I love stories. Taxi drivers are the best for stories. They are the modern day story tellers, honing their stories and storytelling to perfection with every new fare. Charles Dickens probably picked up a tale or two from a ride in a Hackney Carriage. So my story of iX begins with a taxi driver on the way to the Satosphere. … Actually, this story goes on a bit and is really nothing to do with iX so I’ve tucked it under a fold for those with an inquisitive sniff.
It wasn’t long before the conversation turned to domes. He’s from Iran and speaks with pride of his homeland and the domes that dominate the Iranian skyline. He asks “Do you know where the name Cuba came from?” … Che Guevara trying to solve a Rubik’s cube springs to mind… “No” I reply. “The word ‘dome’ in Persian is ‘Qubba’. When the persians first discovered Cuba, they saw it’s dome shaped mountains and named it Qubba. This eventually changed to Cuba.” I love etymology and this really made me smile. I guess if you have friends that are into domes, this kind of thing is gold, and so, I’ve been telling everyone my new fact with pride. But due to the social paradigm caused by Wikipedia, I felt the niggling urge to verify his story. I really wanted to avoid looking it up. Perhaps it’s because I feared it to be false. I think I felt some kind of responsibility to the global quest of knowledge to confirm its legitimacy before passing it as fact. Everyone knows that anything that you can’t find within the first 2 pages of Google results, doesn’t actually exist. So after 3 pages of results and no mention of the Persians, I make that face. A combination of disappointment and resignation. The kind of face you make when you spoil a perfectly good story with fact.
The name Cuba comes from the Taíno language. The exact meaning of the name is unclear but it may be translated either as where fertile land is abundant (cubao), or great place (coabana). – Wikipedia
I did however find that the Persian word for dome is indeed ‘Qubba’. And, you know, the internet doesn’t know everything. Many of the resources I found say that nobody knows for certain where the name Cuba comes from. It could have come from the Persians. Maybe it’s just that no-one has written it on the internet yet. I’m sure the taxi driver didn’t make the story up himself. There must be others out there that believe this to be fact.
So anyway. Let’s rewind a little. Since hearing about SAT (The Society of Art and Technology) a few years ago, I have felt spiritually drawn towards it. It’s a special place. It is home to the Satosphere, a 20 meter, 230° digital dome that goes right down to the floor. But what makes it special is that it was specifically built for creative endeavour. Designed by, and for, an artistic community. There’s nowhere else like it in the world. So when I was invited by the SAT team to present at iX, in spite of my immense terror of public speaking, I agreed to do it. iX Symposium was a mix of thinking, discussing, sharing and experience, all around the topic of immersion. Every presentation had a unique insight into a different area of immersion. And the nature of ‘immersion’ varied from huge public interactive events, to virtual platforms for socialising in cyberspace. Here are some of my own personal highlights and thoughts from iX.
RFID – Fragments
Fragments really stood out as something special. The narrative was loosely implied and everyone I spoke to after the show had their own idea about what had happened. For me it felt like I was inside someone else’s mind as they tried to piece together memories from a traumatic event. Perhaps a dark insight into the tortured memory of rape. I mean, there wasn’t actually any scenes of rape, there were a number of snapshots of events that eluded to this though. The scenes disintegrated and reformed like those traumatic memories that have been manipulated and rebuilt so many times that they remain only as a crude representation of the event. Even the way the audio penetrated the space felt violating in some way. The haunting voices were almost indistinguishable and I felt like I was actually making my own words up to fill in the gaps. It was a powerful piece, encompassing the whole dome, producing an inescapable vision of someone else’s psyche.
Munro Ferguson – Minotaur
Okay, so we didn’t get to see the whole thing but what we did was beautiful. I thought it worked as a standalone piece. It features two microbial looking creatures in a visual narrative. Love and loss, life and death. Oh, and a stunning soundtrack by Kid Koala. I got to see this in the Satosphere and in the stereoscopic dome, and interestingly, both felt quite different. The 2D version felt big, like the two entities were vast creatures. Whereas the stereoscopic version felt intricate, small and more like a microbial world I suppose. This definitely had an impact on the story as well. The 3D version felt more tangible and fragile, which made it more of a human story I think. Whereas the 2D version felt more alien… Still very beautiful but perhaps had less of a personal connection to the story. It was only really noticeable by comparison. This analysis aside, it was a stunning piece of animation and I hope to see the full version sometime in the future.
Stefan Berke – Cymasonic, Modular Audio Graphics
Bergi is a good friend, we’ve known each other for a while now and have met at several festivals around the world. Actually, I wrote a few words and drew a few pictures after visiting his studio in Jena last year. He’s definitely your stereotypical crazy genius. He presented his tool development for creating 3d audio/visual environments. He also presented a short section of a film called Loco Dyna Morphics, which is the best example of spatial sound I’ve heard in a dome. SAT have an immense sound system, made up from over 150 speakers through 39 separate channels. By using ambisonics, Stefan creates sounds that seem to emit from very precise locations around and beyond the dome. Loco Dyna Morphics isn’t just a technical demonstration though. It’s a strangely magical world of vector based creatures and environments. Although we only saw an extract of the film, it was one of the best immersive experiences of the event. It felt dream-like, and I’m not sure if it was the spatial sound but something about it really transported me. There was a point during the storm sequence where I felt confused because I couldn’t actually feel the rain that was falling from above. And weirdly, every time I dry my sons milk bottle I hear the wings of the butterfly from the opening sequence.
Vincent Chapdelaine-Couture – Stereoscopic Fulldome Live Capture
Vincent has come up with a very elegant solution to live capturing stereoscopic fulldome imagery. For usual parallel fisheye capture, there is no stereoscopic effect towards the sides of the image and inverted stereo when turned to look at the rear of the dome. Simply by using a third camera, he shows how it’s possible to create a complete panoramic stereoscopic image. It’s such a simple solution I’m surprised that no-one else has come up with it or is using it. Not only has he come up with the solution, he’s also produced software that can stitch the images directly from the cameras in realtime.
Greg Hermanovic – Derivative
Greg’s presentation was his personal pathway through jobs and projects that lead him to creating Touch Designer. I really enjoyed hearing his stories about his work on the simulators for the Canadarm, and other areas of the space industry. I was blown away by some of the examples of how Touch Designer has been used. I recognised many of the projects as ones I have liked and shared previously. I’m surprised I haven’t heard of the software before. I’ll definitely be taking a look at some potential applications for for future projects and ideas. One thing about his presentation I found really enchanting was the story of his first pixel. I even asked him a bit more about it afterwards. He had taken a Poleroid of the first pixel he ever plotted on a screen on a weather research vessel. He spoke fondly of rediscovering the picture after he thought had been lost forever, and he proudly points out that the bottom left pixel was ‘the one’.
Joseph Fiola (VJ ZEF) – Live Performance with Unity
I’ve been dabbling with Unity on and off for a little while now so it was great to get an insight into a well established workflow. I first saw Joseph’s fulldome work at Fulldome UK 2012, with a piece called Spheres. It’s a beautifully hand drawn stop-frame animation… Actually, there’s an extract here, go take a look. Apologies for only having half the talk here, and the brightness and quality levels but it’s enough to get a good idea. Joseph aka VJ ZEF has performed visuals with international musical artists Keith Fullerton Whitman, Clark, Demdike Stare, and Pole, among others.
Aaron Bradbury – Stereoscopic Workflow for Immersive Cinema
So yeah, my talk. It was a highlight for me in terms of having the opportunity to be part of such an incredible event. It was nice to be able to share some of the work I’ve been involved in at NSC Creative alongside my personal findings. When I get some time, I’ll hopefully make a more in-depth (pun intended) whitepaper on the topic. A basic blog post transcription can be found here: http://www.luniere.com/2014/07/08/stereoscopic-w…mersive-cinema/.
Wavefield synthesis vs ambisonics
I had some interesting debates on this topic. The general opinion of all the audio folks I spoke to is that ambisonics is the easiest and best method for producing 3d sound in the dome. To create inner-dome positioning of sounds, a vast number (hundreds) of individual channels of sound would be required, but this would then create positional artefacts around the perimeter of the dome. Stefan showed me some diagrams of how the sound waves become distorted as the number of speakers increases. Speaking to Jake and Stefan and Jake, it seems that there is also a basic standard format for ambisonics, whereas nothing yet exists for wavefield synthesis. I’m weary that the debates didn’t really include anyone who had worked with wavefield synthesis and most peoples knowledge on the subject was basic… I mean, in their own terms it was basic. Conversations I’ve had with Rene Rodigast from Fraunhofer suggest that wavefield synthesis is far superior to ambisonics, so I’m left unsure which method is the best to adopt for future productions.
Back of the napkin style explainations of ambisonics and spherical stereoscopy between me and Stefan.
This is related to the discussion above, and once again most of the discussions on this topic were between me and Stefan. It following on from an idea we had in Jena for creating 3d sounds within an immersive environment. The current method of producing a 3d sound environment is positioning sounds onto virtual points and emitting sound from those points as they move through space. The logical next step is to use the virtual scene objects to reflect those sounds in order to produce an accurate 3d model of how the sound is moving through space. I suppose the ultimate situation would be one where all materials have an acoustic definition to such a degree it would be possible for them to produce sound from collisions. Each object in the scene would then reflect and absorb those sounds by tracing the waves being emitted, similar to how raytracing works in visual image generation.
Books vs. Oculus. This came up in a number of presentations as well as over a few beers. Is it possible to be immersed in a really good book more-so than the latest immersive devices and techniques. This is something I have discussed with friends and colleagues previously and the question seemed very relevant at iX. There was such a broad range of immersive technologies being discussed, and so much time and effort that is going into developing them that it was an interesting point to make. It begs the question: Are we all just wasting our time? Should we just be trying to write a really good book? Even with the explosion of VR head set technology, there are still barriers between the viewer and experience that put it behind books in many peoples minds. The Star-Trek Holodeck was also mentioned several times. The Holodeck seems to trump the book when it comes to immersive experiences, but it seems that anything less just doesn’t cut it. Personally I think that books access an element of immersion that is rarely tapped into with many of the new technologies; the imagination. Or maybe it’s something to do with emotional immersion? If we think of immersion as an illusion for the senses, our technology is trying to replace the input that our senses receive in order to create a parallel experience of something else. We stop all the light rays from reality and produce new ones to replace them. Books are doing something very different. They are tapping into the imagination to bypass our sensory input all together to produce the parallel experience in the brain. Depending how good you are at building imagined worlds and sensations, this reality can be very convincing. It’s hard to imagine creating the opto-kinetic effects that can be produced by immersive technologies, with only text on a page. But maybe memories of the experience could be equally as physically involved. Never-the-less, it’s an interesting topic of discussion. It was discussed. It shall continue to be discussed.
IFAA – International Fulldome Arts Alliance
The IFAA was announced during the dome link between iX in Canada and the Fulldome Festival in Germany. In their words: The International Fulldome Arts Alliance seeks to secure fulldome arts and entertainment as a viable medium and accelerate the widespread distribution of dome programming through a network of member venues. I think the idea is to get some of the predominant planetarium/science venues to open their doors to the idea of screening arts events. This would be hugely beneficial to the artistic community. The more artists can access domes, the faster the language of immersive cinema will develop. High-fives all around.
The European Mobile Dome Lab for Artistic Research is the brainchild of Martin Kusch. E / M / D / L is a recently-established partnership of European and Canadian cultural organizations who have joined to develop immersive audio-visual environments. Again it’s trying to expand the immersive medium into the artistic community and spread knowledge and awareness of the fulldome format.
Here are the official photos from the event: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152394914030250.1073741863.8345730249
Here are some of my own snaps: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aaronbradbury/sets/72157644996158846