Blister Cinema 3 – the final stage

Blister Cinema 3 was the last stage of the production phase of our Battle Of Blister project. We finally got all the artworks, programs, props and performers together to work for 10 days on an interactive film set in Margate. There were over 20 collaborators, a professional videographer and multiple simultaneous interactive art works and cameras all capturing footage. Everything went according to plan, everyone turned up and hours and hours of footage was recorded. The only low point was the poorly attended party night (which unluckily clashed with the opening of Dreamland). We are so glad to have had Jason Brooks filming this event – he got so much great footage from which the photos below are sampled, and also provided ideas on all aspects of the shoot.

We’re starting to go through the footage and will be editing short sequences for each of the collaborators. This will help us to get to know the footage inside out and then we can start thinking about how we are going to layer it with the computer captured sequences into the final film. We will be using some of the live footage in the film (as it is so compelling) but need to be careful not to overwhelm the animation with the live – we need to find the right balance.

This post is intended as a thank you to each of the collaborators and say a bit about what we were trying to do with them – which part of the science we were trying to illustrate. All of the performers managed to do something which we hadn’t seen before (even on the last day) and it will be a great challenge to try and work out how to use such invention.

Anna Symes & Leon Williams

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Anna and Leon have been dancing together for a while and have connections to Morgan’s Dance Studios. They cover many styles including Tango, Lindy Hop and Salsa and we had them trying various dances and concentrated on looking at how they worked together as a pair. We were interested in the gaps and joins formed between them and how that might relate to cells surrounding or engulfing each other. They were the first to get involved and turned up the week before and did a kind of test run which was a big help in working out how to approach the filming. They have been really supportive throughout and we have been encouraged to work with local performers in the future – we can even see a Tango lesson or two in our future.

Anna Woolhouse

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Anna was very focused on what her on-screen avatars were doing and really explored the potential of the setups that we gave her. She responded to instructions to be fly like in different ways including flapping as above and also on her back kicking her feet up in the air like a dying fly – not sure if we prompted her or she just invented that – she independently created several unique visual narratives in response to the projections.

Karol Steele

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Karol turned up in a striking red and white polka-dot dress and was soon Rock-and-Rolling away to several fluid backgrounds. We also looked at using her striking silhouette to build a black and white cell wall of multiple figures. Karol was also great fun at the wrap party with her dog joining in the dance.

Sidonie Carey-Green

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Sidonie had a very fluid style with great arm movements so we got her moving with a series which saw multiple figures overlapping and engulfing each other. We kept the effects simple and allowed her movements to flow across the screen. She really brought the room to life. Sidonie also acted as a Macrophage at one point pulling enemy bacteria into her body with her arms.

Rutter + Bennett and Katie Welsford

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We’ve been talking to Chris Rutter and Evelyn Bennett for a while now working out how to collaborate. They are interested in using more digital and were interested in doing more performance. We used the possibilities of Blister Cinema to bring them into the space and see what could happen. They came in the week before with musicians, poets and acrobatic dancers and we recorded several improvised performances. This time Chris and Katie wore R+B’s incredible (possibly bacterial) costume sculpture. These are very colourful (and 3d so they change as the lights go through their coloured sequences) creating some striking footage.

Circo Rum Ba Ba – Marianne + Jen 

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We were lucky to have Circo Rum Ba Ba involved with their array of circus skills, they did things nobody else could do including stilts, ball walking, acrobatics and aerial silks (climbing and spinning around a 6m high rope tied to the ceiling of Limbo Art Space). Marianne and Jen really challenged us to keep up with their dexterities and hopefully we can adapt the footage to relate to interlocking, stretching and and transmigrating cells.

Arti Prashar

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We have known Arti for years and worked on several Spare Tyre projects with her. She is always up for exploring new ways of communicating ideas and emotion through the use of theatre, mixed media, storytelling and in this case dance.  So we threw a lot of balls at her. We were interested in the the way blood vessel walls near the point of inflammation attempt to capture white cells from the blood and pass them into the plasma filled blister to help break down the pathogens. Arti also brought along with her two of the regular Spare Tyre performers…

Vicky Lee


Vicky studied biology and was fascinated in the way some of the setups reminded her of things seen through microscopes. She interacted with multiple versions of herself creating an emergent wave of activity and described it as an out-of-body experience.

David Munns

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David did some hugely imaginative things at Blister Cinema. Dressed in a green lizard like bodysuit he was able to focus his actions into a mesmerizing science fiction performance which saw him go through a range of precisely structured motions eventually spiraling down and through a self-made time vortex into stillness. Extraordinary.

Jockel Liess

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Jockel usually creates sound and visual art to get others to respond so it was good to see him on the receiving end for a change. We didn’t realise he was such a confident mover. Jockel helped out throughout the day and combined with several of the people above and us to try and create visual vignettes which would help us fill in the gaps in the scientific narrative – so we gave him things like the bursting of mast cells, and the probing of proboscises.

Allyson Jones,  Anna Arnsby and Harriet Parker-Beldeau

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Allyson Jones was a great connection we made through this project. She and her family and friends run Morgan’s Dance Centre on Margate High Street just opposite the space. Not only did Allyson bring two of her dancer friends she also brought along her three kids for a further session. It was fascinating to see groups of people working together exploring a set to create weird and wonderful patterns. Above you can see Harriet tackle a bulging blister pattern and then the three dancers enter a multicoloured spiral formation – think of a cross section of a blood vessel bringing leukocytes to the party.

Willow, Louis and Vincent Jones

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Allyson’s kids brought some crazy energy to the space with the three of them jiving, whirling, bouncing and popping across the room. Each one of them had their own inventive moves and shapes and putting the three of them together was explosive. Here you can see them as red macrophages trying to stop the blue bacteria from getting through their defenses. Hopefully we can bring some of this excitement into Morgan’s in a future collaborative dance + digital project.

Annie Sutton

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Annie wanted to see how small movements could be magnified and multiplied across the space. She bought a simple prop – an umbrella, and started a fascinating controlled sequence of actions which brought out the programs image making potential. Much of the time she interiorized her movement, not looking at the screen, and just responded to our cues and her own investigation of her position in the space. It is hard to describe her unique approach to movement but the results were captivating.

Lucy Lungley

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We met Lucy several months ago when we had an earlier version of the program on display at the Beaney Museum in Canterbury where Lucy was  one of the first to grasp the nature of the piece and performed some amazing flowing sequences which had the crowd entranced. We were keen to work with her again and she again delivered a range of flowing and still sequences with a range of fluid and static backgrounds. Lucy had a really clear idea of the type of effects she wanted to achieve and was knowledgeable about digital dance in general.  Even though Lucy was the last dancer we worked with we were still excited to capture novel forms and responses.

Julia Schauerman + Gudrun Haraldsdottir + Others

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Julia and Gudrun are not dancers but both are artists and great experimenters. They were given specific tasks to try and illustrate from bacterial multiplication, creating a living fly, and staging a slow motion noodle fight. As this was the last day the creative process bacame much more improvistaional with anyone who was in the room being roped into the action including Abigail and Bentley from Silent Signal.  Stefan Costen was also involved in many interactions, big thanks to him,  and was even promoted to cameraman for some of the evening as Jason strutted his stuff. Some of these people are part of the fly below.


The Wrap Party


We quickly threw together some rough cuts from the previous days into a show reel of the type of footage we were getting and showed that alongside the interactive art works which were now set on auto-mode. The few  who attended were excited about the piece and everyone is very positive about the footage and looking forward to the final film. There’s over 20 hours of footage to sift through to find the particular moments we want, which might seem overwhelming to us now, but Neil (our scientist below right) can see bacteria and inflammatory agents in everything so we are encouraged.  We’re looking forward to the next stage which should be much less stressful and more intuitive and exploratory as we work to combine the layers of sound, images and effects  to tell the story we want. Blister Cinema let us capture exactly the kind of animation that we hoped for and then some.


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Developing the film

The horsefly, flying around a person
The fly biting, breaking the surface
The bacteria on the fly’s mandibles entering the body
The bacteria multipling and spreading
Cells near the bite bursting and releasing histomines
Other cells eating bacteria
The cell walls of local blood vessels losing stability
Plasma seeping through
The skin reddening and swelling
White cells traveling through the blood vessel walls
Joining the battle of blister

The following sketches combine some of the sample Kinect-generated animations with our liquid-light experiments.

blood vessel
cell wall
blood vessels

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Blister Cinema 2 photo is Wellcome Trust’s ‘image of the week’

We’re delighted that a 360 degree image of our interactive work Tracer in Blister Cinema 2 has been selected for the Wellcome Trust’s ‘image of the week’.
Click here to see selected imageWT.

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Blister Cinema 2 – Cardiff

We had a good first week at ArcadeCardiff project space, finished off with a friendly private view and then a Computer Arts Society talk where 20 people got together and discussed digital arts projects past, present and future.

cas talk
In hanging the show and then rearranging everything a couple of times we finally realised where the focus of Blister Cinema should be – to allow people simple interactive zones where they can openly play with their body avatars.  These can be multiplied, reflected, traced, coloured, drawn and swirled around the screen. We realised that some our previous Battle of Blister interactions were either too complex (like the video game walk throughs from the first Blister Cinema) or too simple (like Growthline – which engages people intuitively but only for a short time) resulting in a lack of creative possibility for the user.  Providing a creative potential for the audience keeps people around for longer. By the way this has been an important mini-realisation for our practice as a whole beyond this project.

We filled the back room with two large scale projections of the same art work called Tracer, which alludes to chemical gradients left by several of the cellular agents within the inflammation process. In particular, we were thinking about the histamines, which disperse from the mast cells creating a target to the area of bacterial infection. User engagement results in a variety of trail patterns guided by the shapes and actions of the people in the space. Each user is made distinct by assigning them a different colour. A dynamic landscape quickly forms of random, straight and spiraling trails.  A user may become adept quite quickly able to leave more sophisticated trails, we witnessed one person attempting to spell words. The trails fade over time – like a natural chemical diffusion and this created a three dimensional effect. Incidentally our scientist Dr Neil Dufton saw this and described it as similar to the three dimensional growth of new blood vessels in damaged areas, which is one of his current research interests. It had an overall biological structure despite being made by human agency and not coded.

The other piece that encourages user creativity is Multiple. This initially was a throw away code sketch – a variation which came out of the Videoplace coding ideas we have been working on. Videoplace, which requires networking and thus a smaller way of encoding the silhouettes for network broadcast, will still play a part in the project but a much smaller part. What this size reduction lead to is a much quicker way of drawing the kinect avatars than we had before – which in turn allows us to draw dozens of silhouettes to the same screen. In the past we have managed 8 or so (admittedly running on 2009 Mac Minis). Now we can have up to 60 running at 20 frames per second. This has lead us to developing a set of different  interactive animations.

Central to Multiple is the duplication your avatar with a delay between each one. This means you can see what you just did over and over again. You can even interact with your own next avatar – creating ripple effects, or the classic waving dances, Nicola even managed to have a fight with her multiple selves.


So we can now create fields of interlinked avatars which can be read as a wall of blood vessel cells looking to arrest passing leukocytes and deliver them into the blister. We are working on how to enable the Kinect to sense these foreign elements and colourise them differently as seen below.


Key to both these pieces is:
1) allowing the audience freedom of movement where they can see what effects they are making
2) allowing these effects to build up over time, enabling the audience to experiment with movement, pattern making and tempo
3) allowing each person to create something particular to their actions

This is pretty central to interactive art and I’m surprised we haven’t crystalised this before. But we’ve never been this focused on the human avatar before. In both works we saw people inventing, playing, showing off, trying to perfect their creations, messing around, bombing each others’ creations, improvising with techniques and a mass of different ways of interacting. Which we love to see, and which will hopefully generate great footage.

For the third Blister Cinema we will use what we have learnt and build a couple of interactive film sets, invite groups of performers and the public into the space and we have hired a professional videographer, Jason Brooks, to film the results. Jason came to Cardiff for the day and we discussed how best to capture people interacting with our art science animations. We need a mix of tightly choreographed sequences – perhaps performed by us or in collaboration with performers, and also some which are much freer, improvised, for example our plasma interaction animation.  A large part of the inflammation process is the swelling caused by liquid plasma seeping into the infected area and sloshing around. This could be expressed in a digital graffiti type interaction (or liquid paint) – which belongs to one of the classical engagement approaches in the interactive art canon. We’ve avoided this to date because it is rather cliche – certainly the ‘Hello World’ of interactive art.  But now we can see a use for it. These ideas and other variations on what we have done so far including radial symmetries, broken symmetries, organic tracing effects and ‘hall of mirrors’ effects will be coded up in the next month and then we can work on the building the sets and getting actors / performers into the third Blister Cinema.

We’ve started to play around with the sound used for the film. Nicola’s sister Julia has been busy recording friends and family voicing a series of characters from the inflammation process from the bacteria to the scientists. Behind these we have added a few simple musical elements – mainly using generative algorithms we have coded ourselves or drawn from music freeware. The overall tone is light and loosely narrative with focus on action words such as OOZING, SEEPING, PUSHING, PULLING, EATING, SMELLING, MULTIPLYING, MEASURING, and so on to match the embodied approach in the film. We’re avoiding a detailed description of the science. Nicola edited all these bits into a soundtrack and we’re happy with how it enhances the interactive environment for now. We will be trying out other more physical audio approaches once we have more finished footage to work with. The sound is crucial and we are currently have several ideas as to which way we want to take it.

So now, after 6 months work, we have begun to have a clear idea about where we are taking the project.

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This Liquid Light test got us thinking of John Martin’s epic landscapes




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Bulging, Squishing, Touching, Chopping, Swimming, Flapping, Deflecting…


These actions and many others were on display as part of the audience response to Blister Cinema #1.

Blister Cinema #1 was designed to work on several levels. As an interactive show in itself and it received almost 500 visitors in three days with a lot of enthusiasm from all types of people, so that was good. It was also part of GEEK and hopefully we added some free game like diversions as part of the fringe. Several people told us they thought there should be more things like it (or large scale interactive video games) as part of the main GEEK festival and we agree – consoles can only get you so far, games have been expanding beyond the screen and beyond joysticks ever since they began.

The show was also an experiment for us in how we are going to make the commissioned film. We wanted to look at different ways in which people engage in front of projections, and how you would go about filming that. What type of engagements worked in the context of a filmed narrative along the lines of the inflammation process. This has been a bit harder for us to work out – some parts of the final film will be scripted / choreographed, some parts will be improvised along narrative lines, and we’re hoping that some parts will come about by the crazy random things that people do. Running seven projections in a space certainly gave us plenty to witness.

Finally the show was a chance to connect again to the creative community of Margate – perhaps the most important outcome is that we have made some links to local groups of makers/do-ers/artists who will hopefully come on board the Blister Cinema project and create some sort of bespoke performance as part of BC#3 which is back in Margate in June. We’ll shortly make some open call type announcements about this which should be exciting.


Where’s the science?
We planned to give a series of talks on inflammation and about the Silent Signal project in general but these didn’t happen as people were just coming in randomly. If we want to do these in the future then it’s important to structure a visit to include a talk and hopefully demos and workshops. We need to target audiences well in advance which we didn’t have time to do for this show. We want to build this into the Blister Cinema and Microworld projects in general whenever we do them – its clear that there is an appetite for teaching creative coding and we talked to several parents complaining about the lack of these activities at schools despite the recent curriculum changes. We’ve been thinking about how to modularise some of our artworks so that we can create different narrative segments for interaction (by reusing the same code and graphics in different combinations) for use in the film, and this should also lend itself to creative coding workshops where people can create their own interactive artworks or performances. The project has been useful in this way in encouraging us to think more in terms of a fuller creative engagement beyond just interacting. The science was present in the overall feel of the room and the various references to Cells, Pathogens and there was information around for people to read. We need to ramp this up in the future.


New Technologies
Technically we got to grips with the 360 degree camera and remote filming of the space. In the past we’ve found it difficult to fully document what’s going on in the spaces and the energies created so hopefully this is a step forward. Of course we’ve included posters informing people they are be being filmed – nobody seems to bat an eyelid these days. It’s always charming to be asked by people if they can take photos – of course they can. Engage with the art in all ways possible!

The liquid light work looked stunning. We can’t wait to work out how to combine this technique with the interactive footage to make a new combined aesthetic which could well be at the heart of the film.

We didn’t have time to fully explore the Randome construction technique but still created some large structures 3m across. With so much else going on in the room the domes weren’t particularly immersive, and filming them could be tricky. Perhaps it is a matter of scaling the dome up to be really immersive. As structures they are impressive – as projection surfaces less so – we’ll experiment with lining the inside in a smooth latex surface next time. This is a tricky one – we want people to be inside a blister but the difficulty of construction and projecting well into a dome may be taking up too much of our time relative to what they deliver visually for the film. We shall see.

We had a range of works of different levels of complexity on display from actual games (the first we’ve done) with hi-scores and rules, to more organic open interactions such as Growthline. Both worked fine but the joy of self discovery is always going to be higher in the simpler more intuitive interfaces. Growthlines was shadow driven, the Pathogen Swimmer driven by Kinect silhouettes and a fair bit of instruction, and there is a difference in terms of the physicality of the experience. The shadows just work but you can’t augment a shadow very easily – and you certainly can’t make the shadow be swallowed by a Macrophage so we will proceed with both techniques. What you can do with both is make simple physical movements of the audience trigger interactive events. So bulging a line, pushing a cell, swimming through plasma, bouncing off of vessel walls and these simple actions were what worked best. We were struck by how the CellBall game deflecting cells left and right based on colour was analogous to a laser beam scattering off leukocytes in a stream of blister plasma. Without thinking about it we created a mini human cytometer. So from now on we’re focussing on the verbs of the inflammation process for the next shows – and some of the more complex ones – Hunting, Engulfing, Eating, Arresting, Rolling, Swirling, Pushing/Pulling, Squeezing through etc… and trying to work out how to bring these interactions to life.

The central focus of the film has thus become about the physical interactions involved. And the parallels between the use of the body in interactive art spaces and the use of microscopic physical processes inside the body itself.


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Blister Cinema #1 – one down two to go

Just some quick information on the successful Blister Cinema #1. We’ll tell you what we learnt in the next post when we’ve looked at all the footage. For now here is a link to the photo set on Flickr.



Blister Cinema was an interactive game room as part of GEEK 2015 in Margate. We set up several interactive pieces on the theme of inflammation and watched the public interact. Almost 500 people played over the three days of the festival. We gathered footage from the event using a range of cameras including a new 360 degree PIXPRO and explored projecting into domes and Randomes. The footage will go towards making a short film about interaction and inflammation commissioned by the Wellcome Trust and supported by Animate Projects. There will be two more Blister Cinemas one in Cardiff and then back to Margate for the final one.

“The body vs bacteria in a deadly microbial battle.”

Thanks to Olly Lazarus for use of the Panay Fashions building, Stephan Costenslayer for helping and Kate Kneale for her GEEK support.

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