WalkPro3D is a wireless, fully portable projector that allows users to shoot animated images anywhere, onto virtually anything. Video artist and expert projectionist Shaun O’Connor has turned his innovations in wearable tech into a visual performance business and a promotional branding vehicle for hire. With his company, PRICKIMAGE, he specializes in uniquely immersive visuals, body and video mapping, and interactive installations.
A month ago, O’Connor released a video premiering the third tier in the evolution of his handheld HD video projection project, WALKABOUT Projection, It breaks from traditional projection and its stagnant confines, allowing artists and performers to manipulate their visual content and improvise with its display.
Over the last few years Shaun has been working with live visual artists and animators to create the colorful cartoon characters featured in a lot of his work. In this latest model from WALKABOUT Projection, O’Connor introduces new, gesture-based technology using LeapMotion and the Unity3D gaming engine. The handheld projector is fixed with a Leapmotion sensor controller that feeds back to a battery and mini CPU fastened to the user’s body. Using gestures, the performer or projectionist can control the movements and dimensions of a projected image like a digital puppeteer. He recently collaborated with the animator PIKLIPITA to make his colorful cartoon characters dance.
The Creators Project spoke with O’Connor to get sense of how this device developed and his plans for the future.
The Creators Project: Why do you call it WALKABOUT Projection?
Shaun O’Connor: In the UK, walkabout performers or walkabout acts is a general term for people who dress up and walk around parties, dressed up in costumes and do tricks and things like this at festivals and events. It’s a simplistic play on that, a walkabout projection performance.
What inspired this project?
My biggest early inspirations were Justice. There is this music video for their song ‘D.A.N.C.E’ where all the T-shirts are animated. So that’s what we used to do in the beginning, project onto people’s T-shirts. Because close proximity with a small projector, you get a really bright images that looks amazing for selfies and hashtags. I thought it would be really funny to start animating Banksy’s art. They kind of lend themselves to be animated, they’re kind of like a still, one piece of a bigger story. I remember stumbling across one of his managers at a pub one night, and telling them what I was thinking about doing. And they were like, ‘Oh yeah. Go for it. He would love for you to try and rip him off or copy his stuff and bring it alive.’
How do you transition from the VJing and big scale projection mapping work to the WalkPro3D project?
WALKABOUT Projection really came out of working with programmers and collaborators with Xbox Kinect and mapping the body, using the body as a controller. That's more the angle I've come from. And that is how I see it to progressing: to do real time body mapping in a mobile environment. Because at the moment in body mapping and face mapping presentations, everyone is super static. They barely move and if they do it’s just really slow. That’s what’s really exciting about using little onboard computers, they are getting more powerful so we can be tracking the body in real time. Like in fashion, projecting clothing onto a model as she is walking down the catwalk.
How have you taken projection tech and made it portable?
It’s all about battery size and processing power, making it smaller, lighter, and more concealed. In the beginning I was having to rely on motorcycle batteries. It was really difficult and heavy. It would hurt your back and got really hot as well. And just the shape of it is not very ergonomic. You just had this block attached to your back. And I always had the idea I wanted to be mobile. I like the idea of being able to move through crowds, because I love the whole idea of pop up immersive theater.
The first version was a black body suit and then version 2 was the black-and-white check bodysuit. There was loads of talk about how to present it, whether the performer, the projectionist, should or shouldn't be visible. I always wanted them to disappear. But in the end the more you try and make yourself invisible the more obvious you are.
What is your relationship with PIKLIPITA?
He’s French, who thinks he's Japanese, who lives in Poland right now. I met him in London when he was quite young. He approached me at an event. We immediately started a friendship and began collaborating, from the beginning of the WALKPro. He is a 3D character animator and runs his own operating systems and apps for machines. I always told him I wanted games characters to control and he had a few of these little 3D characters so we created this project. We called it Harajuku Zoo with the idea that these 3D characters were escaping from the zoo. He copied that cute Japanese game character style, which lends well to this kind of projection because you want simple strong shapes and colors because you can’t always be in control of the surface you’re projecting on. It could be brick, it could be brown concrete, it could be a black painted wall.
So the idea is that a single subject just floats in space?
Yeah. No frames. Taking you away from the screen frames. We managed to do some of the first experiments and performances at a nightclub. I used to project the characters on the stage’s front screen doing a similar type of animation, and then take them off the screen. It could be quite hallucinogenic in a club environment, with the smoke and the lights and everything. Clubgoers at 3AM have no idea what’s going on. They know that these characters have been up on the big screen but now they’re suddenly on their T-shirts and on the walls around them.
How has incorporating the gestures changed the experience of the product?
Gestures make the whole experience a lot more organic, intuitive, and responsive because you can move really quickly, as opposed to just pressing play on a standard video loop. That's what gives it real power, because then we can interact with people in real time. It makes it more fun and flexible, giving the characters real time response like a digital puppet. If someone comes into a room you can kind of wave to them with the character and if there not being responsive or nice to you, you can just walk or swim away from them and go to the next person. And people watching this instantly start recognizing it. And children run up and try and grab the characters . I like to add some emotion to it. That’s why I try and stay away from logos because they tend to cold and stiff but with the 3D characters you can be really playful.”
Do you hope to mass produce these devices?
That’s what I’m about to do. At the moment I am just sourcing and customizing existing tech and putting it together in kind of new and interesting ways. Projector companies are in a process of raising their profile, kind of like how Samsung and other companies are making themselves look more friendly and more cool. I want to make lifelike 3D characters that can be controlled by brain waves. We currently have three kits and I hope to expand to 20 shortly so we can start traveling globally for corporate branding and creative events.