Saturday, 27 December 2008

CAUGHT IN THE ACT - the reality

The installation was finally set up for our Presentation Day on 21st November. It went more or less as planned (I skipped on the infra-red spotlight and the wall-projection, though), and there were some really interesting footage. Here are some images from that day:

The installation.

Explaining the installation to assorted guests, including (L to R) Jan Klug and Ruud Akse, our tutors.

And here are some interesting videos from the crop of the day:

Jan testing the set-up.

Cassandra and Sonja: girls just want to have fun.

Michael performing a dramatic suicide.

CAUGHT IN THE ACT - the technology


• A wall (already there)
• A toy gun (with small magnets attached to it)
• Multiple magnetic sensors
• A computer (running the necessary MAX patch)
• A camera (webcam/security cam/vidcam)
• A theatre spotlight with RGB filters (to make the infra-red spotlight)
• A projector (to beam the live footage)
• An Arduino I/O board (to control the different hardware)

An Arduino I/O board.

Toy gun...

... with magnet on the barrel...

... on the grip...

... and inside the chamber.


The camera will be pointed towards a blank monochrome wall (preferably black or white) in a way that anybody walking into its field of vision (which will be under the infra-red spotlight) will trigger the live streaming video footage to be routed through a MAX patch (running in the computer) that will turn it into a high-contrast B/W footage like the film noir cinematography which has been discussed before. It will simultaneously be beamed by a projector on the wall (or in the screen of the computer itself) so that the person can see himself “in action”, with a surprise element.

The MAX patch running the show.

And if he picks up the toy gun lying in front of him, it will trigger one (or more) magnetic sensor that will run a new MAX patch. This will result in capturing of that same footage and the subsequent saving of the frames in the computer's hard disk, to give it a darkly comic-book look. Once the person puts the gun back, the sensor will stop the footage-capturing session and save the captured frames as a movie file. The captured footage will be immediately played back, and will continue to play till another person picks up the gun, triggering a new session.

CAUGHT IN THE ACT - the concept

A view of the canteen wall at FMI.

The project will primarily consist of a 2D environment designed like a larger-than-life comic book page/panel, and arranged with it will be 3D props (e.g. a toy handgun) which will be helpful for the participant/viewer in interacting with the environment. A hidden security camera, triggered by strategically placed sensors, will take high-contrast B/W streaming video of the participant/viewer in different interactive situations (the exact nature of which shall be controlled by him) and project them on a nearby computer monitor or screen to give him an idea of his antics, and also giving him the feel of being inside a comic book or a film noir himself. Lighting (preferably an infra-red spotlight to make him less self-conscious) and camera angles will be suitably dramatic to give a sense of thrill to the whole scenario.

I have decided to use the black wall of the canteen area (the one with the computers, away from the bar) of the Frank Mohr Instituut as the base of the set-up, with the props extending somewhat into space before it, such that anybody visiting the area can be a participant/viewer without even being aware of it. Just like we pose unconsciously in front of our mirrors when we think that nobody’s watching.

Another view of the canteen wall.

CAUGHT IN THE ACT - the inspiration

Film noir. The black-and-white interplay of light and shadow (not to mention the grays) that has spawned an entire generation of cinematic gems penned by authors such as James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Graham Greene, and directed by auteur-s like John Huston, Carol Reed, Orson Welles and the like.

'Out Of The Past', a famous noir film.

In recent times, film noir had slipped down a bit from celluloid popularity, but it has come back with a bang from the pages of the comic book, thanks majorly to the works of one man – Frank Miller.

Since 1991, Miller has been working on his neo-noir comic strip ‘Sin City’ for the US-based Dark Horse Comics. And his work (later turned into a blockbuster film directed by Miller himself with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino) has been instrumental in acquainting the members of a new generation with film noir – one of them being me.

A panel from 'Sin City'.

The project I have thought of is inspired by both the moody B/W cinematography of the old noir films and the primarily duotone (with the occasional splash of red or yellow) artwork of Miller with his mind-blowing use of negative space to achieve the same edgy and dangerous atmosphere (something Bill Watterson has spoofed wonderfully in the ‘Tracer Bullet’-themed stories of his ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ series).

All of us – well, okay, most of us have thought of ourselves as a detective or a secret agent at some point in our childhood. Growing up in Calcutta, India, where femmes fatales and trench coats are equally rare, these daydreams were even more exotic to me. Since I couldn’t do those heroic acts myself, I did them in my drawings. I read detective fiction (from Sherlock Holmes to Perry Mason, and beyond), watched films (from James Bond to ‘Se7en’), and generally fried my brain drawing the same in page after page of my sketchbooks. This project is an outcome of – and a tribute to – that eclectic childhood melting pot.