Warning: Spoilers. If you are planning on visiting The Eureka Room, I suggest you not read this post until after your visit.
This was the first program I made for the Eureka Room in its new 3D incarnation. During the summer I had applied to be in the East Austin Studio Tour, despite the fact that it was still under construction and was pretty behind in lots of ways. (Years behind depending on how you count).
I had promised the tour two programs. This was going to be the debut and I needed something that was going to impress. I was determined to deliver.
But all the programs I had made so far were designed to be watched on a flat 2D screen. When I first talked with Noah Wight about creating an LED-lit room, the idea wasn’t much different than that. But it quickly The Eureka Room had grown into something far, far larger. Not only did I have the 2D screen but I now had 14,000 LEDs. I needed a whole new type of program to show. (Two of them).
Also: I had two weeks.
Getting The Visuals
During testing of the room, Noah had been using some effects in TouchDesigner. I liked them and wanted to incorporate them into the movie, but TouchDesigner is on the Eureka Room PC and the movie is made in Final Cut on my mac. I ended up using TouchDesigner’s movie output function to record the visuals into .mov files which I then transferred to the MacBook I do FinalCut on. From there I input them into my program. There were lots of resolution issues and sizing issues and it ate a whole day just to figure out how to do it.
Final Cut doesn’t have a “Eureka Room” resolution or aspect ratio so I had to do a couple dozen experiments to figure that out. Which wouldn’t have been that bad except I had was no way to see what Final Cut would look like on the walls unless I rendered the movie, exported it and sent it over the network to the PC, hooked it up in TouchDesigner and played it. Which took maybe 10-30 minutes depending on how much I screwed up. I eventually bought a BlackMagic card that allowed me to edit Final Cut on the mac and pipe it through the PC and TouchDesigner so that I can see changes in the room in real-time. But that took a few days to arrive.
Other days were eaten up by other technical issues. I was quickly down to one week left and still had nothing to show for it.
But that one week was fantastically fun and productive. I finally had the creative workbench set up and was able to develop and test different designs in real-time. I had the vague idea that I would create two programs: one that was just lights and sound where visitors just sat passively and watched the program. Another one that involved some high-fiving. This first program would be the former.
I collected about 6 minutes of the best visuals and put them in an order that felt right. I discovered that scene transitions, despite looking cheesy in a movie or powerpoint presentation, often looked really cool when you put them in the 3D space of the Eureka Room. ( Later months I discovered I could do all the same sorts of Touch visuals in Apple Motion and Final Cut so from then on I just used Touch to play the videos)
Creating the Audio
I had the visuals but it had no audio.
I’ve played music for years, so rather than digging into some stock music I thought it would be more powerful to make something bespoke. Something that actually went with each of the visuals more than your average etheral/electronic sort of stuff.
This turned out to be a lot of fun because I got to ask questions like “What does a bunch of blue pulsing circles sound like?”. Trying to hit the right tone for each visual (generally they lasted about 5-15 seconds each) was a fun game and I felt pretty happy with what I ended up with. SInce this program I have had to do lots of other sound work and have developed an appreciation for background music and sounds in movies, tv and video games that I never had before.
I did the whole program in about 2 days, which was good because I knew the Hi 5 program was going to be more ambitious. In some ways this first program was just a throwaway. All spectacle and fury with no deeper substance. It was cool and novel but it certainly wasn’t my full vision.
In a particularly uninspired moment I hastily christened it “Color Color”. The name makes me cringe now and I hope to change it when I get to a brick and mortar location.
Despite my mixed feelings about it, I got some amazing press from it and a lot of people really loved the program. That’s probably an argument for cranking stuff out faster rather than overthinking and overdesigning. Maybe I should do quantity over quality. The following year certainly made me think that could be a good strategy.