SILA SVETA, which literally translates as 'Luminous Intensity', is a Moscow-based visual label who have been casting some very bright lights and producing jaw-droppingly ambitious projection mapping events this last year using TouchDesigner. Its principles are Alex Rozov (founder and engine), Alexander Us (founder and directing), Dmitry Napolnov (tech lead) and Masha Roslavskaya (production manager).
Self-taught and deicidedly self-motivated, Sila Sveta was formed in 2008 with the idea, as Alexander Us explains, "to create astonishing things which make people a little bit happier."
"In Russia and in Moscow almost 6 months is bad weather.” Alexander continues “We grew up in residential neighbourhoods, surrounded by high rise building blocks. They are all horrible grey colour and since childhood we dreamt of turning them into canvases for painting. What a joy it was to light up one of those with a slide projector. That was the beginning of it all"
"Another motivation is to point out that Russia doesn’t only have oil and gas stations. It has young individuals who want and can create original and cool things, developing and participating the international community.”
Sila Sveta team: Alexander Us, Dmitry Napolnov, Masha Roslavskaya and Alex Rozov
Inspiring, impressive and also very true as the following interview conducted long distance and between projects with the very busy crew makes clear. We are grateful not only for their taking the time to talk to us, but also for the enthusiasm and community spirit that comes across loud and clear.
Over the past year Sila Sveta has been producing very interesting work using TouchDesigner - and lots of it. Could you please tell us a bit about your background as designers and as a studio -- what you do and the tools you use.
Alexander Us: We do projection work since 2006. At first it was slide projections. These huge , easily breakable machines, where instead of the sensor we use celluloid. Working on those is like a Russian roulette, but we managed to set the record of Russia (and maybe the world) in the highest slide projection when we projected onto the Ostankino TV tower in Moscow. It was projection in celebration of 65 years of victory over fascism.
Then we started getting more projects and we gathered a team of visual artists and started to work in this direction. We use many various programs : After Effects, Cinema, Maya and Houdini depending on the task.
How did you discover TouchDesigner and what drove you to adopt it?
Dmitry: We first came across TouchDesigner quite by accident. As we were looking for a flexible system for real time rendering and the market did not seem to be bursting with solutions for this kind of tasks, we skimmed all videos and articles we could find featuring the capabilities of the few systems the market could offer and the products created with these systems.
TouchDesigner appeared to to be the most powerful and flexible system we saw and we were a great deal inspired by the works created in it by V Squared Lab and Obscura Digital. Besides, we are experienced Houdini users and the basic principles that both systems utilize are apparently identical.
There’s no visible TouchDesigner community in Russia so it would be interesting to know what your process of learning was. How did you become so proficient so quickly?!
As there is no TouchDesigner community in Russia and there are no TouchDesigner resources in Russian we mostly use what the English-speaking community has got to offer – Youtube and Vimeo videos and TouchDesigner wiki, forum etc. As we all speak English there is in effect no difference for us in what kind of resources to use. Besides, as we are pioneering the use of the system in Russia, we cherish the idea to build the community, or at least we have it in our plans. When we did a talk on TouchDesigner in CG conference in Moscow, which is called CGEvent, the public was amazed at what you can do in TouchDesigner within 20 minutes :)
Dmitry Napolnov discussing next move with programmer Denis Akopov
You just independently decided to do this to help build community? Can you tell us a bit more?
Dmitry: Yep. It was a part of a huge annual conference CG Event. There were three Russian studios that do 3D mapping. We are the only ones to use TouchDesigner so we shared our experience. Also there were VVVV guys and MadMapper guys :) So it was kind of nice to see what each system can do.
As for the learning TouchDesigner, the most helpful thing here for us is the TouchDesigner interface which has a viewport for every node that shows you what is really going on inside the node, let alone the TouchDesigner wiki that describes everything in detail. So you can just play with the node for a while to explore its capabilities and then use it when a chance to do so presents itself. It's like playing Lego, the process of creation itself is already a great deal entertaining :)
Presentation BMW F30
Place: Moscow, Garage
Dmitry: The BMW project was the most challenging one. First, we had to consider the cars, the floor and the wall behind to be inseparable parts of the scene and cover it with a single inseparable canvas of the video content. Second, it included synchronization of two TouchDesigner outputs with frame accuracy. And of course we were short on time. But in spite of all this, the result was quite amazing. We showed it 25 times to different groups of people, as it was a part of BMW exhibition on the history of the 3rd series of BMW.
Wake up, Buran! | Client: Adrenalin Games
Place: Moscow Date: February 2012
Image size: 4800x1150 pxls
Projection area: 70x17 meters
I think we're all a little bit in awe of this project - that's the Buran! At least, it's one of the orbital vehicles launched into space by the Russian Space Program. And working outdoors at night during a sporting event with a screen of that size must have had its challenges and thrills. Lots going on...
Dmitry: The show was a part of an annual sports event Adrenalin Games in Moscow in Gorky park. We used 15 projectors to cover Buran and a screen 70x17 meters specially built for this occasion. The show had some elements of interactivity, as the result were unpredictable and we had to build an interface to interactively choose the winners and the losers in each stage of the competition to make it look like a big video game. Though not everything went technically as smoothly as we wanted, generally it was quite a solid video show, where artists were free to express their vision of how intergalactic games would look in Apocalypse, Neon, Crystal and Absurd worlds.
Audi Q3 | Client: Audi Center Rostov
Place: Rostov Date: November 2011
Image size: 1500x1050 pxls
Dmitry: The Q3 project was a kind of a mess, as the local decorators did not know how to set up all the boxes behind the car correctly and we had only 10 hours for setting up, so we used a technique a little bit unusual for us: first, we oriented cameras in TouchDesigner according to the car position, then projected the whole scene and set up the boxes according to the actual projection. Then we readjusted the projection again and got what we got. The whole project from sketches to final installation took only a week, it’s our local record :)
Arma 17 NY Techno Tree
Celebration of New Year 2012
Place: Arma 17
Dmitry: The techno tree project was pure fun. The party was held in of the most popular techno places in Moscow and was organized by our friends Stereotactic. The whole setup took about 24 hours and was not complicated. The tree was covered by two projectors and another two were used to cover animals on the walls.
Leading bunch of questions: we see TouchDesigner as a complete realtime visualization software tool that: invites exploration and fosters playful behaviour, that allows for rapid sketching and prototyping, that enables working generatively and in realtime, and that promotes interoperability and economy of design - connect, use, reuse. Can you comment on how any of the above might apply to your experience?
Dmitry: When I was a child I adored Lego (and I still probably do), now I adore TouchDesigner, which is basically the same, except that you have much more building blocks and the result being more entertaining. There is usually more than one way to do something in TouchDesigner with its advantages and disadvantages, so when we are making some project in TouchDesigner we are looking for the optimal way, balancing between the look and the performance. Sometimes in this search we encounter features or techniques that we didn't know about previously, and this newly found options may even obtain their own independent life in future projects. In fact, it's even possible in TouchDesigner to create something beautiful or useful quite by chance when you are just playing with some node or technique :)
TouchDesigner is a challenging environment that incites you to try new things and ways all the time. But at the same time we very often utilize parts of our previous projects and we already have a small library of tox plugins that we use in most project and that save our time greatly. For example, the NY techno tree and the Audi Q3 mappings being different in look share many parts in fact, as well as BMW and Buran projects.
Where do you see the main benefits of using a visual development environment in comparison to building your projects in a programming language?
Dmitry: The advantages of a visual development environment such as TouchDesigner are obvious - rapid sketching and development and the very intuitive way to work. It gives you a large space for experiments and flexibility (you can change your project right on the site and adjust it to all the fuckups done by decorators and other people :) and you don't have to recompile the project). The drawbacks for us are unfortunately also obvious - the performance that a bit slower than in hard-coded solutions (like Cinder, openFrameworks etc.)
Does TouchDesigner differ from the tools you normally use and if so how?
Dmitry: Oh, yeah, it does. I don't know any other application able to open an openGL context onto 6 displays and leave your hands free to do anything you want in it. That's really awesome.
TouchDesigner network, performance visuals for Russian band Tokio.
With your experience now, how else do you see using TouchDesigner? Are there things you see being able to do with it? Has it opened any doors?
Dmitry: The next level thing for us will be a combination of TouchDesigner and robotic technologies to create kinetic installations and projections onto moving objects. We're also experimenting with real time kinect-based mocap and are going to try xsens mocap suits as well to produce dancing performances. Basically, we are aiming right now at creating complex installations that involve video projections, light, robotic and various interactive technologies, as TouchDesigner now supports so many nice things as Artnet and Kinect natively. I hope TouchDesigner will be developed as rapidly as it's being done at the moment and soon we'll see an even more powerful a tool.
What next? What are your future plans?
Dmitry: Currently we have three undergoing projects, but we would not like to discuss them until they are done.
We look forward to that!
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