Jul 30, 2017 | By Julia

Vancouver-based artist Shawn Hunt has collaborated with Microsoft’s local maker space The Garage to develop an experiential sculpture at the crossroads of 3D printing, robotics, and holographs. Drawing on Indigenous imagery, ‘Transformation Mask’ functions both as a personal artistic expression of Hunt’s identity, and an exciting new showcase of what’s possible with Microsoft’s wearable augmented reality device, the Hololens.

It’s a win-win for both parties, but as Hunt notes, it wasn’t always an easy path. “I have never felt like I really belonged to any one particular movement, culture, category, or clique,” says Hunt, who’s heritage combines Scottish, French, and Indigenous Heiltsuk roots.

“As an artist this has given me an incredible amount of freedom. I don’t feel that my work is conceptual, traditional, artefact or craft. It is neither ancient nor modern. Instead, I feel as though my work has elements of all of these categories. This is a freedom that allows me to distort, subvert, hijack and remix these categories in order to offer new points of view,” explains Hunt.

The Canadian artist wishes to challenge viewers’ preconceptions, he says. He believes his art is at its most powerful when it poses questions, as opposed to giving the viewer all the answers. “My goal is to make the viewer think,” he adds.

This subversion is precisely what inspired Hunt to begin incorporating cutting edge technologies into his creative process, a move that quickly caught the eye of Microsoft’s Vancouver headquarters. It wasn’t long before Hunt was collaborating with a team of Microsoft’s finest, collectively exploring how Robotics, 3D printing and Mixed Reality could tell stories through artwork.  

According to Hunt, the starting point was the raven figure in Heiltsuk mythology. Seen as the “ultimate trickster,” the raven’s fluid identity was both an explorative standpoint and an overarching symbol in the final piece. After a considerable amount of experimentation, the team came up with Transformation Mask. The interactive installation features a bird mask akin to traditional Indigenous design, but with decidedly cyborgian elements, thanks to robotic mechanics and elements of Mixed Reality.

Beginning with a paper prototype, Hunt and his team gradually built up the technology, moving from hand sketches and foam core to a digital prototype and aluminum skeleton. True to its traditional Indigenous form, no straight lines are featured on the raven. Complex compound curves and procedurally generated hex patterns were used instead, making the 3D modelling that much more impressive.

In total, the mask required almost 300 hours of 3D printing time. The finished mask is comprised of over 20 3D printed PLA and acrylic resin components, each individually printed, and measures over a metre in length. The components were assembled on open beam aluminum rails with interlocking elements between the 3D printed pieces. An array of sensors, processors, electronics, and other mechanical bits guides the mask’s behaviour. There’s even an ultrasonic range finder for detecting users and triggering the experience autonomously. Several linear sensors attached to the metal skeleton instigate the initial phases of motion, while microcontrollers work uniformly to control LEDs and behaviour, as seen through two Windows phones (one for each raven eye). The Hololens oversees and coordinates all of these separate pieces via a bluetooth connection.

When the user peers into the mask, he or she is taken through an experience of metamorphosis and an onslaught 3D content. The work “presents a new trajectory for engagement and exploration of First Nations practice; one that points towards technology and innovation as aspects that expand traditional practices and opens new avenues for interpretation,” says Hunt.

The holographic experience itself is nothing short of extraordinary: animated volumetric drawings emerge in conjunction with particle simulations and spatial sounds. Hunt says the overall sound was an important focus for him: the custom sonic design was implemented first, in fact, and then used to inspire the timing and tone of the visuals, rather than the other way around.

The result is Transformation Mask, a powerful innovation that builds on pre-existing technologies and symbols, but combines them in an entirely unseen way. “I like the idea of art being like a catalyst, or a flash point,” Hunt says. And with the creation of an experience that crosses boundaries of sound and image, art and technology, and old and new, Transformation Mask is about as catalyzing as it gets.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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