Real Time Visuals: audiovisual science and the art of light entertainment

Posted on May 22, 2014


Value Lab Asia

In January 2014 the University of Northumbria held a two-day event to showcase audiovisual media called Real Time Visuals. Science and art joined hands to showcase the best in live AV graphics and video.

Science is a visual medium, says Moyra Campbell. As co-director of Wiretrace in Glasgow she has created 3D stereo interactive science and arts presentations. Some of the first performances were for the Glasgow Science Centre‘s virtual theatre, programmed into a SGI Onyx 2 supercomputer. Eventually it became too expensive to run, but the technology needed to create real time visualisations these days is no more advanced than a powerful laptop plus HD projector.

“Advances in computer hardware have made real-time visualisation easily accessible,” says Moyra. Wiretrace uses a portable Macintosh and open source software from Present3D. The collective’s portfolio includes a scale map of the Milky Way for the Hayden Planetarium in New York, work for a group of the Open University’s neuroscientists called ‘The Brain Trilogy’ and a travelling 3D presentation on James Clerk Maxwell’s unifying work on light, magnetism and electricity, called ‘Maxwell’s Rainbow‘.


Wiretrace showreel on Vimeo


The Brain Trilogy
The Brain Trilogy looks at how we collect memories using the research of neuroscientists James Philip (growing neuronal tissue in 3D matrix), Dongshen Wu (Alzheimer’s disease) and Igor Kraeve (memory and changes in the active brain).

A video of the performance at Edinburgh’s InSpace (below) shows the way that Wiretrace interpreted Igor’s direct observations of the complexity of brain structures in memory and added them to Dongshen Wu’s vision of how the brain’s capillaries can become leaky with age, allowing lymphocytes (white blood cells) in to attack neurons, blasting holes in the memory.


Robotized Science
Computer scientist Stefan Mueller became interested in AV performance and digital media some time in the late 90s. He was involved in a project looking at telepresence – technologies that allow people to feel or act like they are in another place – for ETH Zurich in 2002 before moving to California and the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).

Inside the AlloSphere, photo by Kev Steele

Inside the AlloSphere, photo by Kev Steele

At UCSB Stefan became involved with the university’s nanoscientists to set up The AlloSphere, a three storey high cubical structure containing a five metre radius projection sphere of perforated aluminium, designed to be acoustically transparent. The AlloSphere contains 26 high resolution projectors and around 140 speaker ‘elements’ and sub-woofers.

You’ve gone crazy
It was designed to allow nanoscientists to explore molecules “like the holodeck,” says Stefan. “It operates like a brain, using agents to fetch information,” he says, describing the experience. “After about 15 or 20 minutes inside you get dizzy. After a day you think you’ve gone crazy.”

Back at ETH Zurich he was building up experience with multimedia systems for lectures and presentations, including display tables and interactive screens. This work was reproduced and reconfigured for an initial project at the ETH Centre in Singapore called The Value Lab, using a video wall of 16 HD panels running at 8K resolution, for digital art exhibitions, performance, remote teaching and conferencing.

Bubble Zero Lab

Bubble Zero Lab

Future Cities Laboratory
This has now transformed into the Future Cities Laboratory to look at sustainable cities and smart living throughout the world. There is a project looking at participatory planning, the Bubble Zero Lab (left) looking at ventilation and cooling systems, plus projects to undertake materials testing and assess the effects of man-made pollution.

Just as cool as all this high tech visualisation for modern urban living and scientific exploration is Stefan’s VJ and DJ work – he was a resident at Zouk Singapore, one of the country’s premier nightclubs – and an art project he was involved with called the Digital Marionette is on permanent exhibition at the Ars Electronica Centre, Linz in Austria. Below is a video of the marionette at work. Enjoy.


Digital Marionette