Sky Blue

We’re using this page to keep track of notes about Sky Blue, an interactive artwork in development. We are: Shan Weiley, Doreen Ee and myself, Viveka Weiley.

Updates:

* We’ve taken down the Magic Hopscotch prototype from Beta_space at the Powerhouse, and re-installed it in Alpha_space in the CCS studio at UTS, so that we can keep tinkering with it. Next step, computer vision 😉
* The inimitable Doug Easterly (of SWAMP notoriety) dropped by and said some nice things.
* The peripatetic Mark Pesce twittered the launch of the prototype.

It’s just finished prototyping at Beta_space in the Powerhouse Museum, under the name Magic Hopscotch. Beta_space visitors can’t see the work until they’re inside the space, so in that environment it’s important to have a name that draws participants in by itself. Children are excited by the very idea of magic hopscotch – they squeal the name and drag their parents in to try it out 😉

Magic Hopscotch Artist's Talk
Here’s a photo by Mark Pesce, taken at the launch. I’m doing my Artist’s Talk, giving a spiel about Mixed Reality Natives.

What they see when they get there is a hopscotch court marked out on the floor in white gaffer tape – it looks quite informal and inviting. In front of them is a screen, showing the space they’re in. Of course in that projected space there is a distant version of the screen as well… but there, if you are looking, you would see a forest instead; an indicator of what’s to come. Jumping on the first square makes a single tree appear on version of the room on the screen. As you go along more trees grow, until at Sky Blue the whole room is a forest. Returning takes you back to reality.

Children play with it for long periods, and teenagers horse around on it. Adults might give it a quick go, especially if they’re not accompanied by children. But most of the adults at the Powerhouse are with children, and so they experience it as an audience and also as mentors, often scaffolding the child’s experience by inserting their own memories and experiences of playing hopscotch. Meanwhile children turn the work into a stage for performance. It’s with children that the relationship between the verb “to play” and the noun “a play” is revealed most clearly.

This performative aspect is similar to how adults experience Philip Worthington’s wonderful Shadow Monsters, which was for a few weeks set up right outside Beta_space in the Powerhouse Cyberworlds foyer. I’d taken Violet (8) and Axel (4) to Experimenta when it was installed there. Adults stood back smiling in delight while the kids performed.

Our next experiment is with embodiment. I’ve got hold of a 0.7x wide angle lens – lovely! It fits onto the iSight camera with a Kaidan adapter.
Wide Angle iSight Camera We’ll set it up at the back of the space, to give us the same wide-angle image of the space that we’re using as the wait-state for hopscotch. Doreen’s written a MaxMSP patch that manipulates the contrast of the image to create a silhouette of the participant to matte into the scene. It seems considerably more robust than my own attempt to do the same thing with image-keying. My patch takes a still of the camera feed, and then compares pixels so that anything moving across the field of view is extracted. However it is very sensitive to changes in lighting conditions. Heavy backlighting worked for VIDEOPLACE (and for Shadow Monsters!) but since we’re shooting from behind that’s not an option. So anyway, we will try Doreen’s patch with the camera setup, and see what embodying the participants in the virtual space does.
Embodiment in Magic Hopscotch
My hypothesis is that it’ll increase both attraction and immersion. Will it do anything for engagement though? We’ll see.

We’re doing observations (nothing photographed – all handwritten and anonymous for ethical reasons), and we also have a suggestion book. Beautiful ideas are coming in that way; our most common request is for animals in the forest, something we hadn’t considered. We’re thinking of adding them on the periphery, as a way of allowing more than one participant to effect the work, although the primary axis of interaction would still be driven by the movements of the player on the hopscotch court. We won’t get that working for this version, but it’s something we’ll explore.

Also something stronger when they reach Sky Blue… finishing the transition to a forest is satisfying but it really deserves an end-of-level cut-scene at the very least 😉 We’re currently thinking of an animation to take the player up over the trees and into the sky – using their actual location, going with the site-specific way we’ve built from the beginning. That’s also nice because it closes the loop – giving us Real Place / Mixed Place / Embodied Virtual Place / Real Location. It would also be good to bring more lights and projectors into play at that moment, but for now we’re working happily within the constraints of what we have available.