“Launched by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts in 2016, Light City is the largest festival of light, music and innovation in North America. Central to Light City is the BGE Light Art Walk along Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, featuring attractions including illuminated sculptures, projections, interactive technologies, performances, concerts, food vendors and a children’s area.”
– Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts
Here’s another reason to come to Baltimore: the whole city lights up for an entire week every spring! Since its inception, Light City has promoted local artists to showcase original outdoor works through awards with city-funded grants up to $75,000. The festival provides a huge opportunity for individuals and groups to make a vibrant mark on the city – no reason for us not to try, and make one too!
One of our office’s most valuable assets is our studio culture. The office leaders ensure an open, secure environment to freely communicate and give feedback, whether the comments may be positive or negative. More importantly, as a number of colleagues heard that we were submitting a Light City proposal, they couldn’t help but provide some of their insights into the design!
We collected everyone’s thoughts on the Pinterest board (as imaged above). Certain themes arose as many of the precedent images began to use similar technologies, namely motion tracking, projection mapping, and kinetic elements. The only caveat to the images is the lack of Baltimore dialogue; we figured that to be a contender, the installation should somehow be Baltimore-themed! We bounced ideas ranging from a fully immersive, interactive room to large inflated, kinetic structures to play up our own Baltimore tourist charms.
Ultimately, we realized that the design must reflect our culture, so we identified the key drivers in determining the final design: interaction and dialogue. Our preferred choice of medium would be projection mapping, and the challenge then was to design the dwelling to house the interactive elements.
So we knew projection mapping was our route – now how do we want to differentiate ourselves from others? Our preliminary sketches depicted simple screens to serve as backdrops for moving spectators to affect the projection. A number of previous installations used light to animate scenery and illuminate nearby features, but lacked the notion of interaction we hoped to bring. However, we were particularly fascinated by Space in the Middle by KMA, a large-scale piece that appeared completely dependent on its audience. With this, we embedded the idea of crowdsourcing to invite spectators to become active participants in the work.
As our methodology shifted, so did our ideas toward grander schemes. Some pushed for an immersive, mixed reality experience where participants would become analogs to manipulate building blocks along the city skyline. To host such an activity, we entertained the idea of constructing a miniature stage for light to bleed from the floor, and project onto standing screens. Our design leader was still unsatisfied, and suggested to elevating the whole structure, otherwise designing the structure as the main attraction and increase visibility. We settled eventually settled on a large, inflatable, interactive sea creature.
The more we developed the budget, the less the inflatable appeared feasible; this idea was quickly value-engineered out (sorry, Kent Muirhead). Now with costs weighing more heavily on our design, we began re-evaluating our methodology and looking toward computational solutions to preserve our lofty ideas. Projection mapping is dependent on two mediums: the input controllers and projection surface. The computational designers could not wait to tease out the options with the controllers, so we quickly obtained an Xbox Kinectand Leap Motion controller. This led to a few studies in delayed video-keyframing and motion-tracking via Grasshopper. The final form of the projection surface was determined by the intended site location and playfulness from designing the audience’s intended interaction.
The design-build nature of this proposal kept our spirits high throughout the entire design. The majority of the budget was allocated to the structure and securing the whole installation through Baltimore Inner Harbor’s spring winds and rain. As we would provide the labor ourselves, we planned for a warehouse space to prototype, stage, and build our bubble. The plan for a hollow pipe structure provided us flexibility for any adjustments in construction, as well as projection fabric to conform to any shape.
We believe that the most compelling element was the interaction station, which consisted of a computer outfitted with a camera and motion tracker. Working like a telephone booth and shaped as an arcade machine, the participant would make gestures into a screen and the bubble screen would respond. Nearby spectators and their movement would also be captured in the station’s viewport to further enhance the experience. At the time of conception, we used a water droplet as the interactive object set for manipulation; plans to revive the large sea creature were in the works!
Special thanks to James Marsh, Richard Chou, and Adam Louie for organizing and submitting the proposal!