Lumia: The Art of Light (and Glass)

I’m pleased to announce that I have been awarded two high profile glass residencies in 2018! Both the Corning Museum of Glass and the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington have awarded me residencies to make a new body of work about light. Based off a series of pieces I made at the Pilchuck Glass School and Detroit College of Creative Studies in 2017, I will be using CNC carved graphite molds to make glass castings to be assembled into a series of hot assembled geometric structures. The finished glass pieces will be used as lenses to generate lumia; slowly shifting and varied compositions of light refractions created by shining intense light through the glass.

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The work evolved from my investigation of workflows for digital design to glass casting, and has been heavily inspired by the artist Thomas Wilfred who worked from the 1920’s-60’s creating light compositions, or “Lumia”. Wilfred described lumia as the “eighth form of art” and he was highly influential, but his work was largely unknown until the last year when Yale and the Smithsonian Institution mounted a retrospective.

I’m using Wilfred as inspiration, but also seek to take his discoveries to a new level, using new technologies such as LED lighting and lasers in conjunction with some of the glass forms I have been making. I think of these subtly changing and mesmerising light refractions as the perfect pure expression of art as something ethereal and intangible. I have proposed creating an interactive installation that generates lumia in response to the environment. Tentatively entitled “We are the Light”, the work is my reaction to society’s divisive politics, materialism, and constantly connected life with digital devices. The work will aim to induce calming moments of reflection and meditation for the viewer.

Here are some of the glass pieces I have been creating:

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And these are some early experiments with what kinds of Lumia can be generated using them with an RBG laser:

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The residencies begin in late April, so I am currently splitting my time between designing and carving graphite molds and experimenting with light sources and motorizing their movement. It’s exciting work and I can’t wait to share where the it all goes!

TED Talk: Why I Built a Time Machine!

I spent the spring at TED this year, working on developing a VR piece about Coney Island’s Luna Park, and writing a talk about how technology has shaped entertainment. Cramming a TED talk into six minutes was no easy feat. The idea was to look back at the past as a lens to consider how technology during the first and second industrial revolutions defined the last century of entertainment, then to speculate how the dawn of today’s natural user interfaces will lead the way to new forms of entertainment that will extend into the next century. So, here it is at last, my TED talk!

The talk centers around a project I have been working on over the last several years- a historic reconstruction of Coney Island’s Luna Park as it appeared a century ago. The work done at TED this year resulted in a prototype VR experience allowing users to virtually walk through Luna Park as it existed in the milestone years of 1903, 1908 and 1914, and jump between these years as they explore. There’s tons more modeling to do to build out the experience, and after the talk I just had to put it aside for a while to reflect on why I am doing this completely obsessive project.

The current state of VR seems like an in-between technology to me. This isn’t where we are going, but rather a stop along the way.  I’m guessing some AR/VR device will eventually come along that mixes with just the right software experience to become the tipping point for mass adoption, but I think we’re still a ways away. In the meantime, it’s my hope to keep working on building out the Time Machine so that when technology finally catches up, it will be ready. There’s lots more work to be done modeling and then the exhaustive texturing that will really make Luna Park look like the glittering and glowing city of fire that it was.

A lot of my thinking about the piece left me thinking about how to turn this into a product that will interest people other than a very small group of Coney Island history buffs. It’s playful, but is it a game? Or maybe the rides get built out as virtual rides and that could justify its existence as a software product? I toyed with the idea of using it as a collection game where we can roam the environment exploring and collecting people from the Scan-A-Rama archive.  Then it dawned on me… this is literally a Time Machine, and there are tons of other places I would travel in time if I could. Where would you go if you could travel anywhere in time and space? That’s when I realized that this is–  the first proof of concept destination for a Time Machine platform.

I have a vision of the Time Machine as a set of camera controller objects that allow anyone who is passionate about a place to build their own time machine that can travel to ancient Egypt or whatever place they are passionate about. That’s my real “big idea” coming out of TED- that the Time Machine platform should be an open source library of template Unity files empowering anyone to create and share their explorations. This could be a great tool for architects, archaeologists, crime scene investigators, history and literary buffs– anyone interested in experiencing places that can no longer be physically visited, and which bear examination as they changed over time.

Time jumping is definitely a feature that is already out there as a software principle. Consider Undo/Redo, the DVR, or Google Street view, which already has about 15 years worth of data. What happens when Street View hits 50 years, or a century? Time travel is coming, it’s just going to be different than what H.G. Wells predicted. The Eye in the Sky episode of RadioLab also talks about another form of time travel that has definite ethical issues. In an increasingly digital world, I predict that temporal travel will become more pervasive, so where would you want to travel? I look forward to hearing from potential collaborators or anyone who is passionate about places they would want to travel to.

If you have a Windows VR setup with an HTC VIVE, try out the Time Machine prototype yourself. Special props to Matt Laverty of Atomic Veggies and developer Daniel Alhadeff for their help on the project!

Download Prototype for 64 bit Windows systems with HTC Vive.
Controls: Use the controller touchpad to move, press the small button above the touchpad to jump between the years of 1903,1908 and 1914 (For example, while looking at the entrance)

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The Time Machine!

So, its happening… last week I time travelled and took a walk in turn of the century Luna Park! It was really exciting and gave me a huge boost that this project is going to be amazing. It’s one thing to see the models of the buildings on a screen, but wearing the VR headset, you’re literally standing in the middle of the scene and have been teleported through time and space to turn of the century Coney Island. It also gave me the vision that what I am creating is actually a time machine. My hope is that as the viewer walks through and explores the virtual world, that they will be able to hit something on the controller to ‘jump’ to the next point in the timeline to see the architecture around them change.

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I spent a day last week out in New Jersey visiting my friend Matt Laverty, who worked with me at Funny Garbage, and now runs his own studio Atomic Veggies, which is focused on VR. He works out of a coworking space in the old Bell Labs building, a cavernous space designed by Eero Saarinen. After spending years in disrepair and being abandoned, the whole campus is being revitalized as a 21st century tech hub.

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Interior of the Bell Labs Building

I wish I could show you what it was like to really stand there in the middle of Luna Park, but it was truly magical. In the meantime, here’s some of the work on the models as it is unfolding. Matt and I are working on texturing the buildings as well, but right now the models are the main focus. Stay tuned for more soon!

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Luna Park VR Project

I’m already in my fourth week here at TED and am starting to amass a nice collection of newly modeled buildings to go into the VR recreation of Luna Park. The hope is to complete a few more structures in the coming week and then bring them into Unity so that I can begin doing some tests for the cell shading style they will be rendered in, and explore specular maps to be used for the thousands of tiny electric lights covering all the buildings. Here are some screenshots of the newest buildings, as well as a sample cell shaded view from the original prototype. Its pretty exciting to finally be working on this again!

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The 1907 entrance, under construction

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A finished 1907-8 version of the entrance

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The 1914 “pinwheel” version of the entrance seems more in people’s memories of Luna Park, so I decided to go ahead and build that version as well. 

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I am super happy with the way the pinwheel version of the entrance came out. The park changed so much year to year. How cool would it be if we could travel in both time and space as we explored Luna Park? This is one of my goals for the piece.

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A Trip to the Moon was the original simulation ride, offering passengers a voyage on the spaceship Luna from Coney Island to the moon, where they disembarked into caverns made of green cheese and were greeted by Selenites and an assortment of fanciful creatures of the moon.

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The current state of my Trip to the Moon.

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The current work in progress: 20,000 Leagues under the Sea

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Cell shading test from the prototype… I am pretty happy with this style- though it needs to be a little less pink and more midnight blue, but it still lacks the electric lights to really shine

Stay tuned for more!

 

Fred at TED!

It’s been hard to keep my mouth shut the last two months, but I am finally able to announce that I will be spending the next 3 months as a Resident at TED, working on a project to recreate turn of the 20th century Thompson & Dundy’s Luna Park in VR, with an accompanying TED talk in June.


This is the next step in the evolution of a project that I have been working on on and off for over 20 years, since I first went the NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program in the mid 1990’s. Back then, I created a series of Quicktime VR panoramas of Luna Park, and then a few years ago when 3D printing became widely accessible, I rekindled the project to produce a 3D printed model of the park that was exhibited in the Coney Island Museum. This upcoming phase will be focused on recreating the entirety of the park as a VR experience which will allow viewers to explore the park firsthand. It is my hope to share the models under a Creative Commons licence that encourages others to use virtual Luna Park and encourage its use as a virtual meeting place in the future.

There are several themes I am thinking about in regards to the TED talk I will be doing in June, but the general idea I am working with is about the history and legacy of technology as entertainment, specifically Luna Park’s role in defining everything we do for amusemnt today. Luna Park came out of the golden age of world fairs, a time when attractions in the 1897 World Columbian Exposition were effectively the physical manifestation of a memory palace containing all of man’s culture and knowledge. It was the real world embodiment of everything Google is for us today. The park was not only a showcase for fantastical, otherworldly architecture, it transported the melting pot of American immigrants to exotic locales around the world, even to the moon, anticipating what the future of entertainment would be like. Electricity, phonographs, motion pictures, infant incubators, simulation rides, they all began at Luna Park. I cannot wait to virtually resurrect it and share it with the world!

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A screencap of the Luna Park VR prototype, with cell shaded rendering style

 

What America Needs Now is a new Mister Rogers

Without question, Mister Rogers was the television personality who had as big an influence on my life as my family. Mister Rogers had a unique way of speaking directly to us, right through the television. He talked to us as peers,  guiding us to be in touch with our emotions, fostering a generation of kids with a curiosity and a vocabulary for talking with others about emotions and things inside. For many, Mister Rogers was the only person who spoke them about these things.

In considering America today, I believe morality and ethics will be the common ground that America and the world will come back to. Truth may be questionable in an era of fake news, but what’s right is always right and decency to others still stands. I’ve probably watched the video of Mister Rogers testifying before a Senate committee determined to stop government funding of PBS a dozen times, and I still tear up every time he recites the lyrics to the song “What Do You Do With The Mad That You Feel?”. To see the way Mister Rogers connected to the most cold hearted politician in such a deeply moving human way shows me there can be hope. There was once a time when an opposing politician would pause, listen, and make an ethical call to benefit children instead of deciding purely along party lines and rhetoric. With so many government programs we have taken for granted on the chopping block, America needs to hold its representatives accountable to listen to us now more than ever.

I never got to meet him, but sharing the name Fred meant that there was a special closeness about the way I identified with Mister Rogers as a child. I think he connected to everyone that way– This 1998 Esquire piece paints a great picture of him, and this piece in Salon is another I found that conjectures about what his positions might have evolved to in our day and age. Over the last few years (through her friendship with Kevin Smith of all people), I have rediscovered someone else from the neighborhood, Betty Aberlin. Her character Lady Aberlin’s royalty was metaphorical for the nobility we all have within ourselves. In this interview, she speaks about the need for more low key and gentle male role models like Mister Rogers, Alan Alda on M*A*S*H, and more recently Obama. I think she’s right.

With the lack of civility in recent public discourse, more than ever we need role models that teach us the importance of mutual respect and living life as a quest for continued personal growth. Kids and adults need to learn to think much more about “we” than “me”, and we all need to eat a slice of humble pie and realize it’s not about divisions, but about coming together, preferably in the real world. Face it, it’s a lot harder to be nasty to one another when we’re not hiding behind our screens. Regardless of what tribes we belong to, it’s time for us to come together as a society with a renewed moral compass, one whose values everyone can agree on. Living with love, integrity, virtue, and respect for others – without a need to impose our views upon them, and holding that the value of the common good is as important as that of our own.

Where are you, Mister Rogers? Come back.
Remind us to keep aiming high.

There is Always Hope: A Love Letter for America

Happy Valentines Day.
America broke my heart in 2016 but I’m committing to this being a year of positive growth and transformation so I’m sending this message of love out to the world in the hopes that collectively we can all channel our anger, hurt and disappointment into constructive avenues that will make a difference in the world. I didn’t want this post to be just more partisan politics, it’s high time people came together to rediscover the common threads that unite us, not divide us. If you’re like me, you feel like you spent the last 3 months in a permanent panic attack, livid with rage, scared, constantly near tears, hurt, isolated and confused by a world of fake news, denial of science, alternative facts and shock events. Facebook proved to be a bubble made up of primarily cheerleaders who shared my politics. I found myself being upset by and upsetting people, some close, some not so close, from both sides of the political fence. Insults were hurled, friendships were lost, families torn apart. I regret some of the things I said and did, and I know I’m not the only one. We need to have a healing moment, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to come from Washington.

Valentine’s Day is here and it sure feels like love has disappeared from the world. I have been looking for the remotest signs of hope, specifically any kind of vision of how red and blue states can find a common ground to come together. This interview with Jon Stewart touches on so many relevant points, but starting at 3:54, on through when he talks what makes America exceptional, I again begin to feel hope that maybe there can be a common ground. His point is that people are naturally tribal and want to segregate into tribes, but what is extraordinary about America is the way it can transcend that.

I also found some inspiration in my Twitter feed this week when I saw Cory Booker tweeting at some harsh critics a message of love and compassion. I can’t seem to find the exact tweet that inspired me, but this article in the Washington Post talks about how he handles haters. New York state governor Andrew Cuomo picked up on themes of love and unity last week when a train full of passengers scrubbed off Nazi graffiti.

This is America at its best. We are a diverse people, but when we come together, magic happens. This is the exceptionalism Jon Stewart is talking about. Maureen Dowd’s recent piece in the NY times also talks about the Trump’s Gold lining and Americans coming together in reaction our new leader’s divisiveness. Flipping the channels last night I happened upon Accidental Courtesy on PBS’ Independant Lens, which profiled musician Daryl Davis, an African American musician who has spent over 30 years befriending members of the KKK. Slowly, through face to face meetings in which both sides talk and listen, he has put a human face on blind hatred and led many of them to shed their robes and renounce their ways. His story was an inspiration and lesson about a path in which all Americans, red and blue could maybe come together after this election.

If you’re like me,  you’ve probably ruffled someone’s feathers one way or another this year, but today may be a good time to reach out and make a plan to meet in the real world for a drink to begin to mend fences.

I love you America.
Happy Valentine’s Day ❤