Monthly Archives: July 2011

Character design & interactivity | An interview with Rex Crowle


At the moment we are living in a computer dominated period where movies like Avatar by James Cameron shows us glimpses of the future and the possibilities of (realistic) character design. But not everyone is charmed by perfect, rendered and glossy images. They miss the charm that comes from the lack of perfection, the warmth or naiveté that comes with animations from the last century. Some say that in time of recession people tend to reach out for things in the past because its comforting and more clear then the future, but on the positive side it means a new wave of creativity in animations and games.

 

In the last couple of years there has been a big rise of craft or DIY styled character design in animation and games. Thanks to the success of puppet movies like “The fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Coraline” there has been more and more awareness for this movement. The look and feel of these puppet animations are quite analog, textured and nostalgic and yet modern in approach and quality. By using less refined materials as wool, cardboard and wiring they have made beautiful characters that appeal to a big group of viewers.

A great example of the renewed attention for craft can be found in the game industry, more specifically in the PSP game Little Big Planet (LBP). Its interesting to see that the crafts movement started in homes and communities where people came together to make, create, interact and share their designs has found it’s way into the online gaming community of LBP. The game offers the players the possibility to create their own characters, games, levels, attributes and rules. These creations can be uploaded to the LBP online community where other gamers can play or edit their version of your level. This element of interactivity and creativity is crucial for the success of the game.

 

I had the honor to interview Rex Crowle after the keynote he gave at the Playgrounds Festival (7 & 8 October, The Netherlands) and pick his brain on topics like LBP, interactivity, his influences and character design. At the moment Rex works and lives in London and is working as art-director, graphic-designer and illustrator on the follow up of LBP.

 

I was quite curious to know what his opinion was of the success of LBP and he answered that it’s a combination of two things: the insanely popular main character Sackboy and the interactive element of the game. “He really did become big and popular and when a character comes so big it no longer becomes property of the designers, but of the public or better said property of his fans. But at the same time it is definitely an idea that needs to be protected because various companies want to get involved. They all want a piece of him and stick their logo on his ass. The strangest companies that have no physical product or companies in the service industry like cleaning companies, just to name one. He shouldn’t become an F1 racing car covered in logos. He is a character that people really have taken to their hearts but I wouldn’t be hard to destroy this relation by abusing it.”

 

I also asked him what his influences were for the visual design of the game:

“Sackboy finds his influences in 80’s children series like ‘Bagpuss’ and ‘The Clangers’ and a lot of 80’s pop culture is scattered through the game. Like having a level full of CD’s you would have a level full of cassettes or VHS tapes. It somehow is more or less a second hand shop, a really battered grungy secondhand shop, where you find stuff that people once loved or discarded. I am an 80’s child so there is no escaping that! I think it’s more clear in the personality of the game. Inspired by 80’s videogames, like Pac Man & Donkey Kong, we made multiple games with small levels that aren’t complex like the games you have nowadays.”

 

Seeing that we are living in a society where characters are playing an important role in our everyday visual communication and identities I asked Rex about his vision for the future of character design:

“Character design has become more appreciated, so it’s understandable it’s going to get picked up. But I don’t really like that character design has turned into the designer toys fad. They have become 200 dollar toys behind glass case in some shop for that kind of audience. It would be nice if it more mainstream and more usable like normal toys. And if would play with it and the arm came of you kind think how to make another arm of plasticine or something. Just to explore the possibilities. “

 

The coming years will be quite interesting when we will see prices drop further of 3d printers and the possibility to create 3d objects in our home space becomes widely available. It’s just a matter of time before everyone will own a small 3D printer. “I hope with the coming of 3D printing and rapid-prototyping that in the future it will give more exploration possibilities and interaction. I know it’s a bit late but I was thinking while making the character Grip Wrench to give all the assets away and see what anyone would do with them. That would be fantastic not knowing what would come out of it. I really would like to do something like that.”

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Review “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” (2010)

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – 2010

There are a lot of people that like to read a comic book, play a video game, or watch a movie. But why do these things separately, when you can now do this all at the same time? All you need to do is get your hands on one of the most original movies in recent years; Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

English director Edgar Wright isn’t unfamiliar with mixing genres when it comes to filmmaking. In 2005 he made a successful combination of horror and comedy with the zombie-parody Shaun of the Dead, and two years later, in comparable fashion a mix of action, comedy and mystery with the buddy cop film Hot Fuzz. But with his latest film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, he goes one step further and throws everything in the mix, from comedy, action and romance to videogames, comic books and rock bands.

The film, based on the six-part Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, follows the titular Scott Pilgrim, a 22-year-old slacker (Michael Cera) who just got himself a new 17-year-old girlfriend (Ellen Wong). It gets a bit complicated for Scott when he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and fall head over heels in love with her. When he starts dating her, it becomes even more complicated, as he learns that he’ll have to fight her seven ‘evil exes’ if he wants to continue dating her. The plot may sound a bit silly, but it is almost a ideal setup for a fast-paced, visually interesting rollercoaster-ride of a movie.

The whole accomplished look and feel of the movie is for not a small part due to London-based visual effect studio Double Negative, which is responsible for most of the visual effects, and they really had their hands full with a production like Scott Pilgrim. Most of this is because the film is loaded with visual treats, from small onscreen ‘ding dong’s and ‘tring’s when the doorbell or phone rings, to epic band battles with Chinese dragons and an enormous Yeti. And with a studio that also did the effects for among others Inception and the latest Harry Potter film, the result in Scott Pilgrim looks nothing short of fantastic.

Besides the input of Double Negative, the feel of the film owes a lot to the work of editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss. With a style that involves among others editing one dialog over three different locations, and almost no ‘traditional’ cut between scenes, the films plays with an enormous fast pace, which should take some viewers a while to get used to. That such a fast-paced film isn’t for everyone may be clear, and the director goes even further in excluding a broad public with including endless references to pop-culture and especially videogames. The film is filled with sound effects from the Nintendo’s Zelda-franchise, and with band names like ‘The Sex Bom-ombs’ -after the Bom-omb bad-guy in Super Mario Bros. 2– and ‘The Clash at Demonhead’ -after the Nintendo game of the same name-, there is a lot for the fans to discover. And although the recognising of these references aren’t necessarily for understanding the film, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World does ask for a specific, defined public. This could also perhaps explain why the film wasn’t a big hit in the American cinemas; it only brought in a little over half of the sixty million dollar budget.

But even with a very slick look, the movie doesn’t depend only on look. The story isn’t much more then the simple description earlier in this review, but the portrayal of the characters is done very good. First of all we get Michael Cera, the 22-year-old Canadian actor who got worldwide recognition with leading roles as a socially awkward teenager in films like Superbad and Juno. It was actually after seeing him in an episode of the cult series Arrested Development that Edgar Wright decided to cast Cera as Scott Pilgrim. Besides Cera there is the beautiful Mary Elizabeth Winstead as his love-interest, but it are mostly the evil exes who steal the show, including Chris Evans as Lucas Lee, a skateboarder-turned-actor, Brandon Routh as super vegan Todd Ingram, and Mae Whitman as Roxy Richter, an ex from Ramona’s bi-curious phase, who, ironically, played Michael Cera’s Christian girlfriend in Arrested Development.

But even a great movie like this doesn’t come with its minor flaws. After a few views for example, you might start wondering why Pilgrim wants to be with Flowers so badly, since it somewhat becomes apparent that she isn’t really the sweetest girl. But then again, we all know what love can do to our decision making.

All by all, it is a very original and foremost very entertaining movie, thanks to the great directing and acting, and with a lot of help from the visual effect- and editing-department. And although the film is targeted on a certain generation that grew up games and other referenced material, it shows thatHollywood, when it pairs up with the right artists, still has a lot of originality.

Jeroen Bijl

Interview met Tim Smit

Van Hollywood naar Tilburg; Hollandse nuchterheid

 

Je ziet het steeds vaker, iemand die vanuit het niets enorm populair wordt met een video op het internet. In ons eigen land is Esmée Denters wellicht het bekendste voorbeeld, maar voor het digital arts vakgebied is er een meer interessante case; Tim Smit. Zijn naam doet misschien niet direct een belletje rinkelen, maar zodra de titel “What’s in the Box” voorbij komt, is het voor de meeste duidelijk over wie we het hebben. Het is de naam van de sci-fi short film waarmee Tim, na het uploaden ervan op YouTube in maart 2009, enorm populair werd. Ondertussen zijn we ruim anderhalf jaar verder, en in die tussentijd is er genoeg gebeurd. Tijdens het Playgrounds Festival in Tilburg sprak Tim o.a. over zijn recente werk. Na afloop vroeg ik hem over zijn persoonlijke ervaring met betrekking tot zijn naamsbekendheid en de manier waarop hij dit bereikt heeft.

 

Ik kan gerust stellen dat mensen jou kennen van “What’s in the Box”. Dit is niet het enige dat jij gemaakt hebt, maar heb je het idee dat jouw naam en werk toch nog steeds gekoppeld wordt aan het feit dat deze film zo’n hit op YouTube was?

Ja, honderd procent. Bijvoorbeeld op een festival zoals Playgrounds, mensen vragen me toch altijd weer over die korte film, maar zo raar is dat ook niet. Het is een ontraditionele manier van bekend worden, en daarnaast is het ook een short dat hier in Nederland niet standaard is, gezien het genre en de effecten. Ik vind het leuk dat mensen het kennen en herkennen, maar het is inderdaad niet het enige dat ik gedaan heb. Ik zie het als een leerproces dat begon met “What’s in the Box”, en ik hoop vanaf daar steeds beter te worden, maar voor mijn gevoel sta ik nog onder aan de ladder.

 

Je spreekt zelf al van een ongebruikelijke manier van bekend worden. De meeste mensen in het vakgebied van animatie en visual effects zijn er op een meer traditionele manier ingerold, bijvoorbeeld door het opbouwen van een portfolio of een doorstroming vanuit school, stage of projecten. Bij jou gebeurde dit allemaal in een klap. Dat heeft zijn voor- en nadelen?

Inderdaad. Het voordeel is dat je enorm veel aandacht krijgt, je zet jezelf in een klap op de kaart en je zit er op dat moment al gelijk midden in. Aan de andere kant, wat daar dus gelijk bij komt kijken, is dat je te snel groeit. Ik kreeg vrijwel vanuit het niets de optie om aan dit project [speelfilm versie van “What’s in the Box”] te gaan werken en dat is lastig wanneer je daar nog helemaal geen opleiding in hebt gedaan. Dat is ook de reden dat ik tijdens het project mezelf ook bezig heb gehouden met wat kleinere projecten.

 

De meest recente voorbeelden van deze kleinere projecten zijn de videoclips die je gemaakt hebt voor de Tilburgse rockband Daybroke. Hoe ben je daar terecht gekomen?

Toen de populariteit van “What’s in the Box” mij de mogelijkheid bood om aan een langere versie te werken, wilde ik eerst nog wat ervaring opdoen. Lokaal was hier wat dat betreft veel meer aanbod voor, waaronder dus van Daybroke. Er waren meerdere mogelijkheden, maar ik wilde iets waarbij je controle kon krijgen over je project, en dit was mogelijk met Daybroke. Het is een stuk kleiner en dit geeft je totale creatieve vrijheid en dat vond ik belangrijker dan gelijk aan de slag te gaan in Hollywood, want daar mis je die vrijheid. Op die manier zou ik het sowieso aangepakt hebben als “What’s in the Box” niet zo populair was geworden, van klein naar groot.

 

Je bent een grote filmfan, dit zou je kunnen zien als een hobby. Is dit visual effects ook nog steeds een hobby, of meer?

Het is sowieso begonnen als een hobby, net als mijn interesse in film. Die was er al sinds ik klein was, en dan met name de technische kant. Ik ben opgegroeid in de tijd dat de CGI [computer-generated imagery] opkwam in cinema, met films als “Jurassic Park”, en keek vooral naar de praktische en digitale effecten, dat vond ik heel vet. Later realiseerde ik me dat het zelf maken van zulke effecten ook heel leuk is, en wat mij dan vooral trok, is het toepassen van die effecten op een globaal verhaal, een groter geheel. Zo zou ik het bijvoorbeeld niet leuk vinden om effecten te maken voor een project of verhaal waar ik niks mee heb. Ik spreek dus denk ik nog wel van een hobby, en die zit hem dan vooral in het creëren van een geheel.

 

Het is bij jou dus allemaal ontstaan vanuit een hobby, en als jij zonder enkele doelgerichte scholing dit kan bereiken, wat kan volgens jou een specifieke studie toevoegen op ‘eigen scholing’?

Ik zeg niet dat ik zelf super slim ben, maar ik heb natuurlijk wel een opleiding gevolgd die veel technische kennis vergt en heeft opgeleverd, en dat heeft mij me echt geholpen in het leren van dit soort dingen. Ik zou iedereen die graag films maakt of als een AV-artiest bezig wil zijn aanraden een opleiding te volgen, het levert je meer structuur op en geeft je natuurlijk een hoop extra resource.

 

“What’s in the Box” zou geplaatst kunnen worden onder de noemer ‘viral video’. Voor alle potentiële ‘upcoming artists’ binnen dit vakgebied, denk jij dat het een reële en verstandige wijze is om naamsbekendheid te werven op een manier hoe het jou is afgegaan?

[Stilte, Tim denkt even na] …Ja, je kunt het altijd proberen. Er zijn sinds “What’s in the Box” meerdere gelijksoortige filmpjes opgedoken op het internet zoals “Panic Attack” en “The Raven”. Maar waar mijn situatie zich uniek in maakt, zo ervaar ik het tenminste zelf, is dat ik de effecten thuis op mijn zolderkamer deed en alles voor heel weinig geld heb geproduceerd. Dat spreekt natuurlijk ook wel aan op het moment dat zo’n film ‘ontdekt’ wordt. Dus als je heel erg overtuigd bent van je eigen project moet je hem zeker online gooien, wie weet levert het wat op. Het kan je sowieso geen kwaad doen, maar zo’n zelfde succes kun je natuurlijk nooit garanderen, dat valt niet te voorspellen. Ik was, voordat ik de film op YouTube plaatste, eigenlijk ook gewoon van plan om met “What’s in the Box” langs producenten te gaan, kijken of er interesse is voor het maken van een speelfilm. Het was dus sowieso al wel een doel om naamsbekendheid te krijgen met de film, maar niet op de manier waarop het nu is gegaan, dat was een verrassing boven verwachtingen.

Na het interview begeeft Tim zich onder de rest van het publiek van het Playgrounds Festival, waar hij op het einde van de middag de Best Local Award wint voor zijn werk aan de videoclip Sabotage van Daybroke.

LONDON REPORT | master animation 2010-2011

Don’t we all remember those fabulous school trips back in the day? Last April we, master animation students, had the privilege to go on a field trip to London to see and get in touch with the professional animation industry. A short report on the impressions and revelations experienced on the trip.

Students: Jeroen Bijl, Anya Shapira, Leevi Lethinen, Idris van Heffen & Simon Buijs

STUDIO PROFILES

Studio AKA | http://www.studioaka.co.uk/
Is an animation studio with focus on narrative stories through character animation. They believe that the way to success is found in creativity, authenticity and believability. They are more traditional narrative animators. Being small enables them to produce original works without being bound by rules or regulation. By staying small they can assure the quality of work and assure work for all the directors. Even though they are always looking for new talent they tend to work with a core team of creatives.

Nexus Productions | http://www.nexusproductions.com/
A production house which specializes in interactive projects and innovative ways of reaching an audience. They balance them between art and commercial work. They are known to create work opportunities by showcasing their latest developments and through this process they positioned themselves as leaders in the interactive branch.
The shift towards more interactive projects seems to have a big priority for them (at least for Cedric Gairard), so they can directly reach their audience as those of their clients. What sets Nexus apart is their knowledge and research into interactive and experience design across the whole multimedia landscape and so offering clients new ways of reaching their audience.

UVA | http://www.uva.co.uk/
United Visual Artist is a company which purely focuses on interactive installations and software development. When we visited they were working on a commissioned project for National Maritime Museum (http://www.uva.co.uk/news/high-arctic-opening-14-july). UVA was unique in the group of visited studio’s, as it was more directed towards live performances than to animation. Animation is a part of their work, but not as great part as with the others. Interesting though, for discussing the boundaries of animation.

Onedotzero | http://www.onedotzero.com/
Not all of the animation business in London is based on commercial work. Onedotzero is the platform that showcases the future and the uncharted boundaries of the animation spectrum. The organization was purely created from the love for animation and the urge to help new and upcoming artists. Through the past decade they have established themselves as a leading platform for animation and have build a vast network, festivals and screenings that promotes animation and related media all over the world. The story they told about the history of the company was very interesting to hear. About making the right moves and right decisions at the right time, which simultaneously gave a nice overview of the recent history of the development and broadening of the digital animation field, into mobile, interactive, generative forms. They seem to know and monitor well the course animation is heading to.

Picasso Pictures | http://www.picassopictures.com/
Picasso Pictures had the most versatile style out of the studios we visited and the directors seemed to have the most artistic freedom. They represent a total of 20 directors with their very own and unique style. They see them selves somewhere between a production house and an agency. They provide their London based directors with assignments, offices and technical support. They also work with directors outside UK, for example from Spain, Germany, and in the Netherlands. Due to do rapid growth of the internet and technology it is not longer mandatory to be based in the UK.

IMPRESSIONS FROM THE TRIP

According to Leevi Lehtinen it was surprising that they all were very approachable both as individuals and as professionals. You don’t have to be super talented to work in the studios in London, but you must be ready to work extremely hard. And the starting salary for an animator in London can be extremely low. Due the economic crisis, the budgets are getting smaller but studios still maintain money flow by branching their animation services out. For example internet banners, games and merchandise.

Jeroen Bijl has similar thoughts to Leevi. “It was surprising in a way how nice, open and approachable the people we met were. They were willing to listen and answer our questions, and very willing in general to talk and discuss about all animation related subjects. Besides that, I got the impression that they really ‘live the animation life’. What I mean by this is that they work long hours, and even after working hours, they are still in one way or another involved with their work, or with the animation field. If you want to work in the London animation field  you must be willing to give all your time for it.”
What Philip Hunt of studio AKA made very clear was, that the field can be very competitive, which he illustrated with his experiences with pitches. Often, the material shown during pitches are already worked out to an extent that it is almost finished in animations and designs. These pitches have become time consuming and costly when lost.

“What surprised me was how straight forward the business is. I found out that the path of success is paved with only one thing, hard work!” concludes Idris van Heffen. “Especially when we visited Nexus production I noticed that these people don’t really use any extraordinary means to create their work, they just work. “They’re looking not necessarily for superb technical animators, but more for uniqueness. Create your own work and stick with it they say. Eventually you will be noticed as long as you stay true to yourself. In regards to uniqueness you don’t even have to show a big animation reel, illustration work is also usable. Be yourself. Be Epic!”
“Another thing I found interesting was the fact creating context is really important. Context creates depth. Depth which can be used to promote your work though social media like Facebook and Twitter. Crowd funding is becoming more common. Success nowadays is found though the variability of your work.”

Anya Shapira continues: “Cedric Gairard mentioned the importance of making a publication about your work. By publishing a text you might reach more people than only via exhibiting. People can learn more about your concept and motivations.”
“Also Claire Tredgett from Picasso Pictures suggested to be constantly busy with even small animation tryouts and to make sure people can easily see them. This might help to get noticed for certain projects that match ideas or style.”

JUST DO IT!

“What I personally learned from our trip”, says Simon Buijs, “were the inspiring quotes of wisdom  by Studio AKA’s Philip Hunt: “… Make sure you have more interests than animation.” , “ …. just keep making drawings and animations…” , “ …let your work be seen on the internet! ” .  But above all, the lesson learned by this trip is that it is not impossible to get to a level where they are. We just have to work a bit harder.”

Leevi Lethinen continues: “If I decide to go for commercial side, I feel easier to contact the studios I’ve visited. I choose to work differently, because at the moment it’s possible for me. I mean that it’s possible for me to aim to the artistic side, instead of commercial side. London after all, is a center for commercial animation, not animation art.”

Idris elaborates on what he learned. “I mentioned a few things earlier, but I’ll say them again: Go all the way, be honest, be fucked up, make friends and work together. Be yourself. Be Epic! As Simon said it’s not impossible at all the work on the level of London as long as you believe in yourself and follow up with the right amount of work. It might be a gamble, but if feels better being good in what you like to do rather than what you think is expected. One question Leon asked repeatedly was: How do you become successful? They all had the same answer, do what you think is right. Which is easier said that done. Another thing was that was mentioned was that experience is required to work in London. Normally Londoner animators have worked 5 to 10 years in the business before they start working in London. That combined with the fact a lot of them don’t even earn that much money, makes me question if I actually would want to work there.”

And Jeroen Bijl concludes: “For me it was like a combination of it being very inspirational and a reality-check. All the stories, and work we’ve seen, they worked inspirational in a way that I also just want to go and make cool, good-looking stuff, and at the same time as a reality-check, that if you want to make it in this field, that is exactly what I should be doing, just making a lot of good stuff!”

TO SUM UP..

Meeting the people behind the London animation industry was inspiring and motivational for all the students. It gave a good insight into the inner workings and functioning of the companies, the way they do pitches and the cultural climate of London. We can conclude that we get to their level of work if we keep on making inspiring work and get seen. We can get there as well.

Two works of Marnix De Nijs. Identification versus identity

Two works of Marnix De Nijs. Identification versus identity

By Anya Shapira

Reading about interactive installation of Marnix De Nijs ‘Mirror piece’ I immediately recollected his previous work ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer’. I had an opportunity to experience this interactive piece during STRP festival 2010. My first reaction on to ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer was like on any other interactive installations – let’s wait and see how it works. It is probably the most natural reaction of most of us during our first encounter with an interactive piece. No one is in a hurry to become the centre of attention when you are not sure what you have to do in order to interact.

In the case of ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer’ even the title is rather provoking than inviting. This installation uses face detection and recognition software together with the database of celebrities. It reads the faces of participants and compares them to faces of celebrities from the database. The design of the installation reminds of the security gates in the public domain. After watching a few people passing through the gates and listening to the short audio fragments telling some facts from celebrity’s lives, I decided to participate in the process. There is something humiliating in passing through a security gate. It is the feeling of distrust probably. In my case this feeling was mixed up with the slight embarrassment and surprise when I saw my face displayed next to the face of Marilyn Monroe…

Although I did not get a chance to experience ‘Mirror piece’ in life, I would like to give my reflection based on a movie explaining the idea and functioning of the installation.

In ‘Mirror piece’, you stand in front of a mirror where you can see your face next to the face of a celebrity and listen to an audio fragment. Two works, made in quite a short period of time one after another, cannot avoid being compared. The fact that the same technology and the same principle have been used in two different set-ups provokes a search for differences in other respects. ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer’ creates a very open public experience strongly related to the idea of identification. Both machine and the public observe the participant. In ‘Mirror piece’, however, the mirror creates a more intimate ambience. It is not about passing through the security gate and thinking about what other people may think about you, like in the case with ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer’. It is about watching yourself and celebrity’s face in a mirror, comparing your features with the features of the celebrity, wandering what you really may have in common. Why are you compared with the celebrity? What makes celebrity to be celebrity? Why are you self is not a celebrity?…  Although anyone around can see your face projected next to the face of a celebrity and listen to the audio fragment, with ‘Mirror piece’ you are more encouraged to engage in an idea of self-reflection than with ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer’.  Because of its more intimate character, ‘Mirror piece’ also emphasize more the idea of the role that celebrity culture plays in our society, how it influences us as individuals. Interestingly, in ‘Mirror piece’ the contrast between celebrity culture public part and private part is much stronger than in ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer’.

At the first sight it is quite confusing to see two works functioning so similarly. It even brings up the thought of ‘Mirror piece’ being a kind of upgrade to ‘Physiognomic Scrutinizer’. However these two technically identical works communicate rather different concepts. These technical similarities diminish in a way the role of the technology and give more importance to the concept.

 

 

Digital Interactive Installations, interview with James Medcraft, UVA

Digital Interactive Installations, interview with James Medcraft, UVA

Location: Playgrounds festival, Tilburg.
Date: 7.10.2010
by: Anya Shapira

Digital interactive installations are created at the intersection of various disciplines, artistic and technical. This mix of skills and interests creates a unique kind of medium. Investigating its specifics can help to create more advanced and efficiently functioning interactive installations. It may also help to understand the direction of development of new media in general, as human centred interaction became recently one of the dominant themes in new media. The success of interactive installation can be measured in the level of audiences’ engagement. This brings up the question: what exactly attracts the desired attention from the audience and creates the envisaged engagement in the interaction? To get more insight on this subject I talked to James Medcraft, designer and photographer at United Visual Artists. United Visual Artists (UVA) is a British-based collective whose current practice spans permanent architectural installations, live performances and responsive installations.

‘With interactive installations so much depends on the reaction of the audience. So how do you predict audience’s behaviour?’ Apparently UVA learns about the response of the audience from the works themselves: “Our work is based on our experience, what we know and learn about human nature, how people react on certain triggers. In a way it is like playing games with people. It is fascinating to learn about how people can get involved. What we learned in the past influences our future designs.”
UVA created a number of installations with responsive LED screens. Installation ‘Monolith‘ (February 2006) is an interactive LED sculpture with one screen was followed by ‘Volume’ (November 2006) and ‘Array’ (December 2008), installations with multiple responsive LED columns. ‘Volume’ and ‘Array’ allow more sophisticated interaction with bigger amount of people at the same time.

There is a big difference between installations designed for in- and outdoors: the audience is better prepared for the installations designed for indoors as they are created for more dedicated purposes while outside installations are almost never really expected by the audience. Medcraft states: ‘When you do piece of work for outside it has to be more obvious or it has to be very subtle and non-intrusive. You have to spend a lot more time to discover it. We did a commercial job for Nokia. It was interactive light switch that responded to ambient light. We worked with another company that needed response to people’s movement as well. There were too many variables and the work became too complex for passing audience. In the end we had to compromise on the interaction. When you go through the gallery you are willing to give it a time to see because you have gone that far. When you are in a public space you are less patient. Installation has to be there for those who want to explore or it has to be very obvious.  It is far more difficult and you have to make more choices.‘

Many outside installations are dedicated initially to certain location, so called sight specific installations. The question that arises naturally is whether there is any difference in functioning of an installation when it is relocated to different surroundings. James mentioned ‘Volume’ as an example. “‘Volume’ was created as a contrasting element to the Victoria & Albert’s museum surrounding neo gothic architecture. This design contrast isolated ‘Volume’ from its surroundings and it gave it a very solitary and intimate atmosphere. Some years later it was recommissioned to go outside the Royal Festival Hall on the south bank of London. The demographic of the visitors there is different from the previous location. That caused the difference in the interactive relationship. As it was a far less private setting, people’s responses to the installation were far more dramatic turning the participant from that of a complimentary element to a participant that reacted in a contrasting fashion.”

Talking to Medcraft made me realise that most of interactive installations artists, like artists at UVA, learn about audiences’ behaviour from their experience. It is very intuitive and art oriented approach that brings interesting results and is also very fascinating as a creative process. As the subject of user-centred design is getting more attention nowadays, more scientific approaches are being developed to help understand user experience issues. An expertise of user experience specialists and psychologists is used commonly when developing complex online or product interfaces. There have been conducted scientific experiments to investigate human behaviour in the context of interactive installation as well. Although this kind of experiments are rather technical then artistic I wonder if artists cannot benefit more from scientific research about human behaviour. My opinion is that interactive installations can benefit from the mix of both approaches. It would be interesting to see what both approaches can learn from each other.