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Portable Projection Mapping Mask

Interdisciplinary artist Bill Shannon is internationally renowned for his installations, performances, choreography, and video work.  In June I had the pleasure of working with him on a self-contained “wearable” video projection mask.  In the time we spent together I was better able to understand process and methodology behind his thinking.  In this interview I asked Bill a series of questions because what he created was more than just a piece of technology.  Also click over to Kickstarter to support a documentary campaign about his life: CRUTCH

Projection Mask V1
Projection Mapping Mask V1
Projection Mapping Mask V2

Q: Tell me about the purpose and meaning behind your projection mask.

It’s the smaller wearable iteration of a series of video installation works I have been developing alongside my performance practice over the course of the past few years that references the rendering approach of Cubists figurative painters while using multi-angle video captures of the body, video projectors and holo-screens and custom fabricated “sculptural” steel rigging as media. It is my attempt to reshape and re-imagine the body from multiple perspectives simultaneously both prerecorded and in real-time in 3 dimensions. Though I am known internationally as a dancer and skater on crutches, it is my work as an interdisciplinary artist, as a maker with a very hands on approach, that I have been pursuing ways to stage and perform video that are engaging and dynamic. Projection Mapping, or staged things, where you have an outside projector putting content over a live performance is the standard practice of the day. Live performances may trigger video or interact with video but rarely is the performer also the source of the actual video projections. So my strategy, and my purpose with the mask specifically was; How can I make the dancing and performance art the actual source of the projections and take what was a medium scale sculptural video installation series ( “Fragmentation Series” ) and make it micro mobile and compelling.

Content and form are both equally important to me and with the video mask creation funding from CreatXFest came the context of an Art&Tech Conference. So, when I make work I am always making it in terms of the context it will be shown. So if I’m creating for an Art&Tech fest where there are all of these innovators, and startups are going on about how technology, and specifically their technology will be or should be the future then my conceptualizations of the content of the work is how I respond generally to the notion of “Tech” as it relates to our lived existence.  Ultimately, I came up with an approach for this face that I wanted to do that was this constantly changing status of my face because of Facebook and all of social media out there really, where you are kind of presenting this digital face of yourself, it’s only parts of yourself that you are actually showing, because it’s impossible to show your whole self through electronic media, so it’s this metaphor for the face we put in front of our face. So a lot of the world actually only knows us through this second face, this digital face, the face in front of our face that we create, so we are constantly placing a video face in front of our real face. And so the face video mask is a metaphor for that digital face that we share with the world.  And we are constantly changing that face’s status. We are shifting the face and sort of going through these different phases. So when I finally realized that there was no way to live map performed content onto the face while also keeping the mask mobile self-contained and lightweight, that that’s when we went to pre-recorded content of me changing my status across the spectrum from amazed to loving to hating etc, etc.

Mask V2
Mask V2

So the content that was pre-recorded for the mask was this video footage of me performing for video a constantly changing status. And so that’s what the piece was really about, this commentary for the face that was in front of the face, that was that status, so that’s where the content was coming from.

Wearable Video Mask 3 ProjectileObjects

Q: Have you ever worked with projections before?

I have worked with video and live performance in a lot of different context over my entire career. A few years ago I used Dartfish sports motion capture software, for break-dancers, including myself, attempting really impossible moves. It was like a call and response and a live show for people to cheer on the dancer as the dancer tried the move. We, myself and technical directors David Szlasa and James Clotfelter also used looping feedback to have like a battle against yourself. By dividing the screen in half, and using the projection to match the size and scale of the body. So we would shoot the footage really close to the camera so it would be kind of big, and then the second round the dancer would be next to the screen. So you do your moves and then run around and battle with yourself.  So the loop of the live and pre-recorded and then loop that and then it was a continuous loop.  It was another interesting metaphor as the stage is sort of pushing yourself as a dancer and how ultimately, while all this battling is happening between this dancer and that dancer at the end of the day it’s really about the goals that you set for yourself, it’s the battle with yourself.  I used video to make these video sculpture performance sculptures and even before that I have used video projections probably for first projection stuff was almost 1989, I did a performance piece where I built these sculptures and I found this footage of these Pittsburgh steel mills of the metal rolling out of the press and I did what people typically did back then and just project it behind me. So that was my first use of video projection and performance/ 1991 ?Hot steel rolling out of the mill. I still have some photos of it.

{NSFW – Fine art non’t lasdivious nudity} Fragmentation Series 2014

Sculptural video rigging for live performance to realtime camera feeds from seven angles. Materials used: Holoscreen, steel, ShowWX Microvision laser projectors, sony mini-dv cameras.

I did these video sculptures on Fragmentation series where, it’s like 7 live cameras feeding 7 video projectors, projecting onto 7 separate holo-screens arranged in a sculptural form, so that when the live performer goes in front of the cameras they have a physical sculpture that holds video, that is an abstraction of their form in real-time. So in fact they are creating the video experience and the live performance simultaneously,  so if you’re the audience you can look through the holo screens and see the real body performing, but at the same time you also see a live video abstraction.  As I mentioned earlier I’m trying to reach it from a cubist point, that your kind of seeing all of these perspectives simultaneously with the body, sort of recreating the body through the video in a way that holds metaphor and is aesthetically dynamic and interesting and works in its own right and isn’t dependent necessarily on the performance.


BreakDancer Video:

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Industrial Specs 1989:

Wearable Sculpture Materials: Found Steel Gear Wheels, Steel wire, Tin Sheet

Invisible Series #4 2012:

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sculptural video rigging for looping playback of a single performance work recorded from seven angles

Materials: holoscreen, steel, Mitsubishi MK20 Micro Led Projectors


Q: What were your concerns with making a self contained mask?

I think one of the most important concerns was visibility because when you have a micro-projector your inevitably working with really low lumens no matter which company you go with and so the first iterations really were only working in the absolute blackness and darkness with a light holo-film material. The light holo-film material was great because you could see through it while it also had video on it. But the holo-film screen is also very sensitive to any really bright light. If you hit holo-film with a bright lumen projector from the outside like 1200 lumen then it functions fine in the light, but when your shooting with 15 lumens it just gets washed out too easily. This is why you see two iterations fo the mask here one with a light holo-film that is only workable in dark environments and then the second mask which used holo-dark acrylic sheet and could handle ambient indoor light and remain viable as an image. The other concern was weight, obviously if you get too much weight on your head it becomes too unwieldy.


Q: What obstacles, if any did you encounter?

I still think that my main obstacles were visibility and sort of the.  Jack Hodges, “The Projection holders,”Yes there were definitely time consuming fabrication hurdles with the rigging and some we were able to solve but others we just had to roll with for deadline and look to the next iteration to apply possible solutions. The obstacle that could not be “rolled with” was light and visibility issues. If its gonna be visible in light at such a low lumen then it had to be that really dark holo-screen so it doesn’t get washed out, but obviously when it is dark you can’t see through it, so you must have a physically segmented mask for the performer to see out around it.  This was another design issue that will be addressed in future iterations. So there’s this give and take, the lumens, the projection surface, and being able to function with the mask on.  The throw distance was a big challenge, even with mirrors bouncing the projection it was still kind of far off my face to make the projections work.  I think this is always going to be an issue unless it is a super wide angled lens, but then your bounce from the mirrors is going to get crazy, with having too much spread from the image. Too wide would be another issue there. Ultimately I feel that micro-laser projectors are making this all possible, due to the infinite focus which allows for variation in the screen depth, so your fine having a little bit of play, where as before if it was out of focus you’d be total bummed out.

Pre-recorded Video for facial content.
Pre-recorded Video for facial content.

Q: Why type of technology did you use?

I used Microvision Pico Laser Projectors, the best thing for it, iPod touches to drive the video, Techshop, laser cutters, 3d printers, holoscreen, TIG welding, MIG welder, hand-built and made metal fabrication out of steel and aluminum, holoscreens were bent and shaped on a plastic heating device, to create the shapes of the screens and everything mounted on a store-bought construction helmet insert. Multiple versions of this mask with multiple variations in the screen.  It was quite a journey.


Q: From my understanding this was a team effort, tell me about your team and why you chose them?

Well, first of all I don’t have any experience video mapping other than playing around with multiple programs, but never actually dedicating time to it so I needed someone who was going to be able to handle video mapping. Cornelius Henke you were essential to this aspect of getting the content on the screens and instrumental in shaping holoscreen to optimize illusion of cube. And then I needed someone to help fabricate and wear the mask, bounce ideas off of and co-conceptualize and that’s Jack Hodges, someone here from Australia doing a residency here at Crutch Productions LLC through a Carclew grant, so Jack was very critical to the success of the project in terms of his dedication of time and it was fun to introduce him to the array of tools and the potential inherent in maker spaces such as Techshop in Pgh or the others we looked up online in his hometown of Adelaide.  Also I tend to work in a very intensive way because I have children and a family to deal with, so when I do have time to work I pretty much work non-stop for 24 – 48 hours or how ever long it takes and I feel like that puts a lot of demand on people who work with me and Jack was a very good support as far as that was concerned too. He literally slept in the car as I worked through the dawn hours and then came back in grabbed a coffee and was back on the grind. It’s not always that you can find people who can withstand that type of schedule and so that was the team. My family calls them Art Benders and that’s a really appropriate term for how I tend to chase down an idea into reality.


Q: I hear that you are working on another version of this mask, willing to elaborate? 

I think the mask can go two ways, there’s a holo clear in a dark environment where you have really good light control and I think that one is kind of gonna be more successful in terms of the Immersive-ness of it and the weight issue. The one with the harder holo-dark acrylic sheet, that’s more of like an actual panel as opposed to a film is still pretty challenging to me, I feel that since it is only the first version with that material, the actual physical fabrication of it was just an initial kind of attempt to get the job done on deadline and make an impact, I think I need to go back and make it more abstract, hide the eyeholes as best as possible and cover them with holo-clear so audiences  still get some video in there.  I’m basically approaching it from two different angles, the first is total light control, using holo-clear film, you can see through it, and that’s something that can be used in a theatrical environment and a club environment that allows the 15 lumens to look really good and the other is for less light friendly environments that you can’t really have as much control over and that has more to do with shaping the holo-dark and creating some sort of way of merging the two.  I also think I could do more with the mirrors and we bounced the whole video frame at one angle, but I don’t think that’s entirely necessary, I think we could shift the mirrors to point in different directions to get more dynamic video coverage around the face at shorter throws.  Even have the mirrors move around so that the actual mask pieces physical components could move and shift around as you’re wearing it through servo mechanisms almost as if they are breathing, and inch forward and inch back, morphing kind of potential for the mask, and the shifting to be very futuristic and dream-like through keeping it moving. So yea, I am doing the creative commons non-commercial share alike approach to this which is another aspect of the next iteration. This could have some interesting potential if it’s cleaned up enough.

I think I’m going to incorporate the mask into the full body setup of the fragmentation series as well to layer in the mask into the full body creations from Fragmentation Series.



Q: Any other thoughts?

Content is king and tech makes magic. I just want this thing to go organic, undulate, breath come alive.

Get at me for a wearable video face mask and KEEP DANCING!  Oh yeah and please donate to my kickstarter! CRUTCH.


Excerpt from live show sketchy using video playback of moves:

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