Making a Projector from a Camera

One thought I had about lighting the Temple at night was to use projected images of trees. The idea was to use found, made, and donated images of single trees in various seasonal states, projecting multiple examples at once onto the Temple. It would create the illusion of real trees even more than colored lights. I initially dismissed the idea of getting slide projectors running, but I figured I could repurpose 35mm cameras, reversing the design and shining images through the lenses.

I picked one up at a thrift store for a few dollars and took it all apart. It was a basic viewfinder camera, fully automatic with a zoom. The lens was integral with the body and was all motorized. I figured out how it basically worked, then was able to adjust both the focus and zoom. (Side note: although it seems to have infinite adjustment, there are only a fixed number of zoom levels, since the motor that does the zoom also does the focus: moving a small amount adjusts the focus, but going some fixed number of turns changes to the next zoom level.) I glued and taped mechanisms so the shutter stayed open and the aperture was as wide open as possible.

I had a 10W LED I had wired up for a different project so I thought I'd give it a shot. With the camera back open, I taped an old slide where the film would have gone. It seemed so poetic and perfect that a camera—one that would have taken the pictures I intended to use—would act as a projector. I was able to project and image, but it was too dark to use—even despite using such a high-brightness LED.

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First 3D Render

After laboring over Blender for some time, I finally created a model of the Temple. It's a bit rough and the wood grain appearance is way over-scale, but it's at least a start. I'm also trying to figure out the best way to make it look like it's on the Playa … at least a little.

Ground level view.
Ground level view.
Overhead view.
Overhead view.

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Learning 3D

I decided I needed to learn a 3D rending software. I found Blender which is Open-Souce, and, hence, free. I read a bunch about the user interface and found it quite daunting because it was unlike any software I had used. Well, it was like all the software I had ever used, just mashed-up in a way I hadn't encountered yet. In 2 hours I had made it through most of the tutorial to make a gingerbread man and had a better understanding of how it worked. I was rather elated at the progress I had made. I recalled what it was like to learn something new and get good results—the kind of thing that fired my obsession with computers in my teen years.

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Second Small Model

Wood model from sticks and 2x4s.
Wood model from sticks and 2x4s.

I was reinvigorated to work on the temple again. I want to make a structure that is so appealing (visually, emotionally, and otherwise) that nobody will want to burn it. And I want to integrate the community so they are fully invested in the project.

I drew some more sketches, trying to focus on the appearance of the end product rather than being fixated on the ability to construct it. I started in on making a model again. I took a couple 2×4's and hot-glued them together for a "trunk". Then I needed something to make branches. I was looking for inspiration outdoors when I decided to use some sticks from my magnolia tree. I cut them and glued them on then added bamboo skewers as branches and small scraps of paper as the "leaves". For some kind of scale, I added Vince.

Rough composite image on-Playa.
Rough composite image with the Playa.

I basically built 1/4 of the tree and took some test photos against a colored backdrop. I had four photos, each with the model rotated 90 degrees—all set up with the same camera settings on a tripod. Then I pulled it into Gimp, did a rough removal of the colored background and composited the four rotations on top of one another to create a pseudo-representation of a full model. I added a photo of the Playa from Vittorio Carli's artinterviews.com to make it look like it was at Burning Man.

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Burning the Model

Tuesday got rained out so I went to Antoni's in the afternoon with some stuff. He had built most of the 1:6 (e.g. "Barbie scale") model and we finished up the remaining bits.

It looked really good although he didn't have time to finish putting a skin on the third quadrant, and didn't even assemble the fourth. We put together the fourth and tried burning it. It went okay although it collapsed organically like a structure. I had tied it together with rope but the quadrants weren't weighted enough to topple and didn't fall over when the rope burned through.

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Jay Lincoln Sketches

I met with Jay Lincoln, a local artist and teacher at a coffee shop. He drew sketches for me and we worked on it. It was during this meeting that the project fully became collaborative.

Jay suggested adding outriggers to hold up the long spans of the branches—perhaps to appear like ladders, or if the branches touched the ground. I insisted the branches be free-standing, though … unless, of course, it proves impossible to do so. He had the idea of integrating ladders and stairs into the minor branches which would be fine by me.

Jay Lincoln's side-view sketch.
Jay Lincoln's side-view sketch.
Jay Lincoln's cutaway sketch
Jay Lincoln's cutaway sketch.

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First Temple Model

Small model of one branch.
Small model of one branch.

I have been working on some scale drawings in 2-dimensional CAD software and came up with a way to build the main branches. There would be four branches—one for each compass direction—and all of them would be similarly constructed. Alone, each would fall outward, so they would need to be tied to the mirrored pair to balance it.

Dismantled segments of single branch.
Dismantled segments of single branch.

The branches would be built in segments that could be prefabricated and brought to the Playa for final assembly. The assembly could be done by hand, using only simple pulleys and winches to lift the branches. By working in mirrored teams, the branches would counterbalance one another. As they are winched off the ground, the next segment could be attached, continuing in this way until they are fully hoisted into position.

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Beginnings

I took a few pictures of trees to get an idea of how they look, and some elements of branches and whatnot that I thought would work. I did my best to draw some sketches, but I'm not particularly adept at it and I didn't like what came of it. I got together with two friends: Antoni, a sculptor, and Brandon, an architect to talk about the project. Overall it wasn't too productive, but at least it was a start.

One thing I think is important is to have a spiral ramp—not stairs or ladders—to access the main level. I don't understand why it needs to be a spiral, but it needs to be a ramp to permit people with limited mobility to access it.

It also needs an interior space—a sanctuary for ceremonies and reflection. The yurt provides this. It also helps the stability, since a real tree of such size would have a substantial root structure to anchor it; an artificially-wide trunk would mitigate the instability in absence of such a root structure.

September 29, 2012 Sketch, side
Side view.
Top view.
Top view.

Toni encouraged me to start making models using toothpicks as, say, 8' framing members and see what I could come up with. He suggested we make a 1/6 scale model (e.g. "Barbie size") and burn it, say, on the Solstice: December 21.

Yesterday's sketches.
Yesterday's sketches.

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Origins

I woke up this morning at 5 a.m. with an idea for an art project: the temple. It's a tree that gets filled with people's messages written on the slats from palettes which form the "leaves". Yurt-like structures surround it if I remember right, although I think a larger structure to enclose the trunk is the way to go.

I realized I had no choice but to proceed. I e-mailed some of the art people at Burning Man and they said that the Temple is considered one of the art projects in the normal grant process. Grants are due at the beginning of February, and the cycle hasn't started yet. I started looking into it.

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