Projecting to Prevent Extinction

How do you capture people’s attention? Christina Serkowski’s Environmental Ethics elective asks students to see climate change as a story. As part of the course, students design an independent project on a topic of their choosing. Students pick a topic of interest and find ways to communicate their topic to their audience.  Inspired by the documentary Racing Extinction, juniors Alex Garcia, Mike Baldwin and Charlie Cobb wanted to capture the public’s attention with a visible statement about threatened species. In that documentary, artists projected large-scale images of nature onto urban buildings. Alex, Mike and Charlie wanted to reproduce that project for the U Prep community. Along the way, they had to think both as artists and technologists to create public art with a message.

They chose to project onto the side of the campus theatre during a performance of the fall musical. To fill the side of the building, they used discarded equipment from the IT department. “We had four projectors hooked up to two Mac Minis,” Charlie explains. “We then compiled a bunch of videos from various online sources using Final Cut Pro X and exported a 30 minute video as high bitrate 1080p.” They used a program called ArraySync to synchronize the two computers. This allowed them to control all four projectors.  They used the software to divide their video into four slices, one for each projector.

Their system now had two computers and four projectors assembled. Next, they had to precisely calibrate the system to produce one seamless image. They tested both inside and outside, and the assembled image worked well on their tests. The actual setup encountered a surprise: a fall storm with high winds and rain. Mike adds, “[T]he setup we used took a lot of tweaking and adjusting to get a synced and crisp image, and the continuous wind added a lot of difficulty to this task.” At one point, the wind threatened to take their tent. Using some in-the-moment engineering, the team had to keep the equipment safe and dry. Also, the school network didn’t quite reach across the street to their projection spot. They improvised an ad-hoc network by connecting the server to a tethered smartphone.

A capacity crowd filled Founders’ Hall for the evening performance of Little Shop of Horrors. On the way in and out, audience goers saw images of nature covering the outside walls of the school, a reminder of threatened species worldwide. The art display attracted an audience of its own as drivers on a major street near campus slowed down to take in the sight. From research and design, to coping with unexpected complications, this team turned U Prep into a literal backdrop for their story about Environmental Ethics.


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