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  Oct.01.13 Bot & Dolly's Magic Box and the Great Escape


Bot & Dolly is a design and engineering studio specializing in automation, robotics and filmmaking. Central to their craft are sophisticated industrial robots, unshackled from the factory floor, set free on the likes of movie sets to manipulate lights, actors, cameras and set pieces with the most precise, coordinated and complex motions that are also infinitely repeatable. The magic in their world unfolds in real time where an unprecedented level of precision and predictability allows virtuality and physicality to meet and synchronize perfectly on a live set. As can be imagined there's enormous value in any one of these things and combined the possibilities are quite staggering. To the point, it's not surprising that Bot & Dolly's motion-control system IRIS (used here) was used extensively in the filming of Alfonso Cuarón's upcoming thriller Gravity. More on that later.

We've seen this team do some pretty fantastic work - 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 transcends what we've seen to date. In short, it's revolutionary. With this latest proof of concept, two years in the making, Bot & Dolly have taken the old adage of thinking out of the box about as far as you can go by getting rid of the box altogether.

Magicians don’t typically reveal the secret behind their illusions. But that is precisely the purpose and the reward of watching Box, a film released today by Bot & Dolly. The robot-centric design and engineering company produced this artistic piece to document new projection mapping capabilities that will tear down the fourth wall in theatrical productions.

In Box, a single performer interacts with a transforming environment. As the film begins, a flat wall balanced on stage magically morphs into an open cube. From there, we witness a world where graphic forms literally appear in physical space. This is a world where levitation is possible, where light and shadows blend to create mind-bending shapes before your eyes and floating polygons teleport across the stage. In a final display of this impossible reality, the performer exits through what seems like a portal into another dimension. Each illusion is a synthesis of real and digital space.

“Bot & Dolly’s kinematic projection platform makes it possible to synchronize projection with moving objects,” says Tarik Abdel-Gawad, Creative Director. “Through large-scale robotics, projection mapping and software engineering, audiences will witness the trompe l’oeil effect pushed to new boundaries. We believe this methodology has powerful applications in a wide range of fields and we’re excited to push it even further.” 

Box reveals the secret to each mesmerizing technique. As the film unfolds, it gradually unveils the robotic mechanism hidden behind every illusion. - Bot & Dolly Press Release, September 24, 2013

We hear from Phil Reyneri, Visual Developer at Bot & Dolly, that TouchDesigner was used to do some pretty nifty stuff in the making-of and will be speaking with Phil as soon as he's had a moment to catch his breath. Looking forward to that, stay tuned.

Appreciably, the visual design and tone of this massively technology-driven demonstration is a clever tongue-in-cheek homage to the kitschy art of old-school magic and illusion. It's strangely humanizing. In an illustrative making-of post Design Director Bradley G Munkowitz (GMUNK!) explains that five of the basic categorizations of the illusionary (transformation, levitation, intersection (more accurately - penetration), teleportation and escape) greatly informed the conceptual foundation of the piece alongside a graphic design aesthetic capitalizing on simple forms and illuminated geometry.

Munkowitz adds "This direction was then placed into a projection-based physical installation, where all the 'magic' was captured live and in-camera, filmed documentary-style with no post effects or treatment; in essence the immense technology behind the curtain being completely masked from the viewer by the methods used to capture the performance." See? No post-production trickery! Munkowitz informative post is a very thorough document and a recommended read for designers and conjurers everywhere.

We leave you for now with a few more images courtesy of Mr Munkowitz and a hearty congratulations to the entire B&D team on the magnificent potential for good magic they have unleashed in the world. More to come!

See also: TouchDesigner in the KINETISPHERE at Google i/O 2012 and HALO: REACH light sculpture built with TouchDesigner and a KUKA ROBOT


Production Company: BOT & DOLLY
Executive Producers: Bill Galusha, Nick Read
Executive Creative Director: Jeff Linnell
Creative & Technical Director: Tarik Abdel-Gawad
Design Director: Bradley G Munkowitz
Lead Graphic Designers: Bradley G Munkowitz, Jason English Kerr
3D Artists: Scott Pagano, Bradley G Munkowitz, Jason English Kerr, Conor Grebel
2D Animators: Conor Grebel, Ben Hawkins, Pedro Figuera
Director of Photography: Joe Picard
Lighting Designers: Joe Picard, Phil Reyneri
Projection / TouchDesigner: Phil Reyneri
Robotics Animation: Tarik Abdel-Gawad, Brandon Kruysman, George Banks, Michael Beardsworth
Robotics Operator: Michael Beardsworth, Brandon Kruysman
Prop Fabrication: Matt Bitterman, Ethan Dale
Script Supervisor: Ian Colon
Sound Engineers: Joe Picard, Michael Beardsworth
PAs: Sean Servis, Dakota Smith, Nico Mizono, Eric Wendel, Patrick Walsh
Editors: Ashley Rodholm, Ian Colon
Music / Sound Design: Keith Ruggiero
Sound Mix: Joel Raabe
Performers: Tarik Abdel-Gawad, Iris, Scout

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