Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Playing Shadowpox


Some of my favourite photos from the Shadowpox installation at <Immune Nations> in Geneva this summer:


Monica Geignos, First Lady of Namibia, starts the game by selecting a region from the world map

Steven Hoffman, Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Population & Public Health, chooses a country 

An inventive player finds a workaround for an oversight in our user interface, and...

...his little brother chooses the vaccine to protect a community not much taller than him. 

Lab coats aren't chic, but they do show the pox!

Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, Minister of Health for Ghana, stands in front of the Shadowpox tent
to host the farewell for outgoing WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, and then...

...goes inside to rack up an impressive Protection Score!


Not to be outdone, Jane Philpott, Canada's Minister of Health, takes a turn
with the expert guidance of York Augmented Reality Lab Director Caitlin Fisher

A wide-angle shot showing both screens. The projection is identical, but flipped
on the player's side, so it can be viewed right-way around outside the tent.
(Check out the Kinect sensor on the shelf at the top left.)


Huge thanks to all the players who enjoyed the game at UNAIDS. Next stop: Canada!










Saturday, July 15, 2017

Breakout Shakespeare

After seeing the Donmar Warehouse's intriguing verbatim musical The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Takes Oral Evidence on Whitehall's Relationship with Kids Company (check out this musically-informed review by one of its MP subjects), I got a second dose of Josie Rourke's Donmar with their cinema broadcast of Phyllida Lloyd's Julius Caesar this week.



Thrillingly, the whole cast is female, with the framing device that the show is being staged by a drama group in a women's prison. The Donmar collaborated with arts charity Clean Break, which also contributed two graduates to the company.

This is the first of a "Shakespeare Trilogy" with the same concept – I managed to see the second, Henry IV, on stage in 2015 – and when The Guardian calls it "one of the most important theatrical events of the past 20 years," I thoroughly agree. It fruitfully disrespects not only the gender line, but the colour bar, and class and regional-accent silos as well. What if this weren't a one-off, but part of a sea change in how brave we're willing to be in our make-believe?


All three productions will be broadcast, but no dates are listed yet for Canada. (Get a move on, Cineplex!)

In New York earlier this year, the cast recorded videos to give more voice to their prison characters:

Friday, July 7, 2017

Performance Capture in Live Theatre

I spent last night in an alternate future. The RSC's Tempest had its press night at the Barbican Theatre, and I finally had the chance to see the show in the flesh after following its development online for ages.

This is the kind of mainstream breakthrough for performance-capture theatre that I've been waiting for for half a decade, from our 2013 mocap Midsummer Night's Dream at Theatre@York, through subsequent live-animated collaborations Faster than Night and The Augmentalist with innovator Pascal Langdale, and now the forthcoming Shadowpox. I was mesmerized.



I don't regret being out of town for the Tempest's cinema broadcast in March. It's an odd irony that as much as theatre almost always loses something indefinable by being filmed, theatre with projected effects (screen-on-stage-on-screen) loses double:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Shadowpox reviews in The Lancet and Canadian Art

An article today in the UK medical journal The Lancet reviews Shadowpox and the <Immune Nations> exhibition at UNAIDS for the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva.

James Smith writes that "the eight artworks in this exhibition demonstrate how to engage productively and provocatively with policy makers and the public." After describing Jesper Alvær's Upstream the Cold Chain, Kaisu Koski's Conversations with Vaccine-Critical Parents, and Sean Caulfield's Anatomy Table, Smith continues:

"...Of the remaining contributions, one of the most engaging is Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic, developed by Alison Humphrey, Caitlin Fisher, Steven J Hoffman, and Lalaine Destajo. This interactive installation quite literally renders visible the invisible, as participants must choose whether or not to be vaccinated against the 'shadowpox' pathogen, before having the opportunity to trace the impact of their decision as an animated population is exposed to the threat of infection. On completion, participants are able to view their 'infection collection' or 'protection collection', as the population is transformed from an aggregate statistic with a series of detailed individual stories. This is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and playful ways to illustrate both the individual and population-level implications of community immunity...."


The journal Canadian Art also reviewed the exhibition:
Another unique artistic take on the global vaccination issue is Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic by a Canadian team: media artist Alison Humphrey, digital storyteller Caitlin Fisher and interaction designer LaLaine Ulit-Destajo, as well as [Steven] Hoffman himself. This “gamification of an epidemic,” as Hoffman puts it, invites visitors to try to wipe projections of various 'pox' off of their bodies. The number of pox to eliminate is scaled for whatever country the visitor has chosen, and thus underlines the way that resourcing affects “risk around the world,” says Hoffman." ...
Emotion certainly is something that runs high around vaccination debates, and one aim of <Immune Nations> is to find other ways of working with and through those emotions rather than just allowing the debate to become polarized.... 
'It is particularly timely now, given that we see around the world people questioning the role of science and alternative facts,' says Hoffman. 'It’s really important to us that we engage across sectors and find a new language in which to ensure people can be as healthy as possible.'
Shadowpox at RADA, video stills, 2016, “Immune Nations” at Galleri KiT, Trondheim, Norway. Photo: Natalie Loveless. Left to right: Skye Hallam, Fehinti Balogun, Tom Martin, Sayre Fox, Maisie Robinson, Natasha Cowley, Abraham Popoola, Jamael Westman and Polly Misch.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Shadowpox in Geneva

This week I've had the huge pleasure of working alongside Caitlin Fisher, Steven Hoffman and Susan Rogers Van Katwyk in person, and LaLaine Ulit-Destajo and Sean Sollé in cyber, to install Shadowpox: The Antibody Politic at UNAIDS in Geneva, during the 70th World Health Assembly.


Monica Geingos, First Lady of Namibia and UNAIDS Special Advocate,
playing Shadowpox at the <Immune Nations> opening
<Immune Nations>, an evidence-based art exhibition about the constructive role that art can play in global political discourse around life-saving vaccines, opened yesterday and will run till the end of June 2017.

Check it out in this Storify:

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Shadowpox in Toronto

Technical director LaLaine Ulit-Destajo, Theatre@York technician James McQuay and I brought the Shadowpox project to its North American debut this week at a symposium hosted by the Art and Science of Immunization working group at the University of Toronto's Jackman Humanities Institute.

#ArtSciImmunize conference – photo by Natasha Crowcroft

Working group lead Andrea Charise assembled this Storify:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Shadowpox in Trondheim

Check out the Shadowpox debut in Trondheim, Norway, at <Immune Nations>, an evidence-based art exhibition about the constructive role that art can play in global political discourse around life-saving vaccines.

Annemarie Hou gets a 100 protection score!

Check out the Storify:

Friday, February 17, 2017

Shadowpox in the Lab

Shadowpox at RADA: Abraham Popoola, video still, 2016
LaLaine Ulit-Destajo, Caitlin Fisher, Steven HoffmanSusan Rogers Van Katwyk and I are in the final weeks of preparation for a gallery installation incarnation of Shadowpox as part of the <Immune Nations> exhibition in Trondheim, Norway, and Geneva, Switzerland.




<Immune Nations>
 is an experimental evidence-based artistic-research exhibition emerging from the three-year Vaccine Project, part of the International Collaboration for Capitalizing on Cost-Effective and Life-Saving Commodities (i4C) funded through the Research Council of Norway's GLOBVAC Programme.

The exhibition will kick off at Gallery KiT on March 13, as the official opening of the 10th Conference on Global Health and Vaccination Research. From Trondheim it travels to UNAIDS in Geneva on May 23 for the 70th World Health Assembly

Here are a few work-in-progress photos from the Alice Lab for Computational Worldmaking and the Augmented Reality Lab at York University:

Using Rulr to calibrate the Kinect and projector
LaLaine's motion-capture stick-figure animation in development (Bézier curves are on the way!)
LaLaine's openFrameworks Shadowpox code


LaLaine infects the lab with sprites
Title animator Jos Humphrey gives a peek behind the curtain in After Effects
Jos's title sequence on the big screen

Alison and Maggie the Mannequin model the latest in VR headsets, but not because they're part of the project.
They just make us look suave.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Mo' Better Mocap Shakespeare



The Royal Shakespeare Company's performance-capture production of The Tempestin collaboration with The Imaginarium and Intel, is running a series of talks including one this weekend that I would sorely like to see: Creating The Tempest: Brave New Digital World.

The strapline reads, "What does the future hold for digital storytelling in theatre?" and the speakers include the visionary Sarah Ellis, RSC Head of Digital Development. I had a chance to talk with Sarah this summer about the breathtakingly ambitious production, and all the brain-bending, tech-twisting challenges that go into animating in real time, live on stage.

Mark Quartley as Ariel and Simon Russell Beale as Prospero (photo: Topher McGrillis)

I'm hoping I'll also have a chance to see the final show in person, even if the cinema broadcast makes it to Toronto, because one of those many vexed questions is what surfaces and substances to project the avatar onto once you've cooked it up in the computer.

Judging by the production photos, it looks like the RSC's answer is: "Everything that's nailed down, and maybe a few people who aren't." So it would be a shame to have to squint at that 360-degree experience through the keyhole of a movie screen.

The Company of The Tempest (photo: Topher McGrillis)
But in a way, watching a theatre actor... tracked by infrared motion-capture cameras and inertial sensors... driving real-time digital animation... projected onto a cylindrical scrim and a thrust stage... all recaptured on HD cameras... and broadcast into cinemas around the world? That's no more meta than watching a male actor play the female Rosalind pretending to be the male Ganymede role-playing "Rosalind" so that Orlando can hone his wooing chops.

Simon Russell Beale as Prospero and Mark Quartley as Ariel (photo: Topher McGrillis)



Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Viral Vanier

So on the very same day the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships are announced, I learn that not one but two of my PhD classmates in Cinema and Media Studies at York are through to the next round for next year. Go, Claudia and David!

And congratulations, Zachary, Jesse and Syrus Marcus!! Reading about their work, and the research abstracts for the 162 other new Vanier Scholars, feels like looking at one of those gorgeous rainbow MRI scans of Canada's brain...

 Henrietta Howells, NatBrainLab, Wellcome Images (Creative Commons by-nc-nd 4.0)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Live Cello Mocap and Projection Mapping

59 Productions have some wicked plans in store for projection mapping in live performance, but here's Sol Gabetta performing Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor at the BBC Proms, as an example of what they can already do:


(h/t to Liz Barber)

The video below shows the how. It highlights four key challenges with motion capture and projection mapping in live performance.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Prospero meets Ariel at the Imaginarium

More fascinating glimpses behind the scenes on preparations for the Royal Shakespeare Company's new production of The Tempest: "Simon Russell Beale, playing Prospero, and Mark Quartley, playing Ariel, meet for the first time, coming together with Imaginarium crew and Intel technology to explore how Ariel's avatar will work."


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Performance Capture for Stage, Film and Games

A round-up of links for further exploration of performance capture, offered with respect and gratitude to the massively talented graduating RADA actors who participated in the first-ever Shadowpox workshop – Fehinti Balogun, Natasha Cowley, Sayre Fox, Skye Hallam, Tom MartinPolly MischAbraham PopoolaMaisie Robinson and Jamael Westman.




Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Science + Fiction + Theatre

[This post was originally published in March 2015, but I'm reposting it because it's good background for a workshop I'll be doing next week. As collaborator Simon Eves of PLASTIK pointed out recently, there's still not enough sci-fi onstage...]

At a recent conference on public health history at the University of Toronto, I had some intriguing conversations about crossovers between science and art/entertainment, particularly how science fiction can welcome audiences deep into issues in public health.

It brought back a chat I had last year with Conall Watson of the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

He described his work on a promenade theatre event called Deadinburgh, set during a zombie outbreak besieging the Scottish capital.

http://www.lastheatre.com/2013/02/27/the-enlightenment-cafe-deadinburgh-2/
His team ran the public health advisory cell, "tasked with guiding the audience through different approaches to controlling the zombie epidemic; giving them insight into the usually back-of-house practices of the public health authorities.

We also had input into the epidemiological parameters and narrative of the overall show."

In a paper titled "Deadinburgh: zombie epidemics, citizen power and public health", he and his colleagues Kate Harvey and Nigel Field of University College London, describe the scenario:

"An unknown pathogen was ravaging Scotland’s capital in April 2013, turning unlucky infected souls into bloodthirsty, ambling beasts. The city was under military lock-down and scientists were working around the clock to identify the pathogen and develop means of control.

"Each night, 250 uninfected citizens reached the safe zone at a former veterinary college, taking democratic responsibility for the public health and military response.

"Whether immersive theatre and simulated situations can get people to engage with public health on a larger scale and help build trust and empathy with the way that science is used to inform public sector decision-making remains to be seen. What we do know is that people like science; people like zombies; and the two combined can help us to reflect on our own practice as public health professionals."

In the video below, Kate Harvey says, "Bringing in something from popular culture helps to appeal to a wider audience.... Public health has both art and science at its core. Public health is the art and science of promoting health and preventing disease and prolonging life.... But maybe what we haven't done so much of is using it as a means of communication, and actually putting some of the science back into art as well."

Click here to watch a video of Conall Watson and Kate Harvey discussing "Deadinburgh - the science of zombies" – a London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine podcast.




Tuesday, April 12, 2016

So long, green screen

As I work with a Kinect, a projector and a digital video camera to drive and record real-time interactive projected effects, I'm already fantasizing about hacking the Lytro Cinema system together with one o' these.

Come on, it's only a $125,000 rental...



(H/t Jos Humphrey)

The Invisible Pantry


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Live-Animated Simpsons

This just in from the Hollywood Reporter: the May 15th episode of The Simpsons will feature a three-minute segment with Homer Simpson taking questions... live on air. In a genre of animation that normally takes at least six months to produce, this is a 180
Showrunner Al Jean told THR that the series... will use a motion capture technology in which Homer's voice and motions will be depicted in an animated scene talking about things he "could only be saying live on that day."
"HOMЯ", Simpsons episode 9, Season 12
Apparently the segment will look just like the rest of the episode, which means they'll probably be using a 3D model, but toonshading it to flatten the look, which is what we did on Faster than Night and The Augmentalist:

Sunday, February 7, 2016

What is twenty-first-century magic?

More from the team behind the Royal Shakespeare Company's performance-capture Tempest:
"What's twenty-first-century magic? Well, I guess it comes in some kind of digital form these days. We've started to see a lot more in film, in the world of movies, but we've never really explored that in the theatre context.... It's the creative process that drives the technology, and not the other way around. So it started to be a match made in heaven, from that point of view." 
– Stephen Brimson Lewis, Director of Design, RSC




"With The Tempest we're really trying to redefine theatre, in some respects, and find a way to bring in new digital technology and really leverage it to make the story deeper, to find new ways to connect with a character, and maybe a different audience... an entirely new generation."
– Tawny Schlieski, Research Scientist, Intel

"The most exciting thing about what we're doing at the moment is enabling an actor to have a real connection with an avatar. It's the sort of thing that I do on a daily basis in the studio for films and video games. In this instance, we're doing something that's going to be a live theatrical experience. What you see is what you get." 
– Ben Lumsden, Head of Studio, The Imaginarium

"The play demands a spectacle. There's a masque in the middle of the play, an insubstantial pageant, which fades into nothing, but it creates wonder. I want to let the guys at Intel know a bit about what that tradition was, just how elaborate those masques were, and how they were pushing the envelope." 
– Gregory Doran, Artistic Director, RSC