Opening this week at the new Media Space gallery at the Science Museum in London is the solo show by Universal Everything consisting of two separate pieces titled Presence and 1000 Hands. CAN got a chance to get the preview of the installation earlier this week and also to chat with UE about the project development, concepts and the ideas leading up to the final install.
The project has been in development for about a year, Keri Elmsly, the producer tells CAN. It is a continuation of Universal Everything’s exploration into anthropomorphism, transfiguration and the essence of the human form. Two installs occupy a single space at the darkened Media Space, arranged in circular layout, like onion skin open up layers of scale from body movement representation (Presence) to participatory finger gestures collected from the visitors and global participators via iOS and Android app (1000 Hands), presented together on a 360º projection screen. In the outer layers of the installation four projectors display body movement in beautiful sync with the music created by Simon Pyke.
Presence is the result of a collaboration with renowned choreographer Benjamin Millepied and the dancers of his LA Dance Project. Building on the visual vocabulary by Universal Everything in earlier works like Tai Chi, Supreme Believers and Transfiguration, this piece captures the essence of movement and body gesture into sculptural forms animated beautifully by Chris Perry. The guide to all that happens in the room is the music which Simon created at the very early stage of the development of the piece, even when the dancers were being recorded using motion-capture suits. The dancers improvised movements to six of Simon’s early music segments. The important part of this “conversation” between the dancers and the music were the realtime trails, to help them devise “shapes carved through space”. The team developed 100s of costume variations, to find the balance of tension between abstract and figurative – the human presence. Using Houdini, the team created procedural visual reactions to the costumes. e.g. limb speed affects colour intensity, particle turbulence or trail length. This conversation between the dancers and the immediate feedback is evident in the final piece. The way movement is illustrated is far from an ad-on to points moving in space rather integral part of the movement.
The final piece presented in the MediaSpace includes a total of 24 different animation segments which are distributed across 4 curved projection screens, managed by mad mapper that could be remotely operated via LogMeIn.
1000 Hands, as the name suggest, is an interactive part of the installation. Like in the Presence piece, the team explored various ways to add “digital costumes” to the minimal hand gestures. Early on the team experimented with various rendering methods. One idea was to have “minimal” costumes that occur during quiet portions of the soundtrack, using simple white lines. In louder, more intense sections we would use full colour 3D polygons. Eventually the team chose to focus on the line as the basis of the work, while using only colour and animation to coordinate with the soundtrack.
Since Houdini played a major part in the early development of the Presence piece, the team explored realistic rendering methods with Houdini for dressing the gestures, but this was dropped when they ultimately decided on using iOS and Android phones as a primary platform. The graphics style would have needed to match what could be rendered in real-time on these devices. Speed of iteration was one area of focus. At one point they developed an xml-based, Houdini-esque editor (screenshot | video). This would allow a designer to create costumes simply by combining nodes. This would alleviate the bottleneck of the developer deploying new versions.
However, this idea was eventually scrapped as it was taking too much time to maintain an API between the tool and the app. Instead, face-to-face meetups, focusing on sketches and changes inside the Unity Editor, became the better way of iterating on costumes.
A kinetic typeface was also developed to match the style of 1000 Hands. Additionally, parameters could be altered to convey various styles and moods.
The mobile application now available and used in the museum by the public, created using Unity, enables visitors to create gestures and animate using set presets. The app also includes shape recognition software and there is about 30-40 gestures defined – circle, square, ‘S’ shape which are interpreted when you lift the finger and according to this assigns the shape. If the shape is drawn and not recognised by the software, a random skin is applied. Once your spline is created additional settings can be applied where you can further customise, including energy, complexity which changes the style. Each style has its own features and the way its regulated. In the background, the app generates a GIF animations which is sent to the website and generates gesture data which is sent to the main server. The app on the main screens of the installation is essentially the same app running on mobile. The animations are spawned every 2 seconds and remain not the screen and remain for a minute or two and then it goes to archive and is randomly pulled out on the main screen. The music piece is 24 minutes, Presence last 24 minutes and so do the 1000 hands on the main screen. They are sound responsive to the music, when quiet they do not show colour and when music is louder and more intense, the colour spawns in the gestures displayed on the main screen.
The final app is now available and can be downloaded here:
The installation runs on a total of three MacMinis and two MacPros as well as a single PC which manages the projectors. Two of the MacMinis are designated for the 1000 Hands, one MacMini for the audio system which triggers everything and 2 MacPros run Presence on two separate screens each.
Finally, the structure devised by the architect Irene Shamma was designed to be freestanding, individual objects – tourable and reconfigurable. The team iterated many times (see here, here, here and here) on the installation design. This particular test below depicts a free-floating circular structure.
The final installation opens in just three days. We will be sharing with CAN readers the final documentation but in the meantime we leave you with few images taken by CAN (below) which are in no way are representation of the wonder UE created for Media Space. To experience fully, we strongly suggest you pay Science Museum a visit, at the earliest convenience.
Project Page (including essay by Julia Kaganskiy)
Creative Director : Matt Pyke
Sound Designer : Simon Pyke
Animator : Chris Perry
Developers : Mike Tucker, Andreas Muller
Architect : Irene Shamma
Fabrication : James Shearer / Small Projects
Producer : Keri Elmsly
Benoit Simon – Technician / Ab3 Workshops & Other Fabrications – Fabrication / Audiomotion Studios – Motion Capture / Bluman Associates – Av Consultant & Supplier / Annie Kerr – Viola / Jenny Kosmowsky – Vocals / Merlin Shepherd – Clarinet
Media Space at the Science Museum
London 21 September 2013 – 7 February 2014