E/T/C London Transforms Science into Art for Cambridge 800 Finale

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Projection artist Ross Ashton helped bring the Cambridge 800 Anniversary year to a spectacular close with 2 major new light works in the UK's historic University town that were dedicated to "Transforming Tomorrow".

Projected onto 2 sites, Senate House and the adjacent Old School, and the end of Kings College Chapel and the next door Gibbs Building, a combination of PIGI and video projection technologies supplied by E/T/C London were utilised in 3 separate but related animated shows. These expressed elements of the University's dynamic science and research programmes as art in breath-taking large format scrolling images.

Ashton was asked back to Cambridge to produce the shows following the great success of his work 12 months ago for the Opening Ceremony. This time, the Cambridge 800 Committee decided to expand the scale and scope of the projections and incorporate the Kings College/Gibbs site in addition to Senate House, creating a specially routed walk-through visual extravaganza, which was enjoyed by up to 20,000 visitors over 3 evenings.

Says Ashton, "I was extremely privileged to return to Cambridge and work on this Finale show, for which my brief was to highlight some of the ongoing ground-breaking ideas, concepts and research being undertaken at Cambridge that will make a huge impact on the future of science, medicine, technology, society and thinking".

The projection content was produced from a combination of University supplied material from numerous academic and scientific sources and that originated by Ashton and his team, which included Paul Chatfield and Richard Porter. They then transformed the images into multi-layered video and PIGI film artwork using PhotoShop, After Effects, OnlyView and other specialist software.

Kings College Chapel/Gibbs Building

The images gracing the fascia of the residential Gibbs building stretched 70 metres wide, while those on the majestic Kings College Chapel rose to 40 metres high, both surfaces fed by 5 PIGI 6Kw projectors with double rotating scrollers loaded with approximately 5 metres each of film. These were all positioned 110 metres away in weatherised hides. Three PIGIs produced the Gibbs picture, and 2 fed the image onto the Chapel.

The two surfaces told different stories.

'Nano' projected onto Kings College Chapel took the art of stained glass as one of the earliest examples of nanotechnology and human manipulation of objects' molecular structures to produce something new. Projected images were created from photos of stained glass windows from various Cambridge colleges including Kings, and juxtaposed with images of modern nanoscience from the Cambridge Nanoscience centre.

The Gibbs building show, "Planets to Proteins", was devised to illustrate the range and breadth of scientific research taking place at Cambridge, and the similarity in structure between the macroscopic and the microscopic. The stunning images of galaxies and nebulae were taken from a mix of space and ground-based telescopes including the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes

These shows were both programmed by Karen Monid using a PIGI OnlyCue system. Although they were different, they ran simultaneously, and there were several parallels in look and feel. This and the close proximity of the buildings made it essential for there to be a visual coherence between the two. Monid's programming skills came to the fore in ensuring that the pictures on both surfaces were carefully timed so they could work and be viewed either together or as detached elements. The 2 sites synched momentarily just for one image, which was a specially commissioned cartoon by illustrator (and Downing College alumnus) Quentin Blake, who also produced cartoon for the Senate House show.

In addition to 'organically synching' the two sets of images, Monid programmed the shows so that their movements were harmonious with the accompanying orchestral soundtrack.

The large stained glass windows of Kings College Chapel were internally floodlit with tungsten lightsources, bringing a soft, warm glow to the centre of the projections which were masked to fit around it.

Senate House

The 10-minute looped "Blurring the Boundaries" show at Senate House was projected onto the two buildings - that sit at right angles to each other - by 4 Christie S+20K projectors. These were positioned in custom constructed hides, designed by E/T/C London's Paul Highfield, sitting directly opposite across a large lawn. The images were soft edged together in the middle.

The content explored the interactions between academic disciplines and was intense and concentrated. From tracker notions to oscilloscopes, the Centre for Music & Science (CMS) links research in the fields of music with psychology, acoustics, computer science and neuroscience. With concrete syntax trees used in computer science to process programming languages and in linguistics for natural languages, here, the tree's branches bore the fruit of quotations from famous alumni including Tennyson and Douglas Adams.

The show's artwork predominantly consisted of multiple layered still art images, which were then animated using E/T/C's versatile OnlyView control platform. The images were stored on 4 OnlyView servers, one per projector, and programmed by Richard Porter using the system's practical multi-timeline function. The process involved mapping them precisely and in minute detail to fit the intricate architecture of the buildings. Chatfield and Porter also created the bespoke items such as the athletic skeletons.

Michael Barry joined the E/T/C London team as a technician for the project and diligently fitted all 31 arched windows in the fascias of both buildings with tailored Corex white-outs.

Ashton further comments, "Apart from the high profile buzz of the event, it was amazing to produce shows incorporating these beautiful iconic buildings and landscapes - normally not accessible to the public - into a story that looks forward to the future potential and creative energies of Cambridge's vast research resources - science-into-art, art-into-science".

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