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Making Camparc

This is a write­up of how we went about mak­ing Cam­parc, a panoram­ic cam­era ball.

The sto­ry starts in July 2014 when STRP asks us to make a pub­lic space game for a ‘scene’ — one of the events lead­ing up to their 2015 bien­ni­al. They were look­ing for some­thing eye-catch­ing, acces­si­ble to a broad audi­ence, fun for both par­tic­i­pants and spec­ta­tors, and of course it would need to be about tech in some way. The game would be played in the Stri­jp-S area of Eind­hoven, the Nether­lands.

We cycled through a num­ber of con­cepts togeth­er. An ear­ly idea was focused on doing things with large balls and maybe track­ing them with cam­eras. A lat­er con­cept was titled ‘Self­i­etopia’ and pro­posed a play­ground filled with cam­era toys for mak­ing self­ies with.

Selfietopia

Camparc sketch

Ingre­di­ents from those ear­li­er con­cepts came togeth­er in Cam­parc: cam­era toys such as Panono and Bubl. New ways of see­ing such as goal-line tech­nol­o­gy. The plea­sure of play­ing with a huge ball in both Kata­mari Dama­cy and the earth ball games of the New Games move­ment.

Camparc moodboard

It was our hope Cam­parc would let peo­ple play­ful­ly explore new ways of tech­no­log­i­cal­ly aug­ment­ed see­ing, and that it would give peo­ple a tool with which to explore the Stri­jp-S area in new ways.

Many dif­fer­ent things had to come togeth­er in the final expe­ri­ence. For exam­ple, get­ting a video stream from the balls to show up on an LED trail­er turned out to be non-triv­ial. But here I will talk about the design of the hard­ware and I will also go into how we cre­at­ed anamor­phic puz­zles for peo­ple to play with.

The Gilliam-Dyson Direction

So the start­ing point was to do some­thing with big balls. We went on a hunt for a good base and even­tu­al­ly set­tled on water balls. They are large, trans­par­ent and afford open­ing and clos­ing. Per­fect for our pur­pos­es.

The notion of trans­paren­cy and see­ing the tech inside of the ball lead to a direc­tion for the visu­al lan­guage which was equal parts Ter­ry Gilliam sci-fi prop and James Dyson vac­u­um clean­er.

Terry Gilliam × James Dyson

We worked with Aldo Hoeben on this project. He was respon­si­ble for the design and devel­op­ment of the balls as well as the soft­ware behind them. The cool thing about work­ing with Aldo was that he has a back­ground in indus­tri­al design, has an artis­tic prac­tice focused on pro­jec­tion map­ping and panoram­ic pho­tog­ra­phy and is a 3D print­ing enthu­si­ast to boot. In oth­er words, his unique set of skills was a per­fect match for the chal­lenges of this project.

It was Aldo who start­ing from my Gilliam-Dyson direc­tion cre­at­ed the bright­ly coloured cus­tom 3D-print­ed parts which give Cam­parc its con­struc­tivist look. It is an aspect of the project I am still very proud of. More than once dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with a play­er about ‘how it works’ was I able to sim­ply point to every sin­gle com­po­nent and talk them through it.

Detail of Camparc's 3D-printed components

Anoth­er neat aspect of the balls is that all the hard­ware is sus­pend­ed in a ‘poor man’s gyro­scope’. The weight of all the com­po­nents keeps the cam­era more or less upright all the time. The wob­bli­ness of the cam­era gives the images some wel­come dynamism, empha­sis­ing that you are indeed look­ing at footage from a rolling ball.

Anamorphic Puzzles

Through­out the project and actu­al­ly still now, there is a ten­sion between free and direct­ed play. We were inter­est­ed in giv­ing peo­ple a shared bit of ludic pub­lic fur­ni­ture. But we were also curi­ous what kind of games could be played with this new play­thing. In addi­tion, we were very inter­est­ed in tak­ing over the area we would be play­ing in with some kind of visu­al mark­ings.

One obvi­ous start­ing point for a more struc­tured play­ful activ­i­ty to offer play­ers was anamor­pho­sis: “a dis­tort­ed pro­jec­tion or per­spec­tive requir­ing the view­er to use spe­cial devices or occu­py a spe­cif­ic van­tage point to recon­sti­tute the image.”

Geometric perspective-localized painting by Felice Varini

The Cam­parc balls would be stream­ing a donut-shaped video to an LED trail­er in the mid­dle of the play area. We thought it would be cool to cre­ate geo­met­ric draw­ings that would appear to float in the cam­era image.

As is often the case in our projects, we then need­ed to invent a process that would enable us to do this. In the end we man­aged to pull it off with an inter­est­ing assem­blage of off-the-shelf soft­ware and hard­ware and lots of mask­ing tape and patience.

We used an iPhone on a tri­pod with the same panoram­ic lens attached to it as we would be using inside of the balls. We made sure the lens was more or less at the same height as it would be in the ball. Using air­play we then streamed the cam­era view to a mac­book and we used a sim­ple app to over­lay the image we would be draw­ing on top of the cam­era feed.

Camparc anamorphic drawing test

Then it was a mat­ter of find­ing a nice spot to draw our anamor­phic puz­zle and mask­ing it out (which involves lots of check­ing and recheck­ing between the draw­ing and the image on the mac­book screen). At the game’s run on Stri­jp-S we used spray chalk to fill in the shapes.

A shout-out to our friends at Pony Design Club who did an excel­lent job on all the visu­al mate­ri­als for Cam­parc and who also painstak­ing­ly cre­at­ed the final set of anamor­phic puz­zles at Stri­jp-S for the game’s event.

Anamorphic drawing at Strijp-S

The end result looked very inter­est­ing and peo­ple enjoyed fig­ur­ing out how to place the ball exact­ly so that the image kind of popped into view on the big screen.

People playing with anamorphic puzzle

A Tribute to ‘Planet Pass’

I could not let the oppor­tu­ni­ty pass to stage a trib­ute to one of our sources of inspi­ra­tion, the New Games move­ment. So in addi­tion to free play with the ball and the anamor­phic puz­zles, we sched­uled a few games of Plan­et Pass with the peo­ple in atten­dance.

It was a rather glo­ri­ous expe­ri­ence. We also cap­tured the footage from these ses­sions, a few clips of which made their way into the final video.

'Planet Pass' in the New Games book

Camparc

I found it very inter­est­ing to see how we man­aged to get an increas­ing­ly large group of peo­ple to join us just by start­ing to play the game and invit­ing peo­ple to help us out. The scale of the Cam­parc balls affords col­lab­o­ra­tive play so very eas­i­ly. Out­side of the Plan­et Pass ses­sions there were many occa­sions where peo­ple would spon­ta­neous­ly start to play togeth­er.

Camparc

This is anoth­er qual­i­ty of the project that I am rather fond of. Cam­parc is a play­ful tech­nol­o­gy which very ele­gant­ly lets peo­ple step into and out of play­ing alone or togeth­er.

Mark II

So that is the sto­ry of the mak­ing of Cam­parc. After this first ver­sion we were com­mis­sioned to improve on it. This sec­ond ver­sion, which we decid­ed to name ‘Cam­parc Mark II’, was released as part of the STRP bien­ni­al. The most notable change is that we exchanged the large screen for a VR head­set. Once again we encoun­tered many chal­lenges dur­ing the mak­ing-of. But that is a sto­ry for anoth­er day…

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