drawing (on) riverside : the process

There are some projects that start out as one thing and then seem to morph into something else all together.

This was one of those.

still taken from On Wrecker's Ball

A still from On Wrecker's Ball, Digital Pepper's Ghost Installation.


Trish (Patricia Cain) first approached me, by email, around the end of August 2010. She had used a 3D drawing tool developed by John Stell of Leeds University, that allowed gestural drawings to be created using a tracked 3D mouse, a project that unfortunately, had since been discontinued, and she had thoughts of doing something similar for her Kelvingrove exhibition that would open in April 2011. 

A couple of weeks later, we met here, at my studio, where I gave her a demo of my 3D stereo system and Present3D, the software that we (myself and Robert Osfield) have developed to produce 3D shows. But this wasn't really what she wanted, and from her description " to be presented, not on a screen, but onto a plinth" I suggested that perhaps a variation on a Pepper's Ghost might be worth exploring... she agreed and so things began...

The rest of the process is sort of summarised in my written piece for the catalogue :

Nothing is Fixed, Nothing is Final...

by phil lavery

As I write this, nothing is fixed, nothing is final, there is only the process. A process that started with an email, a meeting and an idea. 


I liked the idea.


Ideas can take form in many ways. Some can just spring into being, but more often, it is necessary to explore the bounds of the possible and when working with technology, the possible may only be limited by time and money. 


There was precious little of either. 


And so, the one idea gave birth to others, the amazing, the astounding, the completely impossible, along with the boring, the safe and the done before. Research, tests and trials either ruled things out or transformed them into something new and still there was potential to go further. Then came the point to apply the restrictions of the physical space, the limited resources and the rapidly passing time. 


There were hard decisions. 


The more novel technologies were put to one side. We needed the security that at least something had the potential to work. And so, we went from six displays to two and even yet, this could become one. But then, this was never really about the technology... it is about that idea, the decisions we have made along the way and the risks we are still taking. 


There is still a chance that nothing will work. 


The end result could be an empty space on the gallery floor or a room with nothing in it. Would that be so bad? The original idea would remain. Pure and uncorrupted by our attempts to bring it to life, it would retain all of its potential.


When doing our projects with schools I always say, it is the process that counts, and I truly believe this. 


So whatever transpires, thank you Trish.


The process happened.


I suggested, researched and devised a wide range of potential visualisation solutions, including multi plane pepper's ghosts, laser and LED volumetric displays and a number of 3D stereo options. I was also interested in recreating the 3D drawing tool along the lines that Trish had described, but suitable to be used realtime by anyone and that would work in 3D stereo as a large scale projection. This would have given Trish the tool she wanted, and would also have had potential as an interactive exhibit.  But in the end, we were beaten by time and costs and had to cut our cloth to suit. 

But, this is all hardware, what was the content to be?

There was a simple 3D program (forgotten it's name, but will link to it when I remember) that Trish suggested she might use, I checked and we could get its output into Present3D, so stereo projection would still be an option... We also decided to stick with the pepper's ghost, perhaps using the Zaha Hadid model that we had of the Riverside Museum in someway.. perhaps playing with light and shadow and doing some projection mapping...


The Genesis of All Wrapped Up :

all wrapped up in the gallery

All Wrapped Up : 3D installation 2011 : Created in Maya by Phil Lavery, deforming a pastel drawing by Patricia Cain.


It was now December and becoming concerned that we still had no content, I suggested that perhaps I could take one of Trish's drawings and using a depth map or pixel shift technique, I could try and animate this into 3D. We looked at photo's and agreed a view that seemed to be complex enough that it would benefit from the addition of 3D.

Trish started work on the drawing and sent me progress shots that I intended to use to try and recreate her creation process with the animation... 

Time goes by...

There were problems.

The finished image was very white, and white is not a good colour for 3D projection. I tried moving the white more into blue and I thought it might still work.

Then the complexity of the image and my proposed techniques didn't really work well enough together to give me confidence that I could achieve a quality stereo experience.

The final straw, was that to save money, we decided to use a 4 x 3 screen surface that I could get free of cost, rather than buy a new 16 x 9 screen for around £1,500... this proportion would also cause problems.

But perhaps the concept could still be saved. What if I built the foreground of the image as a 3D model in Maya and only used a depth map for the background of the image. I decided it was time to brush up on my Maya.

Model of the Riverside museum lent by Zaha Hadid, Architects and used as guide for a 3D model in Maya.

I started by building a model of the Riverside Museum, using the Hadid model as a guide, I thought it would probably be useful for the Pepper's Ghost anyway.  I then spotted a tutorial on using Maya nCloth. I decided to give this a try as an interesting exercise to get to grips with the new 3D camera and lighting. So I chose one of Trish's drawings, (one that was 4 x3 and though it did still have a fair bit of white, I recoloured it in photoshop) and dropped this onto the Riverside model, I played with gravity, time, the location of the cloth and the 3D camera. I fought with lighting and textures, until finally, I produced something that I was reasonably happy that I had achieved what I had set out to learn... I showed Trish what I was doing, and sent her a video, she liked it. I suggested that there was a couple of other pieces that I would also like to make using Maya, and that I was still hoping to have time to do the 2D-3D piece that had started all of this, though I needed to start on the PG to make sure we had some content for both...

...I'm still hoping.

test render for All Wrapped Up

Nothing Finished, 2011 : A digital manipulation in Maya by Phil Lavery of an original pastel drawing by Patricia Cain.


The above image (Nothing Finished) is one of my lighting tests that I modified in photoshop when Steve ( Steve Rigley) was pressing for an image to support my written piece. It shows Trish's painting being deformed by the invisible model of the Riverside.

A mono version of All Wrapped Up, 3D stereo installation. Other versions will be available on my Vimeo site.

The finished version of All Wrapped Up was created as a side x side 3D stereo movie and is being displayed using a passive stereo projection system, using linear polarisers. Due to light loss through the filters and glasses colours need to be brighter in the source material for them to look correct on screen. Standard linear polarising glasses were adapted by having their legs removed and fitted into a custom made perspex opera glasses style holder.


visitors holding 3D glasses to watch All Wrapped Up



And then there was On Wrecker's Ball :

the peppers ghost in the gallery

The finished Pepper's Ghost unit. Designed by Phil Lavery.


We were still struggling with the limited budget. 

At this point, the 3D piece was going to be carefully situated in a corner of the main room where the Pepper's Ghost is now, and the PG (Pepper's Ghost) was to be in the side room where the 3D now is...

What if I could go back to one of the table top PG ideas, rather than the full scale, dual layer,  extremely expensive and logistically problematic one, that I was struggling with... it just made sense to try. 

I remembered having seen an iPod PG, I emailed V2 the arts centre in Rotterdam that I discovered was running a project using iPads and the iPod Touch called the i3DG... Their site suggested that they wanted to extend the project and encourage content creation by others... perhaps we could collaborate and, as part of the Kelvingrove education project, we could also run a creation workshop.... but they never got back to me.

It was obvious, that before I could go any further, that I needed to design the proposed unit and get it priced. My original design combined two PG's one for a standing adult and the other for a seated adult or standing child, this also gave the opportunity to do something more sculptural in the space. However, the price for two, was just going to be too much, but, if we just did one it would be on budget. Solution.

visitors watching peppers ghost

visitors watching peppers ghost

Now for the content..

The original ideas that would have worked with the room sized PG, just wouldn't have the same impact with this smaller format. I met with Trish to discuss this and came away with a couple of DVD's of images of her drawings and 5 archive films that she had obtained permission to use from the Scottish Screen Archive. The theme was construction and deconstruction.

I started creating masks in Photoshop  from Trish's Clydebank series of drawings and rotoscoping in After Effects some of the archive footage of demolitions... it just didn't feel right.... and was nothing to do with the fact that I hate rotoscoping. I decided to take a different approach. 

I have always found it easier having something to respond to, something that allows you to tell a story. Music can do this. I remembered that I had some pieces of PJ Moore's music that we had planned to use for Maxwell's Rainbow and that there was one piece that I knew had a Glasgow theme. I had my starting point. And words, well, I have always loved Edwin Morgan's poetry and the Glasgow Sonnets just called out to be used. When I was going through the archive footage, one film KH-4,  stood out from the rest. It wasn't a documentary, but an interestingly shot story of the effect of the demolition of Glasgow on the work of a young artist, who just happened to be played by a young Bill Forsyth. We had another Glasgow connection.

I set to work in Motion.

I gave myself a number of limitations, there would only be one font and I wanted it to have a simple typewriter feel. I chose OCR-A Std.

I would try and avoid standard effects and plugins as much as possible. There would no rotoscoping or photoshop masks, instead I would buildup layers using luma keys and negatives and apply a limited number of colour and blur filters  and movement would simply be position controlled by a keyframe or a random or wriggle behaviour.  

Around 100GB's later I had created the 4mins and three layers of On Wrecker's Ball.


This video is an early test for the first three sections of On Wrecker's Ball.

One issue, during creation, was that I had no way to see how the three layers I was creating, would actually interact when seen on the three 45 degree screens (half silvered mirrors) of the Pepper's Ghost. So fine tuning of lighting levels and swopping of some elements between layers happened on site when I could plug my Mac into the finished PG unit.

This is a low resolution video captured from the pepper's ghost. However, as the camera is static you don't get the full "3D" depth effect, and it can be difficult to make out each of the 3 layers. So, best seen at the exhibition :-)


In Conclussion :

Has it been a success? Well, that will be for others to judge. All I can say, is that the whole exhibition is definitely worth a visit, Trish has an amazing body of work and having already picked up the Aspect prize and the Threadneedle Prize, obviously has a glittering career ahead of her. 

But, did we achieve what we set out to do? Then no, we probably didn't, that original idea is still lingering there, uncorrupted and waiting for another chance.... 


Thanks :

Firstly, I have to thank Trish for giving me the opportunity to work with her on what was only a tiny part of an enormous project that she pulled together in an incredibly short space of time. She was also responsible for financing the major part of the hardware purchases for both of the digital pieces. And I wish her every success in her future career.

I would also like to thank all the staff of Kelvingrove Museum, who were always extremely helpful, the staff at Scottish Screen Archive, Greig Shaw who installed our 3D system and Ian Thomson of QD plastics who built the Pepper's Ghost. And last, but not at all least,  P J Moore who so kindly gave permission for his music to be used with On Wrecker's Ball.

A video produced by Isla Pedrana and Solveig Suess and shot during the installation process.


Drawing (on) Riverside  can be seen at :

Kelvingrove Museum & Gallery, Glasgow

and runs from the 15th April till the 14th August, 2011.