A/B Machines is an experimental theatrical experience where people explore their dream, identity and basic human impulse to see and be seen using cameras and selfie machines.
The script was adapted from the works of Andy Warhol and inspired by his philosophy.
As the media designer, I led a design team to work with the director, Philip Gates, and other theater designers.
We did research on Warhol’s artworks and creative methodology, using the materials to create a studio-like space having cameras and monitors in theater,
where actors and audiences would use the gears to take pictures or record videos. As the main media contents, these visuals would be seen in monitor or projected on screen either in real time or later in the show.
Since the actors needed lots of practice with cameras, we also created a new workflow to be more involved in the rehearsal process.
We developed a multi-purpose media system.
The hardware in the system includes three interactive photo booths and multiple cameras, monitors, and projectors,
and the software comprises of an user interface for the photo booths, two custom video players, and a router cueing app for processing live camera's feed.
Script of A/B Machines
is culled from three works: The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, a: A Novel, and Chelsea Girls, Warhol's most commercially successful art film.
Since the text is fragmented, splited into many sections related to different topics, we decided to study Andy and his creative environment at first, then concluded the main motifs within the play: What is fame, identity, empathy, and fear to death?
The Philosophy (1975)
Warhol’s self-consciously ironic quotes about love, beauty, fame, work, time, death, economics, atmosphere, success, art, titles, the tingle, and underwear power.
Warhol’s methodology with his interactions with other people. A is Warhol and B is a nameless other. B could be any individual. It could be an aspect of Warhol himself or a made-up personality for Warhol to argue against.
Screen Tests (1964-1966)
Warhol’s film portraits. Under his direction, subjects attempted to sit motionless for around three minutes while being filmed, with the resulting movies projected in slow motion.
Chelsea Girls (1966)
Warhol's famous epic arthouse film. It is presented in a split screen, accompanied by alternating soundtracks attached to each scene and an alternation between black-and-white and color photography.
Interview with Lois Strickler, who went to art school with Andy in the 1940’s.
Based on the ideas related to photo booth and camera which had already been mentioned in the script, as the media designer, I had to take advantage of the materials, creating theatrical experience regarding the performanced contexts.
I defined the challenge statements and then conducted a brainstorming session with the director and other designers.
After digesting the script, our research on Andy Warhol, and the team's brainstorming outcomes, we finally brought forward our solutions for each challenge.
Photo Booth & Instagram
Audience were encouraged to use the photo booths to take selfie in pre-show. The selfie pictures would be unloaded to Instragram and they would believe that’s the only usage of the pictures.
The actors were also required to use the photo booths to do three-minutes video selfie in pre-show. These video records would be projected on walls when the characters are doing their monologues in the show.
The three characters have their own cameras. The live cameras show they constantly curating the view of themselves that they wanted to share, the way many of us do online every day.
Process of Taking Selfie
At the end of the show, short videos of audience's preparation for the pre-show selfie would be revealed unexpectedly, provoking thoughts about how people want to be seen in front of camera.
prototyping & testing
We started building prototypes before rehearsal started so that we were able to include the director and actor's participation in our iterative deisgn process.
To prototype the experience of taking selfie using photo booth, we built the physical interface composed of a LED press button and an Arduino board.
The interface would become an input device like a keyboard, which could be easily replaced if it's broken.
LED button and early prototype built using Arduino
Live Camera System
The live system includes 3 cameras and 7 monitors on stage.
The video stream from each camera would be assigned to selected monitors as input resource.
Also, the cameras would be operated by the actors, who were required to be familiar with them.
To prototype the system and test it in rehearsal room, we built a mobile equipment cart and developed an GUI app to control the video router. The app is able to load pre-made cue sheets, sending serial strings to router in order to control input and output in cue order.
Router control interface built using Python
Actors were being trained to use camera system in rehearsal room
Apart from working on the photo booths and live camera system, meanwhile, we were also searching for an appropriate visual style which could be applied to all possible media contents.
Retro Video Filter
To make the live feed video look like an Andy's old recording and avoid perceivable latency caused by digital filter,
we tried sending video signal in analog format to a classic quad processor, commonly used in surveillance system, to stylize the video. The video output would be captured by the Macbook and then sent to the router.
Color Quad Processor
Video output from the quad processor
For Warhol, popular mass-produced items represented the best of American consumerist society.
How to alter the everyday objects on stage using media technologies to add extra meaning
was somthing both the director and I would like to experiment.
Therefore, we took pictures of these objects and stylized them using the Quad Processor. The pictures would be displayed on monitors while the live cameras were not being used.
Once the testing results were satisfied, we started building our media system for the performance in theater.
The system should be not only stable but also user-friendly because the operator, who would run the show, would be an non-experienced crew member.
At the same time, we were running stress testing on the photo booths as well.