Imagine if Buildings Could Talk – Wrapup

You are going to want to get a cup or glass of a favorite beverage for this one – it’s long.

Imagine

Project Timeline

  • 2015: Summer – Gayle Seymour contacts me about doing a projection mapping event on the facade of LRCH
  • 2015: Contact Jim Lockhart and Jonathan Richter (J & J) about working on it with me
  • 2015: NEA Grant submission
  • 2015: Fall – Sabbatical Application for spring 2017
  • 2016: Spring – Get news of NEA grant (awarded, but not fully funded). Awarded sabbatical leave
  • 2016: Summer
    • Meet with Blake Tyson about the piece
    • Setup Google Drive (shared docs with Gayle, Jennifer, and Blake), Dropbox (shared files with Jim and Jonathan), and Basecamp (communication with J & J mostly, but with Gayle, Jennifer, and Blake as needed)
    • Contacted projection companies about possibly doing the project
    • Late summer – MooTV got on-board as projection company with Travis Walker as project manager and Tim Monnig as systems engineer
  • 2016: Fall
    • Blake Tyson composes and records music
    • Developed themes for imagery
    • Started modeling the facade
    • Occasional meetings with National Park Rangers and LRCH Principal, Nancy Rousseau
    • Nashville meeting with J & J
    • Not much more besides answering questions and trying to make it through the semester
  • 2017: Spring
    • Started full-time production – finished facade and statues
    • January Nashville meeting with J & J
    • Demos and marketing images, several things to show what projection mapping is, but not imagery that would go into the final piece
    • Developed “School Life” section
    • Two visits to the Arkansas State Archives
    • Multiple meetings with Nancy Rousseau, Rangers, and working with potential vendors for Sound and Generator
    • Request for permission to use Will Counts photos (early April)
  • 2017: Summer
    • 3D production – finish School Life; develop Desegregation Crisis section with several re-starts throughout summer
    • Finalize vendors for sound and generator and work out scaffolding, ultimately finding a scaffolding vendor
    • Get permission for Will Counts photos and Raymond Preddy photos; Finish Desegregation Crisis section (August)
    • Ongoing communication with J & J regarding their sections
    • PROMISE youth camp workshop
  • 2017: September
    • All imagery assembled from the three of us artists
    • September 15th – Meet at MooTV in Nashville (J&J, Travis and Tim) to walk through playback, and designing the lighting looks
    • Window, door, and sconce drapes made
    • September 21st
      • Scaffold built; projectors, sound, and lights loaded-in
      • Windows covered from interior
      • Doors and sconces covered on exterior
      • Projector alignment
    • September 22nd – image mapping and alignment
    • September 23-24 – public shows and load-out
    • September 25th – 60th Anniversary event

 

LRCHblueprints

Original Blueprints at the Visitor’s Center

The Content

The sections of the animation:

  • Opening – Construction and Statues (Jonathan)
  • School Life – academics and athletics over the history of the school (Scott)
  • Desegregation Crisis and Lost Year (Scott)
  • Close – the spirit of the students in school now (Jim)
ProjectorPOV

Projector Point of View, students installing exterior drapery

Why did it take so long?

There are two main reasons it took months to get the work finished. The first is that 3D animation takes a while to do, especially if there is a lot of modeling detail. I spent a few weeks modeling the statues and, though the rest of the facade was relatively simple, I spent quite a bit of time on the model so it would match the photographs as closely as possible. Once I got into the School Life section, I found myself mired in the 3D details too.

4statues

Finished 3D Model of the LRCH Entrance

The second is that turning a general theme into imagery can take time. The School Life section was the first one I designed because I thought I had a strong sense of what I wanted it to be. As I pecked away at it by building or procuring models of books and sports equipment and then creating materials and lighting, I was not only burning time, but also slowly developing an idea of what the section should look like. On top of the 3D animation, I also spent about 10 hours at the Arkansas State Archives over two trips going though old yearbooks and newspapers. To finish researching the photographs I needed, I visited the LRCH library with help from Stella Cameron and went through some materials Gayle found at an estate auction. A lot of time went into bringing the 3D and 2D elements together as well as over two weeks of rendering the final animation.

The Desegregation section also took a great deal of time changing it from a theme to actual imagery. I wasn’t sure I would have permission to use the photographs made by Will Counts until it finally happened in mid-July (I originally asked permission to use them in early April). Through the summer I worked on several different ideas to illustrate the events of 1957-59, but was never happy with any of them. Either the ideas were too great in scope or they just didn’t look as good as I wanted them to when I tried them out.

When I got permission to use the photos I decided to celebrate the photos themselves with an overall look that was reminiscent of a project I did several years ago, but this version ended up being much better. Also, with having a strong sense of what I wanted to do with the photos, I was able to get the work done quickly. The actual production time on the Desegregation Crisis was significantly shorter than the School Life section, but it took even longer to get to the point of actually producing final imagery. The slowest part was creating the images for when the Little Rock Nine enter the school. Those photos exist, but are blurry and taken from too far away so I re-created them in a slightly illustrative style.

One of the best aspects of doing this project was that there was no client. Jim, Jonathan, and I chose to take our time to think about the piece and let ideas evolve. There was a lot of idea incubation time as well, which was useful to try an idea out and then let it sit for a while to see if it was right. The three of us normally have to think on our feet and get work done quickly for clients, but this project afforded us the time to consider what we were doing and be satisfied and proud of our choices.

Similarly, when there is no client and there is time, I am able to let my INTP-ness express itself. I prefer to think through a problem and try different approaches and I am willing to work through solutions in my head and let them go if they aren’t working. For personal work, this too often means that I may not necessarily finish a project, but since this particular project did have a real deadline, I was able to mix my inclination for mental play and get things done.

SaturdayNightAudience

Saturday night audience

Show

For me, the show started production on September 15th when I went to Nashville to program the lights and check playback. Jim, Jonathan, Tim, Travis, and I met for the first time in the same space to talk through playback of imagery and sound and see what we were capable of doing with lights. I had sketched out lighting ideas for each section and we started with that, but it turned out that Travis is a lighting designer too and was doing the programming, so we worked together to create the looks for each section. This process took about eight hours, but it paid off since we were able to just tweak some timing on-site at the school, rather than doing any more design work.

September 21st was load-in day for projection, scaffolding, sound, electrical generator, and drapery. Considering all of those elements had to come together in the same late afternoon, it went remarkably smooth. I created an itinerary so each of the vendors could make sure things got setup in a certain order. Rock City Staging installed an 8’ x 16’ x 8’ platform with roof and side covers. A/V Arkansas installed a sound system and supervised getting the generator, provided by RIGGS, located and power cables run. Our primary directive from the principal and the rangers was to keep all equipment out of sight so anyone taking a picture of the school would not have AV equipment in the picture. A/V Arkansas was able to accommodate by placing the speakers behind trees to the sides of the main entrance. The UCA Physical Plant assisted Travis and Tim in getting the 240 lb. projectors lifted onto the 8’ platform. The Physical Plant also setup barricades around the projection platform.

ProjectionPlatform

Scott (in too baggy clothes), Travis, and Tim

Shauna led a team of Film students to install drapery on the interior of the arched windows and I got some help from Jim and Matt Rogers, Film student, carrying lighting fixtures up to the fourth floor roof and to the sides of the facade.

LightsOnRoof

Lights on the roof over the entrance

That evening we were able to power up the projectors and lighting equipment as it was getting dark enough to see them. The school was having a parents open-house so we had to wait until about 7:45 PM until we were able to install the outside drapery for the first time.

DrapesGoingUp

Students installing drapery, right – Jonathan and Jim

The rest of the night until about 3:00 AM Tim worked on aligning the projectors. The process is slow since there are multiple projectors and the alignment software on the projectors is slow (click to move a pixel then wait several seconds to see the change…).

ProjectorAlignment3

Projector alignment

September 22nd was about testing the playback, lighting, and sound systems first and then mapping/image alignment. There was a home football game that night against rival North Little Rock so we could not turn off the building lights. Luckily, the projectors were bright enough to be seen over the building light. After running through the show a few times we let the sound guys from AV Arkansas go and turned off the lights. The rest of the night was about mapping the animation to the building.

We had some technical issues with a model I provided for mapping, but it was undiscovered until late. Tim worked through the night to get the mapping software to do the best it could with what it was given. OVERALL, the mapping looked good. Unfortunately, there was offsetting towards the bottom of the image that couldn’t be fixed, but wasn’t that noticeable.

TimMappingBinoculars

Image mapping – Tim with binoculars checking his work

September 23rd and 24th were the shows starting at 7:30 and running every 15 minutes until 9:30. The final animation with credits was a little over nine minutes. I created a countdown animation, which was Shauna’s suggestion, so the audience would know when it would run again. The lighting console ran the show by sending a start command to the video/audio system and running the light cues.

The two nights started around 6:45 PM by installing the exterior drapery. Then we would wait for 7:30. Saturday night there was a jazz concert that preceded the show that started late and ended late so we didn’t start the show until nearly 8:00 PM. Sunday night there was an event at the Commemorative Garden across the street before the show, which ran on time and was designed to lead the participants and audience over to the school building to see the animation. Both nights were well attended, but Sunday night, to my surprise, had a bigger audience. Each night there were several people who stayed the whole time and watched the show repeat, which was strange and cool.

Sunday night we took down (struck) most of the equipment. The students, Chris Churchill, Steve Stanley, and Jim helped take down the exterior drapery and the lights. UCA Physical Plant came back to help take down the projectors for MooTV. A/V Arkansas also struck all of their equipment. Monday the platform and generator were removed from the grounds.

Mr. John Robert, facilities engineer, was instrumental in getting us into the building, out on the roof, and turning the lights off. I can’t thank him enough for his work and extra time he put in to help us.

CheckingLights

Lighting check

Monday, September 25th, was the official 60th anniversary event and I was pleased to be invited. It was amazing to see and hear the eight surviving members of the Little Rock Nine, as well as experiencing President Bill Clinton’s keynote address.

NineClinton

Bill Clinton with the surviving members of the Little Rock Nine

Response

I was overwhelmed by the audience response to the work. Several of my friends and colleagues saw the show and let me know how well they liked it. I was also approached by people from the community and LRCH alums that truly appreciated it and thanked us for doing it. Each person seemed to have a favorite moment for them and thankfully, the favorite moments were from each of the sections. Probably most of the comments were about the moving statues in the opening section; the tiger in the school life section was mentioned several times; when the Nine entered the building was another highlight; and the rainbow spheres were also a big hit. I was especially pleased with the emotional response to it. After working on it for so long it was hard to know whether it was really going to work or not and I think it did very well. Nancy Rousseau had seen the school life and desegregation sections on a computer weeks before the show and she really liked the whole show and I believe she truly appreciated the effort that went into lighting up her school.

Statues

Opening – Statues introduction

What struck me the most was how well Blake’s music and the imagery came together. I’ll admit that Jim and Jonathan worked harder at synching the imagery to the music than I did and it paid off. The place I worked the most on blending the imagery and the music was the end of the desegregation section where the music brightens while we see the capitol statues rush past. The music gave the imagery an emotional depth that was very satisfying.

The lighting surrounding the projection area was awesome. It was part of my original vision and it worked out so well. The lights were bright and colorful and not only expanded the projection area, but also removed the rectangle by fading it upwards and to the sides. The scale of the piece increased dramatically by incorporating the lighting.

SchoolLife

School Life

I knew we had something special based on Shauna’s response. She hadn’t seen it prior to the first show Saturday night and she was blown away. She was reluctant to support the project at first (in 2015) because she knew it would be big and that I would be working on it for a long time, but after seeing it the first time she was ready for me to start doing the next one, wherever that may be – even if it was back to a stack of boxes.

Projection mapping events are special because they are unique to their locations. I’m pleased to show the video of the work, but it does not do it justice. The vibrant color, bright light and images, and the overall scale of the piece does not translate to video. Similar to watching a play or concert on TV – it’s just not the same.

The project was highlighted by a press conference and a kick-off event preceding the show on the UCA campus, an interview in the Democrat-Gazette, an interview on KTHV 11, an interview for The Echo, and an interview on Spotlight. It was also covered by UCA media before and after the event and was featured in the UCA President’s Update email newsletter.

LittleRockNineEnters

Desegregation Crisis section – Little Rock Nine entering the building

Lessons Learned

I refuse to nitpick the piece. I’m proud of our work and I know how it could have been better, but overall I am more satisfied with this work than practically anything I’ve done in the past. Having said that, there are a few things that I’d like to document as far as lessons learned.

  • We should have done more cool stuff. The moving statues were a HUGE hit and though we originally planned to do a lot more with them, we only animated them once. It would have been nice to move them at least one more time. The rainbow spheres were also a big hit. Projection mapping events commonly incorporate playful animation of the architecture and while we did some, we could have done more. It was mostly my fault. I was so worried about respecting the events and school that I forgot to have fun. I also found that through my mapping simulations that the building was hard to transform. The projection area is already quite 3-dimensional so I found it difficult to mess with it much. It was a good lesson to learn based on audience responses and will definitely incorporate more transformational animation in future projects.
  • Projection mapping alignment took quite a long time. I should have worked with Tim more in the weeks prior to the show to go through the details of the mapping process. I was providing a 3D model, but not really getting into the rest of the process. I assumed that at the very least we would do a flat projection on the building since the rendered animation was from the point-of-view of the projectors, but as I saw the mapping process I realized that I was being naive. Tim and I are currently working through the process to see where we can make it better in the future and why we had some model compatibility and scaling issues.
  • The lighting was so important to the look of the final piece. It was a very effective way of expanding the scale of the projection and softening the rectangular shape. I definitely see using that technique again.
  • Get the sprinklers turned off. Though Jim would probably not agree, I’m glad we were there when the sprinklers went on at 1:00 AM or so in the morning. I ended up covering a couple of them with buckets with weights on them.
DigitalLights

Close – Lines of Light

Hours and Emails

I logged 623 hours on the project from early January, 2017 until a few days after the event. I created a Google Form that I kept open in a browser window. It had a line for me to say what I did that day and a choice of a number from 1-10 for the number of hours spent. My most consistent hours were from late January through May and then again in mid-July through August. Though I did work in June, it was spotty due to some outside projects and taking some time off. The hours included doing graphics work as well as time spent on emails, documentation, meetings, and other tasks related to the project.

There are 496 emails in my Central High folder.

On Basecamp we had 20 discussions with 152 total messages.

There are 39,217 files on my computer related to the project. The number does not account for duplicate files, such as photos on a local hard drive and a copy on Dropbox. Nearly 2/3rds of the files are rendered frames (30 frames per second of animation).

Sabbatical Leave

I was awarded a sabbatical leave for the spring semester of 2017 to work on the project. The leave was needed for the project, but also something I NEEDED to do for myself.

I needed a break from teaching and service activities. I’ve been teaching each fall and spring semester at a university for the past 17 years. That may be grand for some professors, but I have such a love/hate relationship with academia and large organizations that I need breaks. I have also been going through a transition in my career both as an educator and working professional and needed some time to take stock in where I’ve been and where I would like to be in the future. A big part of applying for a sabbatical leave of absence was to give myself some time to recharge.

Similarly, I needed some time to focus and do some deep thinking about a creative problem. Teaching classes, helping colleagues on their creative projects, and doing short professional projects are fine, but they do not give me the opportunity to do my own creative work. The projection mapping project made me do the things I like to do, such as research, create 3D animation (modeling, animation, lighting, shading, rendering, compositing), and do some creative problem solving regardless of the content. In this case, in terms of how to communicate ideas of; the history of a school, school spirit, racism and the desegregation crisis, diversity, and education. I don’t believe I could have done the work while also carrying a 4-4 course load and the service expectations at UCA. I’ve done several other projects during a regular semester that were highly compromised due to the time and mental effort taken away by the needs of the job of professor.

Geek Stuff

Just a list of software used on the project:
3D: Blender (Scott), Maya (Jonathan), Cinema4D (Jim)
2D: Affinity Photo and Designer, Photoshop
Compositing: After Effects, Fusion, Premiere Pro
Video Editing: Premiere Pro, DaVinci Resolve
Projection Mapping: Pandora’s Box

We compiled the show and synched sound in Premiere Pro. The project file was on Dropbox and we would text each other when we had the file open so someone else wouldn’t open it and cause a problem overwriting it.

RainbowSpheres

Close – Rainbow spheres

Thank You

Thanks so much to everyone who helped and supported the project. Blake, Jim, Jonathan, and I could not have pulled it off without these people.

First, Gayle Seymour, Associate Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication at the University of Central Arkansas who was my partner on this project. This whole thing is her fault. She recruited Blake and I back in 2015. Throughout the process she sheltered me from the politics surrounding the 60th events and she dealt with the things I needed to worry about, but couldn’t do anything about, for instance getting 24-hour security for the equipment on-site and dealing with contracts and funding sources. There are so many more things that she did, including working with Jennifer Deering, Grant Writer in UCA’s Sponsored Programs department, to write grants and organize many more events besides the projection mapping event.

I also want to say that Tim Monnig and Travis Walker at MooTV were instrumental in making this happen. We were in contact with each other for 12 months to make sure everything was going to work properly. They are great to work with and hope we can do it again soon. They mentioned projecting on the Capitol Building, which sounded cool:)

The following is a list of those who contributed to the project:

  • Produced by Gayle Seymour, Jennifer Deering
  • Animations by W. Scott Meador, Jim Lockhart, Jonathan Richter
  • Projection by MooTV – Nashville, TN. Travis Walker, Tim Monnig
  • Musical score – The Surface of the Sky by Blake Tyson
    • Performed by UCA Percussion Ensemble – Carter Harlan, Victoria Kelsey, Jarrod Light, Bradlee Martin, Scott Strickland, Stephen Timperley
  • Sound by A/V Arkansas
  • Projection Platform by Rock City Staging
  • Lighting Equipment by UCA Theatre, Greg Blakey
  • UCA Film Student Crew – Rebecca Koehler, Melissa Foster, Jonhatan Nevarez Arias, Matt Rogers, Zack Stone, Takuma Suzuki, Dawn Webb
  • Projection Drapery by UCA Theatre, Shauna C. Meador, Sidney Kelly, Donna Dahlem, Hannah Pair, Autumn Toler
  • UCA Physical Plant – Dustin Strom, Jeremy Davis, Dale Gilkey, David Mathews, Tom Melrose, Skipper Pennington, Joe Richards, Joey Williams
  • National History Sites – Robin White, Tarona Armstrong, David Kilton, Marchelle Williams, Jodi Morris, Chelsea Mott, Toni Phinisey-Webber
  • Special thanks to:
    • Nancy Rousseau, Jane Brown, Stella Cameron, Scott Hairston and the LRCH Student Council, Mr. John Roberts
    • Kristy Carter
    • Carri George and Arkansas PROMISE staff
    • University Relations and Creative Services
  • Student images used in closing section
    • Ashlyn Sorrows – Stand Together
    • Shelby Curry – Human
    • Madison Bell – I am Human
    • Erbie Jennings III – Laying the Foundation
    • Charis Lancaster – We Come In Pieces
    • Mae Roach – Released from Chains
    • Joah Gomez – the world is in your hands
  • Funding provided by
    • National Endowment for the Arts
    • National Park Service
    • Mid-America Arts Alliance
    • Arkansas Arts Council
    • Department of Arkansas Heritage
    • City of Little Rock
    • University of Central Arkansas
  • Will Counts photographs provided by Vivian Counts, Bradley Cook, and The Arkansas Arts Center
  • Raymond Preddy’s photographs provided by UA Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture
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LRCH Teaser

Needed to get a video to local media to tease the projection mapping project and show something at a press conference Monday, August 28th. I don’t really want to show any of it until it premieres on September 23rd for a couple of reasons. First, the piece is a little over eight minutes long so showing practically anything gives away a lot IMO. Second is that part of the power of projection mapping is the illusion, often surprise, which can only be fully experienced at the event – on the building – live.

I know we need to build an audience for this, but I wish there was a better way than previewing the work. So, this video shows some production process and two short moments that are in the final piece. The rest are tests or something that might make it into the final, but not necessarily the way it looks in this video.

LRCH Update – BTS

It’s been a while since I’ve updated. I’ve spent most of my time working on the Central High project, of course, but in late May and early June I took some time to do some outside projects and personal projects. One of the main reasons for a lack of updates is that I just don’t want to show anyone the work – it’s a surprise!

Progress Report

I had to do a progress report for the NEA so some of the following is a little stiffer than usual, but it was easier to copy it and tweak than re-write.

The animation has four parts; opening “construction”; “school life”; desegregation crisis; and a “future” themed close. They are not equal in length since they follow sections of the music and have different amounts of importance to the piece. The “school life” section is 98% complete as well as some transition pieces, which together make up about a third of the eight minutes of music. The opening section is well underway and will be the next section to finish. Desegregation is also well underway, but is the most reliant on outside resources, such as photos and films, which slows the process. The close is still in pre-production as it gets its identity from the other sections and as the artists get more input from the school, park, and community.

schoolLife-projection

A shot from the School Life section. Perimeter lighting is not finalized nor is the blue color in the windows.

To create the school life and close sections, the artists interviewed LRCH student council representatives and researched historic school newspapers and yearbooks found at the Arkansas State Archives as well as the LRCH library. The librarian and Gayle Seymour were also able to find resources from alumni. The librarian produced a bound version of the book released at the opening of the school in 1927, which has been helpful for the opening section. The National Park also had several resources for the opening.

The desegregation section is the most important and will have the most expectations by the audience so it is getting the most attention. The artists have run into several copyright issues as far as using iconic photographs from the crisis so they are compiling as much original media as possible and legal and will design the rest of the piece from a more artistic theme rather than a documentary theme, which fits with the overall mission of the piece.

Coverings

The team worked with the LRCH Principal, Nancy Rousseau, to determine what could be covered for projection. The dark woodwork and clear glass on the doors and arched windows create virtual holes in the projection so must be covered with a lighter material that matches the surrounding stone. The doors and windows cannot be covered during the daylight hours due to visitors to the site taking pictures of the building. It was agreed that the arched windows can be covered on the interior, which makes it possible to project onto the glass panels. The wood in the windows will still be visible so the projection designs were changed to accommodate. The doors will be covered by an exterior flat drape that can be hung minutes before the event. That drape is currently in the design phase to determine the best way to attach it to the building quickly. The exterior wall sconces will also be covered at the same time as the doors. Those covers are also in the design phase.

Logistics (re-written from the NEA report)

We decided to handle the generator and scaffold for the projectors locally and that’s turned into quite a drawn-out process of qualifying the equipment. Also, the funding source for these and the sound system wanted multiple quotes so we are drawing it out with three vendors… Hopefully this part will come to a close in the next day or so.

Something Unexpected

Thanks to this blog, I was contacted by a member of the Morehead Planetarium at UNC Chapel Hill. He was interested in using my LRCH model for their upcoming production that focuses on the American South. Pretty cool.

Geek Stuff

Software and hardware being used to do the project:

Software
Blender – 3D Animation. Easily my favorite computer program and I wish I could use it for practically everything I do on a computer, I just like working in it because it is so customizable and responsive.

Affinity Designer – vector-based texture maps and working with vector art, such as logos. I hate Adobe Illustrator with a passion – just never liked it. I originally learned vector graphics on Freehand, but it was bought and killed by Adobe years ago. I’m not much of a vector graphics person anyway so if the program doesn’t behave like I expect or is slow then make it go away. Designer is fast and easy to use and is especially friendly to cleaning up vector graphics.

Affinity Photo – raster-based texture maps and photo manipulation. I haven’t opened Photoshop in over 6 months. Photoshop is probably my favorite Adobe app, but Photo just feels nice. A few things that I think work well compared to Photoshop: great vector integration – it’s like a healthy marriage between a raster and a vector program; all adjustments, such as levels, are treated like adjustment layers that can affect everything below it in the layer stack or a single layer; it’s fast.

After Effects – compositing 3D rendered and 2D images. Using this more out of habit than anything else and I’ll be sharing projects with my fellow artists.

Apple Motion – I used this on a couple animated textures for the school life section. It’s super fast and I have always liked it. My only gripe is the timeline can get crowded.

Premiere Pro – using to compile all of the rendered sequences and audio. Sharing this with my fellow artists, otherwise I would not use it.

DaVinci Resolve (14, latest beta) – used to create an photo sequence for the school life section. I really like 14. It finally has a fast and responsive UI. The sequence had three areas on the screen for photos so I used three tracks and transformed the photos on each (position, scale). Track 1 for left, track 2 for center, track 3 for right. I started doing this with Premiere, but it was sluggish with the high res photos. Resolve handled them easily. I assumed FCPX wouldn’t be good for what I was doing, but later, I found it would have done a great job and was faster than Resolve. Here’s why I know that.

I built the photo sequence in Resolve expecting to composite it on the 3D imagery in After Effects. I thought I would use the alpha channel to handle times when I needed pure transparency. Turns out Resolve can’t export a full timeline with transparency, but it can with individual clips. I needed the full timeline!!! I tried sending the sequence to Premiere via XML and AAF. The AAF failed to import, but XML did an okay job, except that the far left and right images were not in the correct place. Same issue with FCPX, left and right were moved outward. I started moving them back in FCPX just to see what would happen and I found it to be super fast and though there aren’t tracks technically, they sure looked like it in the timeline. Since I was multiplying one of the sequences in AE, I decided to just change the background to white in Resolve – done. The other was a hard light blend mode so I had to make its background medium gray – done.

Lesson learned – Resolve rocks so far, but don’t expect an alpha channel on the full sequence.

Hardware

1st gen 5K iMac – Blender modeling and animation and all other apps. Best monitor ever – so crisp. Blender can handle custom DPI in its interface so it looks so smooth and easy to read because I push the text and buttons up a little more than 2x dpi like other apps do.

Downside – pixel doubling makes lower-res images look soft. The HD resolution we are using make the images small when viewing 1:1 in graphics programs. This monitor is made for 4K production so HD is small…

Custom Linux PC – Blender rendering using two GPUs for acceleration. Technically a faster computer than the iMac for multi-threaded apps because it has 6 hardware CPU cores. I should try After Effects on the Windows side of it, but I despise working in Windows – I only have it there to learn VR via Unreal Editor and use my mocap system.

 

LRCHS – Projection Mapping – 1st Post

The 90th anniversary of the opening of the Little Rock Central High School building and the 60th anniversary of the Desegregation Crisis are coming September 18-25, 2017. It will be a week of activities that commemorates the anniversaries and culminates in an event that features a projection mapped animation on the façade of the high school building.

This first blog post is about a major milestone for the animation, which is a completed virtual 3D model of the facade including its four statues. Now that the model is complete we can finally get to work. The majority of the animation we create will be based on the architectural structure of the facade. I can’t believe February is almost over! It took me over a week longer than I expected to finish this phase of the project due to distractions including an illness that caused horrible headaches as well as external issues and projects and some personal goals beyond the projection mapping project. Hopefully the headaches are past – I can manage the rest.

Here’s the basic model:

4statues

We can add lighting that can make it appear as if we’ve hung actual lights near the building:

spotlights

We can also play around (this is just a test and not final imagery):

lightjade

And add stuff:

1927

Here’s what it should look like at the campus. We intend to add some lighting around the central facade as well.

projectiontest

The Facade

The limestone part of the high school’s main entry has several nice 1920s Art Deco details and is sculptural in nature with deep set doors and windows and jutting pedestals for the four statues. I still need to add the letters for the statues. We will hopefully be able to temporarily cover the windows and doors so they won’t be so dark. We will also need to cover the lanterns so they will reflect the projections.

dsc00432

Ambition, Personality, Opportunity, and Preparation

When facing the building the four statues from left to right are Ambition (male), Personality (female), Opportunity (female), and Preparation (male).

I’ve been told that the four statues were “ordered from a catalog” and not unique to the building project. Their body styles are reminiscent of Michelangelo sculptures with their long muscular arms and Greek facial features. Preparation must have been the sculptor’s version of David – see his contrapposto stance, physique, lowered right arm (holding a scroll in this case), raised left arm holding a book instead of a sling, and a left-facing gaze.

ch-interior_110 512px-27david27_by_michelangelo_jbu0001

Their dress is based on ancient Greek Chiton. The sculptural style is “wet drape” where the cloth clings to the skin to reveal the figure’s body underneath. This is most obvious in Preparation with his torso that practically looks bare, and you can see it in Opportunity as well. I modeled these statues by starting with nudes so I could get the wet drape look right.

I think later blog posts will go on another website dedicated to this project. Geeky stuff will stay on this blog though.

Geek Stuff (most of you will want to skip this)

I modeled the facade by building basic geometric shapes and aligning them to a photograph I took last summer. I actually got most of this model finished by last fall. In January I added the smaller details and lanterns.

The statues were very time consuming and I knew they would be… I downloaded a few nude “base models” from Blendswap, which are designed to be a starting place for creating a character. For the females, I used the body of one and the hands and head of another. After splicing them together I pushed and pulled and extruded faces, edges, and vertices to make them match the sculpture. I also used sculpting tools to smooth and guide areas of the model. The models are considered low-poly, which makes them easy to animate and handle in the 3D software. When they are rendered they are smoothed using Pixar’s subdivision surface technology. It turns a blocky mess of polygons into flowing garments.

For the capes I essentially started with a line and extruded it and moved it to create the overlapping folds. For smaller details I just cut the larger polygonal faces into smaller ones that I could then push, pull, and sculpt into their final form.

Once a model seemed ready to go I aligned it with the main photo of the facade. I had closeups of the statues to do most of the work, but since the photos were taken from below, the proportions were not accurate so aligning with the main photo was key to getting them the correct overall size. Because of the proportion issues and a number of other things, I modeled them just looking at my photos rather than trying to align them to photos in the 3D viewport, which is common for character design.

While modeling, the virtual statue is standing in a T-pose. I used a T-pose because we will most-likely apply some custom motion capture animation and our motion capture system (Perception Neuron) requires a T-pose to start. Another common starting point for a character model is an A-pose, which is more relaxed, but not a good idea for our purposes.

After getting the proportions correct I added a skeleton to the model. The skeleton is based on the needs of the motion capture system. The model is bound to the skeleton so whenever I move a bone, the model with deform with it. I used the bones to pose the model to match the statues. I actually animated the movement so I could go back to the T-pose easily as well as test the model deformations as the bones moved. Some of the dress is not driven by the skeleton at the moment. That will come later via cloth simulations.

opportunityposing

I modeled the statues this way because I knew we would be animating them and they needed a structure that would support animation. A more accurate alternative to modeling by eye would have been to scan the actual sculptures. Scanning could be done via LIDAR, but would have been prohibitively expensive. Or, it can be done with lots of photographs from multiple angles via photogrammetry. Shooting the sculptures with a drone and extracting frames from the video would have been a way to get the images needed.

The upside to scanning would be a very accurate model, but there are downsides. One is that the scan would have to be retopologized, which can be time intensive, to make it animatable. Another is that the models would not have a backside and the arms would be stuck to the bodies so they would need hand modeling to create the back and make the arms free. I would have been up for these things had they been scanned last fall. Unfortunately they are 22 feet above the ground so logistically it is not a trivial issue to get to them.

From here it is a matter of lighting, creating cool surface materials, animating the statues, opening the doors, or whatever else we come up with. Even things that don’t directly change the facade, such as showing a photo, will be rendered against the virtual facade so the photo will appear to interact with the building.

Blender

screenshot

I used Blender to do all of this work. It is just a joy to use. Some things that came in handy (these aren’t necessarily unique to Blender BTW):

  • Use photos as a background in the camera viewport to help create a 3D environment that is similar to the size of the actual building
  • Changed one of my 3D panels into an image viewer so I could have a photo of a statue up at all times.
  • The Shift Key – I use a Wacom Intuos 4 Medium when working with graphics software. It has a bad habit of moving during a click or not really making the mark you tried because it was so small. When changing a parameter in Blender (practically no matter what it is), you can hold down the Shift Key while doing it and it will increase the accuracy of the parameter by not allowing it to change drastically no matter how much you move the stylus. I can make big movements to do small changes. BTW, some graphics programs do have a similar function, just not all…
  • Matcaps – haven’t really used them before, but they make modeling organic forms much easier. They allow you to customize how the model is shaded in the viewport so you can see the curved surfaces easier.
  • Proportional Editing – Used when moving a vertex or small group of vertices and wanting surrounding vertices to move with them, but not as much. Super helpful when making proportion changes or needing to move parts of the model around to accommodate the posed body. Especially useful is the “Connected” mode where it will only move vertices connected to the one you are moving rather than ones that are just nearby. You can also change the falloff to control how the other non-selected vertices will change. BTW, this works on more than just vertices, just using that as an example.
  • Subdivision Surfaces – Blender can show the subd effect while editing the model either by showing the base model and the smoothing separately or by bending the base model’s edges along the surface of the smoothed model. This really helps know how the changes of the low resolution model will change the smoothed model.
  • Solidify modifier – I made the capes a single polygon thickness and used this modifier to give it dimensional thickness. When sending the models out to Jim and Jonathan, who use Cinema4D and Maya, I will “Apply” this effect to make the geometry permanent.
  • Cycles with two GPUs – it’s so fast! To do test renderings and make the images in this blog post it is amazing how fast Cycles can be. The images here took about a minute and a half to render each one. It’s also crazy easy to make objects into light sources. I do most of the work on my iMac and then switch over to my Linux computer for rendering.

Radium Girls – Set and Projection Design

It’s been five years since I’ve designed a theatrical production with UCA Theatre. My last design was The Bacchae that was both a set and a projection design project. This time around it’s Radium Girls and again I designed the physical scenery and projected imagery. Radium Girls was directed by my colleague, Chris Fritzges.

About Radium Girls

From wikipedia – “The Radium Girls were female factory workers who contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials with self-luminous paint at the United States Radium factory in Orange, New Jersey, around 1917. The women, who had been told the paint was harmless, ingested deadly amounts of radium by licking their paintbrushes to give them a fine point; some also painted their fingernails and teeth with the glowing substance.

Five of the women challenged their employer in a case that established the right of individual workers who contract occupational diseases to sue their employers.”

The play, by D.W. Gregory, tells this story through one of the girls, Grace Fryer, and the president of the U.S. Radium Corporation, Arthur Roeder.

Design Process

The design team, which was made up of myself and theatre faculty and students, met several times to discuss the play including what the story means and what our production goals were. One of the big goals scenically was to include projected imagery. The main reason for projections was that the play has many scenes in different locations and it shouldn’t be staged with a lot of traditional scenery. The thought was that projections could quickly change and help inform the audience of where the different scenes were taking place. Another overall goal was to use scenery that was abstract and allowed for interesting staging, such as multiple platforms at different heights, rather than being realistic looking. Realism is best used for costumes and properties (props) – the things that are closest to the characters want some authenticity, while the playing space can be more abstract or symbolic.

Chris started the process of developing the design by discussing different themes he saw in the story. The following are a few of the larger themes:

  • The Corporation vs. the Worker
  • Masculine vs. Feminine
  • Science vs. Business
  • Fighting time
  • The media

Some visual themes/motifs included clocks, gears, and flowers.

Design Influences

The next step in the process was to do some research. The play’s time period was the 1920s and it recounts actual events so the team, including a student dramaturg (one who is dedicated to researching the play in detail and making his research available to the rest of the team), looked for pictures and articles about the girls, Marie Curie, the U.S. Radium Corporation, radium products and research, and general 1920s trends in clothing, art, and architecture.

I was ultimately most influenced by the work of Hugh Ferriss, the U.S. Radium plant, and timepieces of the era.

U.S. Radium Corporation plant and dial painters

Set Design

Sometimes the set design will just come to me and I quickly work on about three variations of an idea. Not for this play. Instead, I drew sketches of several different ideas and shared them with the design team. The gear and clock influences are a thread throughout the ideas as well as the factory windows, which are referenced in the play. What I was unsure of, was the actual projection surfaces – how integrated should they be into the playing spaces? Also, should we project flat on typical screens or consider other shapes for projection surfaces?

The sketches for the Radium Girls set design

The sketches for the Radium Girls set design

After looking at sketches for a couple of weeks, we decided that we liked three levels of platforms and that they should be round (more feminine shape, clocks, gears, radium symbol). We also worked out the size of each platform. The projection surface ended up taking a little longer, but we finally worked out a projection mapping-oriented wall that had an industrial skyline silhouette at the top. The projection mapping aspect of it was that the screen was not just one plane stretching across the back of the platforms. Instead, it was broken into multiple planes at different angles. Doors through the projection surfaces were the last pieces to go in.

Radium Girls set design front view

Radium Girls set design front view

Radium Girls set design side view

Radium Girls set design side view

We made some last-minute changes to the heights of the platforms for time and cost savings, which ultimately made the set work better. You’ll notice that the doors are above the platforms in the renderings because I was trying to show the change in height as fast as I could… Also, since it had been awhile since I had done a theatrical set, and I was preoccupied by the projected imagery, Shannon Moore, the theatre Technical Director, was instrumental in dealing with some finishing touches like steps and platforms on the upstage side of the set through the doors.

Lastly, I created a painter’s elevation for the platforms. Two platforms were clock faces and the third was a watch/industrial gear.

Painter's elevation

Painter’s elevation

The Set

The Set

pre-show-photo

Pre show and Intermission look

Projections

After the set design was done we moved onto the projection design. I primarily worked with Chris rather than working with the whole design team. The cast also had some input on projection ideas. Chris and I met three times to go through possible imagery for each scene. In the early meetings I discussed imagery ideas that were documentary-like. Imagery would be based on period photos, actual photos of the characters portrayed, newspaper clippings, etc. As we got into discussing the imagery and getting ideas from the cast I felt that the documentary idea wasn’t working with the production style and ideas. The final overall design concept was experiencing each location using either symbolic imagery and/or closeups of objects that would be in that particular location.

In the scenes that were in character’s homes I tried to focus on fireplace mantels because I wanted to feature some style of clock. I included enough clocks that Chris mapped out the time that should be on each clock face starting at 1:00 and going to 11:45.

Doors

The doors didn’t quite work with the concept of closeups and symbolism so I had to come up with a way to change the apparent scale of the spaces depicted in the imagery. During an early rehearsal I attended I saw the problem and came up with a solution almost immediately. I chose to use as much of the screen as possible to do the closeup objects, such as a fireplace mantel, and then change the scale around the door to make it more realistic. I used the scale of the objects and wallpaper pattern to show that if one were to really bend their head around what I created that they could rationalize the different sized objects. I imagined what a door across a room would look like if I were standing close to the fireplace. The fireplace objects would be large in my view and the door small due to its distance away from me.

There were a few places where I tweaked this concept. In the exterior porch of the Roeder home I chose to keep the door in scale, but the house’s siding and eve would be large and out of scale. In the health department I created oversized filing cabinets that dwarf the door. In Grace’s home both doors are used so I couldn’t use the same technique so I made the props, like hanging lights and the mantel clock oversized.

Technical Stuff

Figure 53’s Qlab was used to playback the imagery on an iMac. A VGA signal was sent to two 4000 Lumen projectors at 1920×1080 pixel dimensions. Both projectors got the same image so they were overlapping each other to increase the overall brightness. Qlab was used to warp the image to counteract the warping from the angled screens (projection mapping!).

Blender was used for almost all of the imagery. I used as many pre-modeled objects as possible to save time. There are some recurring scenes with two newspaper reporters and most of those images were created in Photoshop. I used two computers concurrently to stay productive. My main computer is an iMac and I used it to do the modeling and setup lighting and materials in Blender as well as Photoshop work. I then moved over to an older Linux computer I have with two Nvidia graphics cards. Blender’s Cycles renderer can be accelerated using Nvidia cards (AMD cards are almost ready to accelerate too BTW) so I finalized the shading and lighting and did final renders with it.

Oh yeah, I also made some tables for the show

Radium Girls Tables

Radium Girls Tables

Final Thoughts

The show’s overall production quality was amazing. The set, projections, costumes (Designed by Shauna Meador), lighting, props, sound, and performances went together so well. We often talk about a unified production, but sometimes there is one element or another that just doesn’t seem to fit. Not in this case. The show looked really good and was well directed and performed. I can be very critical especially of my own work so I am surprised at how good I feel about the work.

There were problems of course.

  1. I started making the images way too late. I literally did 85% of the images in the last weekend before it opened (it was UCA’s fall break so that last weekend was several days…).
    1. There were 50 images – the most I’ve made for a single show
  2. Because I was so late I didn’t give Chris very many opportunities for feedback. I think he was happy with my work overall, but we should have been able to work together more.
  3. I wanted some of the imagery to be animated, such as spinning newspapers, smoke or dust in the air, subtle movements of objects, etc. There were no animations.
  4. We either started our whole process a little late or took too long to design the set – maybe both. Construction on the set should have started at least a week earlier than it did.
  5. The way I setup the projectors was lame. They were sitting on an angled board in the theater’s 2nd catwalk. Because they were not locked down by any kind of rig they had to be touched every night to make sure they were aligned to each other.
  6. The projectors were not perfectly aligned. Cheap projectors don’t have the tools to do fine adjustments aligning the images of multiple projectors so I got it as close as I could. The image looked out of focus toward the bottom left side (as seen by the audience) and overall had a soft look due to the slight mismatch.
    1. A workaround would have been to send individual signals to the projectors and used Qlab to do the final alignment by giving each projector a custom warping. Instead, I sent a signal to one projector and used the loop-thru to get the signal to the other projector. Sending two signals would have meant using a different computer too.
  7. The projections needed to be brighter. Dr. Greg Blakey, the lighting designer, did a lot of last-minute changes to the lights to try to keep as much illumination off the screen as possible. The only way we could have gone brighter would have been renting a large-venue projector (10K or greater Lumens) and that would have blown the budget unfortunately.

Some of the projections:

The images below are a mix of photos and actual projection images. The photos are untouched jpegs from the camera. When I have more time I’ll work on the raw images. The screen in these photos looks a little darker than it actually was live.

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