PHOTO : ANDREW LEYENHORST PHOTO : ANDREW LEYENHORST
CALIBRATION GRID FOR PROJECTION MAPPING & MOTION TRACKING
NIAGARA PARKS POWER STATION UNDER HOUSE LIGHT
that are actually active in the space . So , if you ’ re standing there and you ’ re not moving at all , that means you ’ re kind of “ not playing ” and the system will gradually forget that you ’ re there , and you ’ re going to free up a parking spot in the tracking system for somebody like a kid who ’ s running around and actually interacting with the show .
“ So technically , it ’ s infrared illuminators and infrared cameras , our 7thSense server for the video playback and a TouchDesigner patch for the generative video content , and we ’ re relying on Max / MSP for all the generative sounds because , of course , when we have generative video , we also have generative sounds .”
Upon a second visit to the station , this time during the day , and with Thinkwell staff onsite , technical director Julien Roy walked me through the actual layout of the projection rigs and the specifics of some of the gear . As mentioned prior , projection is handled by an array of Barco units , primarily its G100 one-chip laser model .
“ We have 12 projectors doing a grid on the floor , in two rows of six , then we have four that are doing the main screen or main wall , and we also have smaller G60s that are pointing at the generators ,” Roy explains . Three of the station ’ s generators are incorporated into the show , the centre of which is covered by three projectors : “ So , two side and one front ,” Roy details . “ And the [ generators ] on the side have two projectors on them , so on those we ’ re doing a single blending line .” All this serves to create a seamlessly immersive canvas within the production ’ s allocated space in the plant , delivering visuals in stunning brightness and colour while not being distracting or overbearing .
“ We didn ’ t want technology to become the sole show , but rather the place itself ,” Tran recounts . “ So , ‘ how can we use technology to augment the space , especially using all the artifacts that were already in it ?’ Especially with the generators that are sitting in the middle of the floor , those are your main actors ; and that ’ s sort of how the creative side took over . And projection mapping was something that we ’ ve always enjoyed because it ’ s a technology that sort of hides away a bit . So , we wanted something that feels magical , and you forget that it ’ s a projected image .”
Roy-Larouche substantiates this , adding “ The idea was that the technology was as invisible as we could make it within the space . So , we put LEDs under the edges of the columns , or on the farm truss , et cetera ; we ’ re highlighting parts of the building , but you ’ re not seeing the LEDs themselves , same for the speakers … This applies for the night show , but also because when somebody comes in at 10 in the morning to visit the museum , it was the idea that as a visitor you shouldn ’ t look up and see a bunch of projectors and speakers and whatever meant for the night offering . So , even during the day , we ’ ve tried to have everything as hidden or camouflaged as possible .”
This extends to the speakers as well , a gamut of low-key Community arrays painted to match the building ’ s existing architecture , largely inspired by the piping . I had no idea where they even were before they were pointed out to me by Roy under house light conditions . Of course , that also means mitigating distractions caused by the sound itself , which is passively handled by the large pieces of drape covering the windows not used in the show . Soft goods were provided by Joel Theatrical .
In order to make this all work and deliver as airtight an experience as possible , of course rigorous preparations were made ahead of time , with one of Solotech ’ s contributions to the project outside of the actual integration being the use of their Montreal facilities by Thinkwell to prototype the show .
According to Roy-Larouche , Currents marked the first large-scale deployment of Thinkwell ’ s tracking technology , and it wasn ’ t possible to rely on mere hope and theory to ensure the system would work . “ We already , of course , did generative video content , but this one involved multiple tracking cameras synchronized with one another , linked with the video that is itself on the floor . So , we needed the space to do heavy prototyping . And working with Solotech , they have their space in Montreal that is really close to our office . So , we had the opportunity to work with them to install our prototyping environment with the actual equipment in their warehouse for more than a month .” He notes as well the convenience of Solotech having an office in Toronto , which has made it easy to get boots on the ground in the event of a technical issue with the installation .
In terms of show control , there are two control rooms hidden deep in the building ; one upstairs for video and audio , and another in the
20 | Winter 2021