animation goes in about 14-18 frames, it becomes very difficult to see from one side unless it is in a very dark space. I would love to get it much deeper than that, or at least make a finer Z-space resolution.
Engadget – http://www.engadget.com/2012/06/25/crayolascope-hacks-toys-into-foot-thick-3d-display/
Hack-a-day – http://hackaday.com/2012/06/24/crayolascope-turns-flat-displays-into-volumetric-coolness/
Makezine Blog – http://blog.makezine.com/2012/06/25/crayolascope-an-analog-depth-display/
June 24th, 2012
April 15th, 2012
At work I got the amazing chance to spend some of my free time developing a simple photobooth iPhone app called Crystal Eye. I wanted to try and make something that I hadn’t really seen before, and a lot of the effects on the App store seemed to be in the same sort of “overlay” style.
I’ve been interested for a while in making effects that are influenced by the content of the image and aren’t simply just overlaid with little regard for what is going on inside the image. Another goal was to create a fun, interactive tool that anyone could just pick up and use. The live tweaking aspect was also pretty important to me.
The app is still in a sort of early development stage with a lot of cool tweaks and extra effects to be made down the road. I also hope to make a variation soon that processes each image as a frame that can be reassembled to a weird rotoscope style video.
December 20th, 2011
(no particular order)
Bon Iver – Calgary (really awesome environment..love the reveal at the end)
Battles – My Machines (amazingly done single shot video)
Hooray For Earth – True Loves (this needs to be made into a movie)
No Age – Fever Dreaming (another good single shot video)
Battles – Ice Cream (all over the place, but the styling is pretty great)
Adele – Rolling in the Deep (some of the shots are really incredible)
Swedish House Mafia – Save the world (what a simple idea..but brilliant)
Oh what the hell:
Katy Perry – TGIF
January 27th, 2011
Whew…after over a month of hard work shooting, editing and shooting and editing, my video for Braids’ song Plath Heart has finally been released into the wild. It is my very first official music video and I’m really excited that I got to work with such a talented group.
This video really embodied ‘experimental’ for me, mostly due to how I approached the project. The song has a very unusual structure to me, so it was very hard to fit a kind of story line to it. I was stuck initially when trying to figure out the visual piece of the song. Luckily, after meeting with the band, I was able to pick out a few phrases and ideas that they claimed they could ‘see’ as part of the song. Some of the key phrases that stuck out were “metallic”, “detailed”, “birth” and “tunnel”. I also asked for what they saw as the color palette of the song, and stuck to that as much as possible.
Then for weeks I played around with strange filming techniques and materials. I ended up with about 2 hours of footage by the end of everything. I wanted to keep the video as immediate as possible, to stick to some of my expertise as a live visualist. I spent hours just laying down clips that I had shot and just sort of building everything from the ground up, without a clear vision of where I was going to end up. In some ways, I think that helped the piece, but it made it incredibly difficult to start off. I wanted to be able to communicate something powerful without putting together a complete “storyline” in my head, so that I could match the way I felt about the song. I’m so used to just letting things happen by chance, so it was hard to come back and apply a little more control to a piece. A lot of things were still kept to chance…strangely enough, even through 13 different versions and edits, the first 40 seconds or so ended up staying the same from the very first version.
I wish I had some photos of how i got some of the shots I did, some of it would be pretty comical. Instead of ruining the magic for the whole thing, I’ll explain one of the main shots. Even I was surprised about how the ‘water’/'flashing lights sections turned out since they looked so otherworldly, but it was a very simple setup. For that shot, all I did was set my camera pointing up on my record player and turned it on…and then dangled some tinsel which was backlit by a flashlight. That random experiment ended up being the bookends of the entire video. I’m glad I had to make this video around the holidays, because I was able to stock up on things like tinsel, battery powered christmas lights and other unusual metallic materials. Another shot involved macro shooting of a glass bowl of milky water that happened to fit perfectly on top of my desk lamp.
Overall I feel really satisfied with the way the video came out. It was a battle between editing for microscopic musical events while keeping a view on the larger picture. In the end it was a lot of shuffling around different events until it became very fluid. I couldn’t really explain the ‘story’ in words if you asked me, but I’d say most music videos I like would get a similar comment from me. In the end, the video is open to a lot of different interpretations, just like the song.
Some really great reviews coming in about the video…so many different interpretations that I haven’t even imagined. From an analysis of Sylvia Plath’s relationships, and sasquatch’s intestines to just traveling down a “hairy tube”
January 20th, 2011
I finally put together a demo reel of a bunch of my previous work, most of which you can find in the rest of my portfolio. It includes some of my live visuals work, some of my interactive installation work, and a few of my music videos (both official and unofficial). I’ll be adding onto it eventually. All of the material on the reel was shot, edited, programmed, and tweaked by me.
November 16th, 2010
I was finally able to cobble together a video for Nam June Paik’s Wobbulator. It was one of my favorite pieces of equipment during my residency at the Experimental Television Center, and I was confused about why there wasn’t a lot of information out there about it on the web. There are a few grainy youtube videos but they don’t show a lot of the exterior of the device or any of the real time manipulations, so I wanted to make a little educational video. Most of the Wobbulator’s source images in this video were either from a camera pointed out a window, or just from straight video feedback.
For a lot more information, check out the Experimental Television Center’s website in their Video History Project area. There are tons of great articles on early analog video tools and techniques, but in particular there is a very detailed article on the wobbulator. Just to give you some more info, here is the first paragraph of the article on the device:
A raster manipulation unit or ‘wobbulator’ is a prepared television which permits a wide variety of treatments to be performed on video images; this is accomplished by the addition of extra yokes to a conventional black and white receiver and by the application of signals derived from audio or function generators on the yokes. The unit is a receiver modified for monitor capability; all of the distortions can thus be performed either on broadcast signals or, when the unit is used as a monitor, on images from a live or prerecorded source. Although the image manipulations cannot be recorded directly, they can be recorded by using an optical interface. The patterns displayed on the unit are rescanned; a camera is pointed directly at the picture tube surface and scans the display. The video signal from this rescan camera is then input to a videotape recorder for immediate recording or to a processing system for further image treatment. The notion of prepared television has been investigated by a number of video artists and engineers; this particular set of modifications was popularized by Nam June Paik.
I also made a quick music video with the wobbulator as a key component…check it out here