Big robots, subtle effects.

That’s the result in “Box,” a mesmerizing set of etudes on three-dimensional projection-mapped illusions. Spun and levitated on two robots – the type you’d normally see in auto manufacturing and the like – rectangular projection surfaces transform into three-dimensional spaces for a wide range of effects.

Each basic element of technique here is familiar, but as we reach an apex of neo-baroque digital experimentation, those techniques fuse into magical illusions, each more dazzling than the last. It’s filmmaking, but everything is captured in-camera. (It should still be reasonably impressive in person, though the parallax effects require a single vantage point of the camera lens.)

San Francisco’s Bot & Dolly is a multi-disciplinary production house that straddles the boundaries between filmmaking, “automation,” and design. Apart from their human talent, they make use of a pair of “6-axis industrial robots” and sell their toolset to everyone from Vegas to film and TV production. So, this demonstration is very much in that spirit – but, accordingly, reminds me of the miniature paintings classical painters once used to show off their technique. It’s a window into their technical chops.

Here’s how they describe the project:

“Box” explores the synthesis of real and digital space through projection-mapping on moving surfaces. The short film documents a live performance, captured entirely in camera. Bot & Dolly produced this work to serve as both an artistic statement and technical demonstration. It is the culmination of multiple technologies, including large scale robotics, projection mapping, and software engineering. We believe this methodology has tremendous potential to radically transform theatrical presentations, and define new genres of expression.

Via TouchDesigner’s Facebook page, we get to find out a little more about the behind-the-scenes software:

We’ve seen the Bot & Dolly team do fantastic things – many ‘firsts’ – where TouchDesigner has been involved but released today, Box, a live performance film where for the first time ever robots, actors and 3D projection mapping perform in sync on a live set eclipses pretty much everything else. Phil Reyneri tells us TouchDesigner was used to “do some pretty nifty things” here and we’ll have more on that soon but till then, check this out!

For a reminder of why we’ve got our eyes on TouchDesigner and its most recent updates, see:
TouchDesigner 088 Adds Crazy-Awesome Savvy in Mapping, Scripting, Sound and Music, More

Melding theater and illusion, robotic kinetic sculpture and ephemeral digital effect, this could be another indication of art to come.

Oh, and you may have seen their bots before, especially in some of the US TV campaigns:

  • Amazing!

  • Igor Molochevski

    Fucking brilliant, and not only for the visual aesthetics. The sollution for projection mapping is really good. Since the movements of the robots is pre programed, the rotation of the planes is known, manipulation with mapping environment is easily established. Bravo for exelent solution!

  • Raymond

    Mesmerized. Video Mapping meets Motion Control, as for the projection surface as for the camera. Makes me weak in the knees.

  • tf

    Unfortunately the illusion ONLY works for the camera which films it. If you are standing in the room, you would only see flat surfaces which make 3d sense some times. you could use a head tracker, but then it would only work for one person…

    • Yeah, I mention that – the parallax effects, anyway.

      But if you can map onto moving rectangles like this, there’s still a lot you can do, even with an audience. And look at illusion in architecture – contained in a proscenium, you will still get the effect of most of the 3D effects.

      I don’t agree that you’ll only see flat surfaces. The brain will still try to see these in perspective. And you don’t need head tracking with a proscenium illusion – you’d only need that if you had people actively walking around.

      So I would say it works for theatrical applications as well as film, just probably not genuinely interactive applications.

  • wetterberg

    I love technical means of being aesthetic. But man if this isn’t the most decadent project I’ve ever seen. I don’t know whether to be enthralled, or mad.

  • gabe

    This is really cool, but not, as they claim, the first time this has been done. The Cirque du Soliel show ‘Ka’ in las Vegas uses a giant robotic stage and projection maps onto the moving surface as the acrobats interact with it.

  • Jim Howells

    It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out the camera is on a robot too! Explains the super-accurate POV 3D tracking.

  • mayronhurst

    Very cool and innovative way of art to portray the synthesis of real and digital space!! absolutely great, as i watched this video i ran through some other very cool videos as well!

  • Anodec Act

    ”transform theatrical presentations, and define new genres of expression.” Should i believe it or better ask HOW?