I was so excited when I was selected to participate in the Northern Reflections Window Exhibition. I submitted a proposal to the Buds of Buds Artist Collective because this project had a special twist. Unlike typical painted windows (and Calgary has a long standing tradition of painted windows for the Stampede) this project was trying something different - Augmented Reality.
The premise was that artists would be paired with animators to work with downtown businesses to develop a winter themed piece based on tradition or memories. The artist would paint the window and the animator would bring it to life through digital animation. I am always very curious about ways to marry old art forms with technology so this was very intriguing to me. Then viewer can tour the downtown core and see the augmented paintings and vote for the ones they love best.
How it works is the painting is designed to have features (called image targets) that can be picked up by the software, similar to face recognition technology. We attended a workshop where we could see this in action and knew what things work better than others (ie, lots of clear outlines and shapes read better than muted pastels that are blended together). Once the painting is completed (on the outside of the window as opposed to the inside so that there is not a lot of glare to confuse the program) a photographer takes a high quality image to give to the animator. The animator then goes to work adding virtual elements to parts of the painting to bring more to the story and add interesting details. The final step is the animation is loaded onto a smart phone app called AUGLE (you can find it your app store for free) and the viewer holds their phone (with the app open) up to the paintings and the app sees the image targets and starts the animation as an overlay to the painting. It is really cool to see in action.
After attending the initial Buds of Buds workshop, there were a few steps before the painting could begin. The first one was to be paired with an animator - it my case it is the super talented Alyssa Koski. True story - I was emailed her name and it seemed so familiar (and I don't know any animators). I kept trying to remember where I had heard it before. Once I got a chance to sit down and have a proper look at her website, it was 2 seconds to realize how I knew her - I bought a piece of hers from the ACAD sale 2 years ago as a Christmas gift for my daughter! What a small world, needless to say my daughter (who loves that piece) thought I was MUCH cooler after I told her who I was working with!
The next step was to meet with Alyssa and go over a document that we were given by the business. In our case, we were so excited when we realized our partner was the Telus Convention Centre! Wow! In the document, they were given some choices of what type of image they wanted, some key concepts that would fit their corporate/business identity and any requests they might have. We looked it over and talked through some ideas that could work collectively. One of the key elements was to bring winter memories and traditions to life, and we both agreed that a special and uniquely Canadian one was outdoor skating. I have very fond memories of family skating trips from when I was a little girl as well as city skating with my own children. It just so happens that right across the street from the Telus Convention Centre is Olympic Plaza - the only refrigerated outdoor ice surface in the City of Calgary!
We started with the ice skaters and then looked to the Telus Convention Centre document for ways to connect it... one phrase that was mentioned to describe the centre was "Heart of Calgary" - the convention centre is a place that connects outsiders to Calgary and is an integral part of the downtown community. As Alyssa and I started planning our storybook style image, the framework of a huge heart to encapsulate the urban skaters came clear. We expanded the image outside of the heart with a snapshot of the Canadian Rockies that are found just outside the heart of Calgary.
The next step in the process was the actual painting. My hat goes off to the organizers at Buds of Buds who helped facilitate all the schedules for painters and businesses. Anyone who lives in Calgary can tell you what crazy winter weather patterns we have. We can change from -20*C to 10*C overnight. I'm sure they were glued to the weather channel the whole time the painters were scheduled!
Not only did they have to be concerned for the health and safety of the painters (remember, we had to paint on the exterior windows in order for the AR technology to work) the paint itself behaves differently as the temperatures drop. I found this out first hand as the day went on and my paint got thicker and stickier by the end of my day when the sun started to dip.
Thankfully, I had a beautiful day to work. My temperatures were hovering near the the 0*C mark the whole day and because everything was planned and prepared well, the entire process to set up, prep the window, paint and clean up took me around 6 hours. I didn't even need to crack open the Hot Paws that Buds of Buds gave me in case I needed them.
I started out by drawing my image with a Molotow Paint Marker then using latex paint and a foam roller, I filled my major blocks of colour for the areas outside of the heart filled in. Once I had the foundation laid, I started on the detail work within the heart, starting with the buildings at the top. and working my way downwards.
Near the end, I put my skaters in and then finished by redefining my initial black paint marker lines. Good thing I had time to spare on that part because it was right after I finished my skaters that I noticed the paint acting different due to the lower temperature. It was the right moment to wrap things up.
Lastly, the photographed painting was forwarded to Alyssa who has indeed worked her magic! I was so delighted with her whimsical animation work (I'm hoping she posts it to her website so I can link to it) as of today, you can download the Augle app and come and see it for yourself. If you do, please remember to vote (hopefully for ours) as we are really wanting to see what kind of public engagement comes from this project. It is such a great community building concept from Buds of Buds and I would love to see it grow into a yearly event. Just think - even your teenagers would be interested in this family viewing opportunity since their phones are a key part of the process!
Here are some key links:
Augle App for Android
Augle App for Iphone
Buds of Buds Site for more Exhibition Information
Northern Reflections Window Exhibit
Augmented Reality Display December 2017
My animation partner, Alyssa Koski, and I will be showcasing our piece, "Heart of the City", December 1st - 31st on the Stephen Ave windows of the Telus Convention Centre (right near the Glenbow Museum Entrance).
Calgarians will have the unique opportunity to participate in and engage with an immersive art experience unlike any other. In partnership with Downtown Calgary, we will be debuting the first ever urban art gallery through a series of painted windows, called the Northern Reflections Window Exhibition that will incorporate Augmented Reality (AR) technology. The series will be painted by a variety of local artists and will stretch throughout Calgary’s downtown core, showcasing many participating local businesses and turning the city streets into a grand urban art-walk. See Buds of Buds for more information!