During the Pacific Northwest’s infamous Seafair weekend in early August, the CenturyLink Field Event Center transforms into a cultural hub for Seattle Art Fair that showcases emerging and established artists. The fair invites galleries from around the world to apply for exhibitor booths where they offer artworks for sale, targeting private collectors and institutions. Seattle Art Fair was founded by Paul G. Allen and is produced by Vulcan Inc. and Art Market Productions.
At the second edition of the fair, Julia Fryett (Director of Marketing and Community Development) and Mathias Van de Kerckhove (Production Intern) from Team Pixvana headed down to CenturyLink to test consumer grade 360-degree VR cameras for social delivery.
They focused the concept for the shoot on artworks created with new technologies such as virtual reality, interactive audio sculpture, 3D printing, and immersive video installation. Seattle is a global leader in technological innovation, and we can’t wait to see what happens as more and more artists leverage new tools to investigate virtual reality – questioning how spatial and narrative immersion shape presence and our experience of art.
Pixvana XR Lab
At Pixvana, we are developing software tools that will enable artists and filmmakers to create and deliver VR video content. Our XR Lab is testing and troubleshooting obstacles throughout the entire process of shooting, editing, and publishing VR video. Much of our research is focused on ultra HD video content (like our 10k shoot in LA) and field-of-view adaptive streaming techniques that optimize resolution for any headset. But we also want to know more about consumer VR video cameras and production software.
Seattle Art Fair 360 Video
For the Seattle Art Fair, we determined where to publish the video and then worked backwards. The goal was to widely distribute the footage, making it easily accessible for fair partners, galleries, and artists to embed for a web browser or mobile experience. YouTube and Facebook are currently the best options for publishing 360 footage for social and mobile, however take note that they will re-encode the source video file. Your video will look better if you start with the highest resolution camera you can afford. Even then, these video sharing platforms will re-encode your source file and it can appear more blurry when published.
We decided to publish on social and shoot on consumer cameras, choosing the Kodak PIXPRO SP360 and Ricoh Theta S. These cameras are portable (the Ricoh easily fits in a pocket) and served our time requirements for the quick turnaround of this experiment. As you will notice in our Seattle Art Fair video, the resolution is very low.
Most VR cameras advertise the maximum resolution that they can shoot a flat, RAW image, but resolution is compromised when it’s rendered to 360. While the camera focal point can be the advertised resolution of 2K or 4K, the image will become more and more pixelated toward the edges. For example, the Theta boasts that it shoots in full HD (1080P) and yet it looks more like 480P in headset mode. Still Theta images, by contrast, are quite clear. The Kodak PIXPRO SP360 shoots in 4K flat, but again the image is much more lossy once rendered in 360.
An added layer of complexity is the processing speed of the hardware that you are using to view the videos and your internet connection bandwidth . Our Seattle Art Fair video is best viewed in the 4K YouTube quality setting. If you find that the video stutters, switch the setting to a lower resolution quality.
Editing & Stitching Software
- Adobe Premiere for editing and color corrections
- Kolor’s Autopano Video Pro and AutoPano Giga for stitching
Stitching Challenges: Due to low light inside of the fair, AVP had some difficulty finding overlap points for stitching. This can create distortion, such as at 1’10” in the video where the woman wearing the Oculus Rift appears slightly squished. If you look closely, at times you will notice blurred lines where the two camera views are stitched together. This remains an overall challenge for VR video, which can currently only be solved with time and resources.
- Facebook 360
Note: The source resolution of the video that we uploaded to YouTube was 3840 x 1920.
We chose camera locations that gave a general sense of the energy and crowds, and that highlighted some of the new media and technology-based artworks at the fair. The camera lens was positioned at about a 5’5″ height for an eye level viewer perspective. The camera was mounted on a tripod and not moved while filming each shot (be very wary of movement, which can cause extreme viewer nausea!). We were aiming for a short, 3 – 4 minute video, so settled on 10 shots. Here are a few favorite locations.
Experiment (2015) is part of an ongoing series of Dioramas. A room sized window looks onto a CIA monitoring station, which in turn looks through an empty, disheveled motel room. Referencing psychoactive and substance experiments performed in the 1960s, Paine’s diorama is a study in control, uncertainty and altered realities. This installation was organized by Seattle Art Fair and Paul Kasmin Gallery.
New York gallery Zieher Smith presented a series of canvases and related Oculus Rift VR experience by Rachel Rossin. The artist paints abstract canvases, then scans bits of the paintings to generate 3D models that she turns into short VR videos. Art critic Martha Schwendener lauded the artist in her New York Times review of Rossin’s recent Zieher Smith exhibition:
Where virtual reality has been criticized for leaving you disoriented or queasy, isolating the eye in this manner simulates the fantasy of living inside a painting or having painterly images converge with your retina. The effect is destabilizing and exhilarating.
Neither Ms. Rossin’s paintings nor the virtual reality piece, however, feel like fully realized masterpieces. “Digital painting” has always seemed like an oxymoron: The tactility of painting, and its static depiction or recording of movement, are part of the medium’s appeal. But Ms. Rossin has achieved something, forging a connection between abstract painting and augmented perception that opens up a fourth dimension that existed only in theory for earlier painters.
Dawn Kasper’s Star Formation is a sculptural performance environment and improvised sound composition, including motion-activated motors attached directly to a field of cymbals on their stands. Kasper invites the audience to complete the work by moving through the installation. Each unique path through Star Formation creates the ever-changing musical composition allowing for no two experiences to be alike. With the viewer as performer, roles become reversed: the viewer’s body and movements become instruments of change that activate the cymbals to create a unique and individual sound composition.
With references as varied as Alan Watts (“Matter is a word, a noise, which refers to forms and patterns taken by a process.”) to Albert Einstein (and the chirping black holes recently heard by scientists proving his final general theory of relativity) to Seattle’s own history of music and technology, this work acts as its own self-contained constellation within the larger context of the fair. Star Formation also offers the viewer a way of hearing the universe instead of just seeing it.
Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery
Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery is based in New York and represents new media artists who are exploring the intersection of art and technology. The gallery’s dedication to supporting an array of innovative practices has been the catalyst for the expansion of its program to include painting and sculpture. At Seattle Art Fair, they had work by Yorgo Alexopoulos, Jim Campbell, Airan Kang, and more.
Carrie Brownstein & Kyle MacLachlan
Friends and collaborators Kyle MacLachlan and Carrie Brownstein met to talk about cultural investment and place-making in the Pacific Northwest.
Kyle MacLachlan is perhaps best known for his performance as FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper in David Lynch’s series Twin Peaks, for which he received two Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe Award. He made his feature film debut as Paul Atreides in the futuristic drama Dune, also directed by David Lynch. This was followed by a second collaboration with Lynch in the highly acclaimed film Blue Velvet. A native of Yakima, Washington, MacLachlan produces the wine label, Pursued by Bear, in Walla Walla. Recent projects include his ongoing role as the Mayor of Portland in Portlandia and the Twin Peaks remake.
Carrie Brownstein is a musician, writer and actor who first became widely known as the guitarist and vocalist of the band Sleater-Kinney and later as a creator, writer and co-star of the Emmy-nominated, Peabody Award winning television show Portlandia. Brownstein’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Believer, Slate, and numerous anthologies on music and culture. Her memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, was published last year. She lives in Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles.