Angie recently completed a complex and beautiful projecton mapped sculpture for a contest held by video mapping software company HeavyM, so we decided to reach out and learn a bit about her experience with the new rockstar software.
We also wanted to find out what the heck she's going to do with a 4 foot quad-skull sculpture once she's finished the project, because that's a seriously cool prank waiting to happen, imo.
Seriously, just look at this crazy thing:
What's your artistic background?
AJ: I have always been a maker and don't sleep well unless I am creating something every day.
I also worked as an animator for over 20 years in animation and VFX for movies like Pan's Labyrinth, Xmen, and Stuart Little to name a few. I am currently Assistant Professor of Animation at the John C. Hench Division of Animation & Digital Arts, School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California.
How'd you get into projection mapping? Were there particular projects that inspired you?
AJ: The first projection mapping project that really inspired me was the Box project by Bot and Dolly I love how they used the robots and CG to make everything feel super dimensional and interactive.
I've been learning to use HeavyM over the past few months. I read somewhere that the geodes on stage during the Grammy's 2017 performance by Daft Punk were lit using HeavyM. I looked it up and started playing with the trial... only to buy it the very next day as I had so much fun!
I made this projection on the wall in under an hour. This was my first attempt with HeavyM.
I know you're an Assistant Professor at USC School of Cinematic Arts - is projection mapping a technique being taught in classes there?
Through these folks, I've been introduced to visiting artists like Refik Anadol and Davide Quayola. This past April I participated in an on-campus event called Rhythms + Visions Expanded Live, where I created an animated piece for a 70-foot screen, along with other pieces by faculty, visiting artists, and students.
" Heavy M allowed me to just dig in and have fun."
You seem to be really familiar with digital projection techniques. Have you tried other projection mapping software before? How did it compare to Heavy M?
AJ: HeavyM is my first attempt at projection mapping, ever. When I've seen people using Touch Designer or Millumin (used at the R + V event), it seemed so very technical, and you need to know code to do anything outside the box or creative. Heavy M allowed me to just dig in and have fun.
How long does it take to build a 4ft Quad Skull, anyway?
I had this printed at a rapid prototyping company in Valencia, and it took 6 hours. The final piece is solid resin and weighs 9 pounds.
When I started to learn projection mapping, I decided to rebuild the entire skull to make it more defined and give it symmetry. I love the misplaced topology of my first skull because it feels more crafted, and less mass produced. I love imperfections. But I knew it would be easier to project on if it was mathematically sound, so I cleaned it up and rebuilt the topology symmetrically.
It took me about a week to rebuild the skull, and as I was working I played with fusing four skulls together, eventually creating the quad skull.
"Prototyping in paper helped identify some serious structural issues."
I made the first quad skull out of paper pieces broken down by a program called Pepakura. My neighbor, Squire, helped keep me sane during this process. Putting something like this together with paper is very tedious.
Thankfully, I live in an artist colony in downtown Los Angeles, and everyone here is an artist. This kind of community is amazing when you're struggling with something you've never done before. Squire has built a lot of large, complex installations, so during the Christmas holiday he helped me build my first prototype.
Prototyping in paper helped identify some serious structural issues. I started all over again, remodelling in Maya. Eventually, I ended up with an improved design.
A paper model would never do for a 4 foot high projection piece, but it was easy to manipulate as I worked out the design issues.
Once I knew the paper structure was sound, I decided to make a bigger one. I researched online, and read tons of articles before choosing coroplast as the material. Coroplast is sturdy, and you can score it like foam core if you need to bend it. Unlike foam core, you can also clean it easily if it gets dirty. It's what they use for traffic signs.
BUT!!! Coroplast is plastic, and NOTHING will stick to it! I drove myself nuts with Loctite, hot glue, and all kinds of tape. The final sculpture isn't as slick because of this, and I wasn't sure if it would work. In the end, I used a lot of artist tape, clear duct tape, and gaffer's tape to make it work. I figured it's just the form that I need. The lights are out when I'm projecting, so you don't really see all that tape.
It took me about three weeks to build the entire thing, but I was teaching full-time, and would just work on it here and there when I got home.
Once the form was complete, I spent about six hours creating the projection. HeavyM makes it fun and easy to videomap, and you can play for hours with the effects and controls.
Did you create this piece specifically for the HeavyM contest, or was it something you were going to build anyway?
AJ: I built this specifically for HeavyM. I wasn't sure if I would finish in time for the deadline, but I did!
You've done a lot of really amazing animations, especially in the low-poly genre. Did you create the effects for the projection mapped skull? What software or resources did you use?
AJ: The main effects come out of the box from HeavyM, but I did employ the explosions from the German artist Matthias Müller. I could have made those easily, but I was running out of time to meet the contest deadline. I hope to push my projections in the future with my experience in animation using Maya and Houdini software.
"Setup was really easy."
What equipment did you use for this project? Was it difficult to set up?
AJ: This is kind of funny. I didn't use anything too fancy. I'm a painter who paints large, so I project my work on canvases from drawings. I just used my Artograph Digital Art Projector for this project. I put it on a tripod, connected it to my laptop, and turned it on. Setup was really easy.
Every projection mapping artist knows that clumsy friends, earthquakes, and sudden breezes are all major enemies when you're setting up a finicky map. Did you have to redo or adjust your map while you were designing this? Was it hard?
AJ: I learned that I needed to put the tripod up high so I wouldn't cast a shadow when filming. Then, I kept tripping over my own cords trying to film it. I knocked the tripod off it's placement several times, but with a little patience it's not hard to realign everything.
The main challenge is that I live in a loft that used to be a brewery. This building is where they kept the vats of beer, so my entire loft slants towards the front door to the hallway, where there are drains. I'm used to the slant when I paint; the paint on my tabouret slides down south. But the slant made it tough to get the projection to line up. The weird angle distorted the projection on my form, so I had to tweak my lines quite a bit in HeavyM to compensate. Again, patience is the key.
What are you gonna do with that giant four-headed skull? Will you prank someone hard with it? Are you going to put it in a gallery display? Take it to Burning Man? Mount it on a pike in front of your house to scare your enemies?
AJ: LOL! I'm not sure what I can do with it, as it is pretty delicate. Maybe I should have a party to trash it in some ceremonial way?
I'm going to build it again as an entire quad of four complete skulls fused at the center, and use some wood for the inner structure so it is sturdy. I want to blend four projectors next time, so the quad skull can work "in the round." This is why I want to win that projector for the HeavyM contest!
Huge thanks to Angie Jones for agreeing to this interview when she's swamped with a million projects and deadlines. If you want to check out how the quad-skull was made, here's the behind the scenes video. And if you want to be invited to the (possible) Destruction Of The Quad Skull party that we all hope she's going to have, leave a comment and we'll see what we can do. ;)