the moment you step inside the building . Upon entering the doors , much of this dimly-lit cathedral of industry is obscured by darkness , save for a layer of deep , blue light cutting through the haze about 9 to 10 ft . in the air , creating a feeling of being underwater while offering a slight glimpse of the building ’ s scale . Guests then enter the gift shop , which doubles as a waiting area before the show starts . At showtime , the audience is led out onto a massive section of floor right in the middle of the hall , surrounded by the imposing generators that seemingly demand a sense of reverence .
Images begin to project onto the floor of the station beneath the audience ’ s feet , before the floor and wall are eventually overtaken by the images , fully enveloping viewers into the evolving animations that move around them – and with them . Many elements of the show are literally dictated by the audience themselves , as motion tracking and projection mapping allow images to not only be projected beneath people ’ s feet , but to actively track them as they move , and subsequently trigger interactions between other projections , including audio elements . Suffice to say it was fun to realize what was happening , and to see other people ’ s responses .
“ It was a pretty huge breakthrough for us ,” says Thinkwell Studio Montreal Project Manager Danny Tran . “ We developed a tracking system that would simultaneously track movement of more than 100 guests . And the video and audio are generated from the [ viewers ] within the room ; so , as they walk or run or connect , like when the electricity [ on the ground ] starts to connect people to each other , images and audio are fully generated depending on who ’ s in there , how they ’ re moving , and how they ’ re interacting with each other . That was tailor-made for this project .”
Elaborating on how these interactive elements play into the audience experience , Grenier explains in detail :
Grenier : “ There are major audio moments that are connected to reactive and interactive moments that are projected , so you can always see what you hear . So , for example , in the intro scene , the floor is the only projected space . We haven ’ t opened the show on the wall or on the generators yet , but you ’ re tracing water with your steps , and at one point when the canvas is completely filled with rivers , we toggle that scene and so you have this kind of circle of light [ and ] water underneath your feet .
“ And if you start moving and running , you can actually splash and interact with other guests ; this is a highly interactive moment , and it ’ s meant to teach guests that they should look for these interactive and reactive moments ,
MOTION TRACKING ALLOWS BEAMS OF “ ELECTRICITY ” TO CONNECT AUDIENCE MEMBERS TO ONE ANOTHER
and they are allowed to and should walk around during the show .
“ Every splash , every movement , is tied to reactive sounds that help you connect with the real-time aspect of what ’ s happening around you and what you ’ re triggering . So , it ’ s sights and sound at a macro level where there ’ s a shared experience , but also at the micro level where you have an intimate relationship with what you are experiencing …
“ Sometimes clouds kind of follow you around , sometimes you ’ re a ball of energy and you connect to the generator and create a big moment in the show of connectedness and community with your peers . So , the interactive layer is tied to visuals , but also to sounds , and that ’ s a big [ asset ] in our creative toolbox .”
Even though I ’ d experienced the show before speaking with Grenier , I was admittedly a bit carried away gazing up into the grid to truly explore all of these subtleties ; but this all goes to demonstrate that it ’ s a show that needs to be experienced more than once , and it ’ s one that goes far beyond just watching a story unfold on a screen . A great example of this is a moment in which projections on the generators , with pixel-perfect , seemingly three-dimensional placement , give the illusion that they ’ ve actually begun to rumble back to life as they start to “ spin .”
“ We wanted something that will be relevant aesthetically in 10 years , 20 years ,” Grenier says . “ You know , digital projects age like dog years ; you put something on the planet , and a few months later , sometimes it ’ s aged . We wanted to avoid that trap , so we used really high-tech gear , but an ageless , timeless approach to creative .”
With that said , the gear is also fascinating .
Going into Currents for the first time – not as a reporter , but during an on-a-whim outing with my mother , a history fanatic who loves big old buildings – I still spent more time gawking up at the ceiling than I might ’ ve expected to .
From the array of Barco projectors to the “ wait , is this thing following me ?” moment upon noticing the motion tracking , I knew right away this was something else entirely . Granted , it is . Thinkwell Studio Montreal and Currents Producer Antoine Roy-Larouche explains .
Roy-Larouche : “ For a couple years now , Thinkwell has been developing its own autocalibration software ; so , for video projection in this case , we were using it on the wall , the generators , and on the floor also . And we ’ ve kind of built the tracking system on top of the calibration system , so once we do the video calibration of the floor , we have a reference of which pixel is where for the multiple projectors that are projecting on the floor while our autocalibration system is calculating the blending and everything so it ’ s pixel-perfect .
“ For this project we ’ ve built on that ; the tracking system is relying on the same pixel reference , which means we don ’ t need to tell the generative video content where the pixel is because the tracking system is using the exact same pixel as the video calibration system is using . So , we kind of gain a step , because once we decide which pixel we want to light up , it ’ s already mapped in our system .
“ What ’ s happening with that is that we have our canvas and we have our infrared illuminator on the ceiling , so we can track more than 100 people ; but if we do , we lose performance , so right now [ it ’ s optimized ] so it ’ s a bit over 50 people we can track , and we track people
COURTESY : NIAGARA PARKS
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Winter 2021 | 19