Immersive Surfaces
October 20, 2011

Immersive Surfaces

New York – Resident Creative Studio designer Sina Taherkhani bridged the gap between reality and fantasy, helming a team of animators and VFX artists charged with creating “As Above, So Below,” one of a three-part immense-scale projection/mapping installation titled “Immersive Surfaces.” 
The high-resolution content transformed the Manhattan Bridge into a transparent portal to a surreal world where larger-than-life people float in zero gravity.  “Immersive Surfaces,” which kicked off The DUMBO Arts Festival and attracted crowds in lower Manhattan, netted Best Exhibition honors at the festival.

“Projection mapping uses a specific site as the canvas for super-sized media content and needs to be specifically designed to the site’s scale and shape, which makes the logistics extremely complex,” says Taherkhani, one of 20 international artists and curators who contributed their talents to the project. “My goal was to not only create a compelling visual story, but also bring the kind of high-quality content traditionally used for broadcast design to the large-scale projection realm.”

Cutting-edge video mapping technology was key to covering more than 30,000 square feet of the Manhattan Bridge anchorage, archway, and the surrounding cityscape. Taherkhani and his team, which included Resident animator Adam VanDine, challenged themselves to create the illusion that there was a parallel world inside of the bridge, populated with people floating in space. To achieve the effect, performers were suspended in air, shot on greenscreen, and then composited into what appeared to be a zero-gravity environment.

“The live element of the project presented its own set of challenges,” notes Taherkhani. “Animating the performers was a complex process because we were integrating multiple viewpoints. We wanted the audience to experience the same action from three different perspectives, which all required their own custom animation.” 

According to Taherkhani, the project required the crafting of extremely high-resolution 5000x2000-pixel sequences to be fed into 28 enormous projectors. “Working with file sizes over 5K while maintaining broadcast-quality images was a huge challenge considering the deadline was so tight: We had to take the project from concept to completion in just three weeks,” he adds.

Resident utilized Autodesk Maya for the project’s 3D animation, lighting, and rendering. Compositing was done in Adobe’s After Effects and Photoshop. When completed and loaded into the massive projectors, the mapping covered the extensive, continuous area of the bridge, creating one of the largest single projections on record. 

Each year, The DUMBO Arts Festival highlights Brooklyn’s commitment to and presence in the arts community by presenting the best in local, national, and international art against the backdrops of the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, and the Manhattan skyline. It attracts 200,000 visitors to studios, galleries, stages, and other venues over its three-day duration.

“Immersive Surfaces” explored ideas of crowd art and the meaning of surface as a media platform in a specific cityscape. It was presented in three phases. The first, which Taherkhani also collaborated on, utilized more traditional video art and presentation techniques, slowly progressing and growing in size until it covered the entire anchorage and archway.  Contributions from artists adorned the bridge’s enormous surfaces in small units, creating a virtual art gallery. The various sites were connected by an Op Art-style background, which became animated in the second part of the installation.  

The DUMBO Arts Festival was produced by Dalzell Productions and Two Trees Management. “Immersive Surfaces” was organized by video curator Leo Kuelbs in conjunction with a team of artists and SenovvA Inc., a leader in cutting-edge projection technology. 

Taherkhani is a designer at Resident Creative Studio--one of the event sponsors--where he conceptualizes and creates innovative 2D and 3D media for broadcast and film. His personal portfolio includes illustration, print design, filmmaking and animation. The Brooklyn resident, attended the MFA program at Pratt Institute.