02 April 2012

Met Opera


I'm sorry to neglect you blogosphere.  I will return to account for the many days we've been apart.  For now, I have only these few pictures to offer you; and the video posted here.  Please accept them in good faith.


01 February 2012

Live Entertained


BOTANICA Trailer - The Invisible Worm from Jim Findlay on Vimeo.

It's been a while since I've been to a show that I wasn't working.  Thanks to my sister and her superior babysitting skills, (the most impressive of these skills being the willingness to show up,) my wife and I were able to attend the final preview of "Botanica" at 3 Legged Dog Art and Technology Center.  This was the first time I'd been.  I had wanted to attend many shows there like Zee but never found the time to make it out.  The space is awesome and the show seemed nearly sold out.  It was recommended by a troupe I love seeing called Radiohole.  The similarities were immediately obvious.



The set was elaborate and huge.  The audience walked through a greenhouse to get to the seats.  The set looked like some space age terrarium.  There were various technologies scattered around the stage that were used by Botanica's characters to manipulate audio and video.  Actors also served as technicians which made the show very interesting.  The audio they made was a lot of fun sci-fi sound effects and what not.  On stage for the actors was a mixer and I believe I saw an analog frequency generator and a simple synthesizer as well.  There were also a couple of mics on stage that were probably routed back to the board.  They sounded like they were used to trigger a digital synth with some heavy modulation and an effect that added bubble sounds to the user's voice which were meant to represent the voice of plants.

About half way through there was a projector used to show a bicycle racing game simulation.  The actor sat on a stationary bike for about 10 minutes and worked up quite a sweat.  But there was a simple and neat trick here that I liked.  The scrim was a clear, acrylic wall which caught some of the image and also allowed some of that light to pass through the acrylic and to then serve as a key light for the actor.  Whether intentional or not, I thought that was neat.  There were also 4 cameras on stage; a production camera, a fish-eye webcam and two macro-lens cameras for a microscope.  I think I also saw actors using a video switcher.  The resulting video was a lot of fun.  So fun I wish they had more monitors or else bigger ones.  The monitors were not very large and I often forgot they were there!  My final technical comment is that they need to fix some of the levels or add compression on some of the audio blasts towards the end of the show.  The levels were painful.  I got over it quickly.  My wife didn't.  Perhaps they weren't very worried about the preview audience.

My biggest issue with Botanica is with the writing.  Perhaps I was overwhelmed by the awesome set but I don't remember hearing a clear set up describing where the characters were and why they were there.  I could have missed it though.  The set is distractingly cool.  The other thing is that the plot seemed a bit forced.  For me there was no clear understanding of the passage of time.  There were no clear breaks between time periods.  I'm guessing it didn't take 90 minutes for the characters to lose their minds and because there was no clear distinction it may as well have been 90 minutes.  The scenes seemed randomly chosen.  My suggestion would be to add 30 minutes of plot and dialogue and put an intermission in there.  (There is no intermission by the way.)  There are an abundance of monologues but very little dialogue.  In a play that is clearly invested in a linear narrative I need more dialogue.  I'm happy to sit through 2 hours of a thoroughly guided story or 90 minutes of abstraction.  I just wish Botanica had chosen one way or the other.  That's all.  It's very fun story that, in my opinion, needs development.  Perhaps the show will be different from the previews...?  That's an exciting prospect!

I recommend it despite the aforementioned flaws.  If you've never seen technical theater like this, it can be an eye-opener.  Did I mention that the set is awesome?

22 December 2011

Finals

I'm done. I finished my finals and all of my projects. I was told I'll be getting a diploma in the mail in early February. So, that's it! That was a great program. I'm so glad I was a part of it. Here's a video explaining my Monster Maker culmination project:



Happy Holidays!

19 December 2011

City Theatrical



Yes...I'm blogging about another tour in the swamps of New Jersey known as Hudson and Bergen counties.  Apparently, many significant forces of the entertainment industry call these swamps home.  They are tucked away discreetly in industrial business complexes and one story factory buildings.  Beyond their parking lots and loading docks are little treasures of technology and creativity.  City Theatrical is among them....please excuse the dramatic opening.  I just like words.  So, we convened in Carlstadt on Friday, December 9.  Upon arrival we had a great presentation about product development lead by Larry Dunn and then saw the shop with Gary Fails.  Too bad it wasn't summer time.  I hear they have barbecues on Fridays in the summer.  The shop was amazingly organized and clean.  The workers all seemed happy and knowledgable.  The managers seemed humble and generous.  It seems like an ideal work environment!  Our professor warned us that they have a reputation for always employing "best practice".  I understand what she meant now.  Thanks very much to Larry Dunn and Gary Fails for hosting and to Sue Brandt for organizing!  There are some more blurry pictures here.

09 December 2011

iCulminated



Yesterday I presented my culmination project in the Voorhees Theater at City Tech.  It's called "Monster Maker : interactive flipbook".  In the bachelors of technology program you could consider the culmination project akin to a senior thesis.  The presentation went well and I received kudos for my time management and ambition.  I had never worked with Max/MSP and Jitter before this semester and there are no classes on Max at City Tech.  It took 65 hours to learn Max and program this project.   I used equipment from the school for the system which includes a 50" Samsung TV for video output, Motu Ultralite MK3 and Meyer UPM-1P speakers for audio output, a Mac Pro to run Max/MSP and Jitter, a Logitech Webcam Pro 9000 for video input and motion detection and Arduino microcontroller running the "Arduino2Max" code for digital contact closure inputs via USB.

To use the Monster Maker the user stands in the stage area which is defined by a railing made of schedule 40 pipe with two SPST switches mounted to the right and left.  Initially the user sees an intro screen with simple instructions. Arduino constantly sends information about whether or not buttons have been pushed thanks to the Arduino2Max patch running inside of my Max program as well as the Arduino2Max code that runs on the Arduino.  When the user pushes the two buttons simultaneously Jitter objects are triggered to grab a picture from the live stream.  The picture is cut in to 3 pieces.  The pictures are then stored and catalogued separately but displayed for the user as one image.  Then motion detection is enabled.  The Jitter objects perform frame differencing on the live stream and when there is enough motion above a set threshold then they randomly select a saved picture from the catalogue and send it to the output screen.  Thus a new human form is created.  I like setting the thresholds low enough that the image output for each of the 3 areas will scroll through the catalogue very quickly.  The result looks like a slot machine of human forms and is very entertaining.  The next step would be to isolate each compilation of images so the user could print their favorite compilation.  But, there is an underlying message that I enjoy about the system as it is.  Perhaps its best that the user can not take printed images of their monsters home with them.  I like the effervescence or transience of the images.  I think its important to promote the transience of the characters we become.  We have the possibility of transformation at any point in our lives.  Its refreshing to realize that.  I think this is an inevitable take-away from my system, if only subliminally.  I am very pleased with the results and I am very happy to have spent time learning Max.  It's an extraordinarily versatile programming environment.  I'm definitely ready to make some more projects in Max.  I've only got one more project and two finals before I'm done with my bachelor's program.  It's been an awesome opportunity and I feel very lucky to have spent these last two years doing projects like this one.  I can't wait to see what's next.  Enjoy!

02 December 2011

Progress Report



The end is nigh...
In one week I will be presenting my culmination.  It's called "Monster Maker : interactive flipbook".  As I explained in earlier posts it is designed to mimic picture books for children where one can place, for example, an alligator's head on a giraffe's torso and a monkey's legs.  I'm using Max/MSP/Jitter to run it.  Learning Max and Jitter has been awesome.  City Tech does not have a class in Max but they do have one professor who, according to his college records, speaks Max/MSP as a second language.  There are others who have experience with Max as well.  I hope they consider developing a course after seeing my project.  I'm very excited to have a working product.  I expect to finish programming tomorrow or the next day.  Then I just need to build and paint some rails.  Then I'll tidy up some paperwork and be done.

On a seperate topic I learned that I can use LayAR to complete my sound for multimedia project, which was a recorded reading of Oscar Wilde's "The Sphinx" meant for a specific walk along the Brooklyn Bridge.  LayAR seems like a great solution!

Back to it...

30 November 2011

still touring...


This time it was my Rigging class.  After many lectures about counterweight rigging our professor realized most of us had never gotten our hands on a counterweight system.  We don't have one at school.  So, he contacted his friend, Robert Mahon, the TD at Second Stage Theater for a class tour.  They were striking a show called "Blue Flower" which I heard was excellent but didn't sell as well as hoped.  The building used to be a bank.  In fact, the box office seems to have been placed inside of the old vault.  Because this was a bank re-purposed as a theater the counterweight system is unique.  In order to fly scenery out past the proscenium the arbor has to fall below the stage deck.  This in turn puts the loading deck about 3 feet too high as well.  So, their riggers end up doing a bit more math and most of the time load bricks from the stage instead.  They seem like very smart guys so it doesn't seem tragic.  It was fun to get our hands on some rope after weeks of doing calculations in the classroom.  Many thanks to Murphy Gigliotti for organizing and Robert Mahon for hosting!  Here are a few more pictures.  Tours of Wicked and City Theatrical are next week...

melancholia *SPOILERS*



This is by far the most polished of Lars VonTrier's films I've seen.  When I say this I am primarily thinking of the aesthetic appeal of the film.  The opening 10 minutes or so are these perfect, gorgeous and surreal shots.  They are done with a 1000 fps HD Phantom camera.  The impeccable lighting makes each frame look like DaVinci with a dramatic gravity akin to the opening scenes of Kubrick's 2001.  The  main characters are introduced ominously in slow motion.  Eventually the titles run and the characters come to life.

The first part of the film happens on actress Kirsten Dunst' character's wedding day.  At the beginning the character seems madly in love with her new husband.  The husband seems devoted and forgiving of her erratic behavior.  She avoids the reception and seems uninterested in celebrating her new marriage.  Her sister and sister's husband are alarmed and try to reel her in to the party over and over.  The entire film takes place on their property.  They own an exquisite castle hotel with a heavily manicured golf course and horse stables.  They exhibit control over all natural elements.  Though they seem unable to control their newly wedded sister.  When the groom proposes his plans to own a home and start a family with her the bride reacts by running away and fucking the nearest able body at the party.  We learn later in the film that Dunst' character "knows things" due to a phenomenal connection with the earth.  I believe von Trier uses her character to explain the absurdity and arbitrary nature of civilization.  Her sister and brother-in-law are engrossed in civilization and its traditions.  They are representatives of control and order.  While Dunst' character is representative of chaos and nature.  She is the long tree roots ripping at sidewalks and ivy growing on the wall.  As the opening shots of the film suggest, her energy will soon become that tsunami that levels everything civilization has created.

In part two Dunst character is now living with her sister at the castle hotel.  She has become helplessly depressed.  These are the final days before a previously unknown planet will collide with earth and destroy it.  The sister and husband make every attempt to console each other and their son.  The husband kills himself just before the collision.  Dunst' character seems wholly unaffected by the situation like some moody, sarcastic teenager unwilling to engage with her parents.  She shows no compassion for the end of civilization but only for her nephew who doesn't realize they will all be dead soon.  She convinces him that a spare wooden teepee will magically protect the three remaining characters from the rain, hail and impending tsunami.  So, Dunst, the sister and son all gather in the magic teepee to wait for death.  The film ends here.  In the second part of the film there doesn't seem to be any of the thematic discussion as in the first.  Perhaps I missed it on my first viewing.  I wanted more meaning.  I wanted an explanation.  I felt helpless just like the civilized sister.  This is, I'm sure, von Trier's exact intention.  Why can't I just be helpless?  Why does there have to be meaning?  Even if we do avoid collision our sun will eventually die.  Is this film a resonse to the Mayan calendar predictions?

The more I thought about it, the more I couldn't help but draw parallels between Malick's "Tree of Life" and "Melancholia".  They each set up similar conversations about the world of control versus the world of chaos.  Malick delves deeply in to the conversation to explore every nuance.  Von Trier spends the first half of his film talking about it and then picks a side.  He shows us in high definition video and dolby surround sound how chaos will win.  This film is a cold pitcher of water on the sleeping face of civilization.  Unlike Malick, he doesn't invite his audience to explore the beauty of life.  There are no montages of butterflies or planets in orbit.  There is no poetry nor Bible passages.  There are no mistakes to be corrected.  There is just humanity needlessly struggling to control nature.  Then there is chaos and death.  Your reaction doesn't matter.  You're going to die.  The whole planet will be gone and there will be nothing to show for it.  These are the thoughts I left the theater with.  I felt empowered.  Now I am blogging.

07 November 2011

Touring Season


Last Friday my project management class took another tour.  This time we went to Secaucus, NJ to see Scharff Weisberg's shop and meet with Josh Weisberg to talk about the entertainment industry.  We got a very thorough tour.  (Although, I had already visited the audio shop.)  It's always fun to see what equipment is running through the shops and what kinds of shows are being built.  It was also good to see a shop who takes the extra steps to properly and thoroughly maintain their equipment.  Plus, the lighting department is Local One, so if they use an apprentice (I'm not sure if they do) then I might end up there for a couple of years.  I have a few pictures here.  By the way, they've changed their name to World Stage.  Many thanks to Sue Brandt for organizing and to Josh Weisberg for hosting us.



I also managed to spend a day at the Met Opera House thanks to a friendly and generous City Tech alumni Greg R.  I got a chance to meet lots of guys who went through the apprentice program with Local One as well as the #2 guy on my list.  It turns out we are in a similar situation in our careers and personal life.  That was very reassuring.  The Met has a lot of awesome technical jobs that I would love to be doing.  They are working with Medialon and video over IP and doing a lot of projection work thanks to Ring Cycle.  The picture above is an experimental project to port video from the lighting consoles and other sources to various technical and creative staff positions during performances.  These are all PoE switchers with Fiber Optic ports (as a plug-in upgrade).  They send signal over ethernet to the HDMI decoders that each have a display.  There's proprietary software for configuring the decoders.  It looks like fun.

After talking with the guys and seeing what they're up to I'm even more excited to start the 2 (or 3) year apprentice program wherever it is.  Eventually I'll get to a venue like the Met and have some real fun.  Many many thanks to Greg R for the exclusive tour and opportunity to learn about new technologies at the Met and awesome positions at Local One.

I've got one more tour coming up at City Theatrical also in New Jersey.  Stay tuned.

01 November 2011

Crosby Group



The Crosby Group has new apps for rigging but they're all for iPads.  What about us iPhoneys!  Where's the love, Crosby!  My eyes still work.  I don't need extra screen if that's what you're worried about.  It's time to give up the goods.