Façade Fest: Studio Sessions with Chris Shier

The unique aspect of Chris Shier’s artwork is that all of his graphics are generated in real time. Usually, when it comes to animation or graphics, these are pre-rendered in advance and then projected onto the building. Chris’ artwork is based around an HTML 5 canvas, which is web-based media. Our challenge was to figure out a solution that would help integrate his graphics generated from the web, and streamline them through the media server being used for the Façade presentation. Go2’s interactive designer had to figure out a proper frame rate and resolution to produce a consistent feed through to the media server.

Our team worked alongside Chris to ensure that once the textures were accurately piping through from the web into the media server system, that the resolution and the speed were acceptable by the artist. Our developer looked at different applications to find the one that would give the most consistency for this live feed and finally settled on the app, CamTwist.

We got Chris’ thoughts about his upcoming project for Façade.

Your existing body of work focuses on the very contemporary mediums of GIFs and interactive animation. What do you want our readers to know about these art forms in general, and your work with them specifically?
Chris: What I enjoy most about working on the web, and especially with interactive animation, is returning to the feeling of freedom that once existed online. You could create a place entirely as you saw fit – as ugly or beautiful or useful or useless as you’d like. We’ve traded that control for convenience with a side of corporate surveillance. Making interactive animation for me has been about carving back something for myself and hopefully being able to provide tools for users to feel free to play and create. And, since the source code for all the works is easily viewable and editable using tools already built into standard web browsers, anyone can iterate, modify, or remix as much as they’d like.

The GIF seems to be undergoing a redefinition by the main social media channels. Rather than the traditional (now possibly archaic) low colour-depth short animation loops, it is more often used to describe muted video files of indeterminate length. It’s a shame because the original GIF file format provides exact pixel and time precision over how an animation is rendered, while video compression discards as much detail as possible in pursuit of small file sizes resulting in muddy messes. So, what was originally an ideal tool for screen based animation has been drowned out by goofy reaction faces and pratfalls. It is probably too late, but the format deserves eulogizing.

What inspires you?
Chris: Learning new tools and techniques motivates me most consistently. Beyond that, watching planes at night through venetian blinds. Really, though, it’s the work of artists like Andrew Benson, Sara Ludy, Adam Ferris, Sabrina Ratté, Andrej Ujhazy, Ezra Miller, Vince McKelvie, Ricardo Cabello, Jules Welter, Tangible Interaction, Altered Qualia, and so on. For this project specifically, I have fond childhood memories of visiting Science World and the exhibit where a flash of light leaves a frozen shadow.

How does working in projection mapping fit into, and contrast with, the work you’ve done in coding and animation before?
Chris: I’ve been wanting to work with projection mapping for quite some time now. Façade provides an excellent chance to investigate the interaction between the user and the work beyond a web browser interface. Creating work for the web has been an asset, though, in that pieces must be adaptable to a wide variety of dimensions, hardware, and interaction modes (mouse, touchpad, touchscreen, webcam, head tracking, etc).

Describe your project for Façade. How did you come up with the idea, and what kind of effect are you hoping to have on the viewer?
Chris: It is a code-based work with an interactive and a non-interactive element. On the arch and columns a vibrant petri dish based on cellular automata simulated life will ooze and grow, while in the wings and recessed face of the VAG, live video of Robson Street and the audience will be churned through digital feedback effects and projected. I’m looking forward to people shadow-playing as they realize it’s their own forms and movements being represented on the VAG façade.

Were there any challenges in this process?
Chris: Integrating live web-based works into the projection mapping pipeline, especially when running two in parallel and using webcam input, was the main challenge. Much thanks to Patrick at Go2 for his hard work in that area. It has also been an interesting process adapting effects originally developed for the one-on-one experience of a webcam and laptop to the scale of half a city block.

What have you learned about your art through this process?
Chris: It has opened my eyes to some of the possibilities and opportunities available when interactive works are moved from the online space into the public urban space. I’d like to explore those ideas further.

What was it like working with Go2 to complete your vision?
Chris: It has been an extremely positive experience working with Go2. I knew going into the project that there would be technical hurdles to overcome and Go2 have been enthusiastic and adaptable partners in realizing the work.

How did you come to collaborate with the Burrard Arts Foundation?
Chris: Jeff Hamada of Booooooom was kind enough to put my name forward into the nomination process. I should also thank him for pushing me to incorporate interactivity into the Façade festival format.

Chris’ project will be displayed Saturday, September 3rd from 8pm to 12am on the Robson Street side of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Follow the Façade Fest online with #facadefest.

Text by Go2 Productions, Genevieve Michaels and Chris Shier

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