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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