As the founder and creative director of yU+co, a renowned LA-based studio specialized in film title sequences, Garson Yu knows a thing or two about telling a story in a matter of minutes. Yu's creative expertise usually graces the silver screen, but for the first site-specific installation in a series of interventions taking place at NYC's Pier 57 this summer, the motion graphics guru will apply his talent to the sides of shipping containers. Originally hung by Madrid-based architecture firm CH+QS Arquitectos for a sculptural installation dubbed "Magic Carpet," some of the 36 containers have now been lowered for Yu to use as the foundation for projecting footage that his son Adrian—a film student at NYU—shot around NYC with a team of budding filmmakers.
Yu told us he had a very clear vision of the specific moments he wanted them to capture around the city, which would result in "The Interactive New York (T.I.N.Y.)"—15 minutes of cinematic visuals with which you can interact using your voice. Each container has its own microphone and you control the portion of the film projected onto it. A low frequency can rewind the film and a high frequency can move the film forward. Sudden sounds and various ways of manipulating your voice all affect the visual element. One scene offers the chance to shoot a seagull with a laser beam by saying "Boom boom boom!" into the mic, while another allows you to distort a girl's lips and face by alternating the pitch of your voice. "There is a lot of fun interaction that you will discover," Yu explains.
To deliver such a tightly coordinated real-time experience—which Yu says is "pushing the envelope" with technology—his international team of programmers built two "super-duper fast" servers that are capable of 128 frames/second so the footage can rewind or move back and forth really quickly, "so that everything is instantaneous." There is also the complexity of having projections and interaction programmed for each individual shipping container. This is all compounded by booming audio and a dark warehouse setting, which only heighten the indoor sensory adventure.
Garson is not an interaction designer, but his work revolves around the connections between sound, movement and imagery. "I come from a motion design background. It's hard to describe a motion, but if you go to any of our creative meetings, motion designers will describe motion by sound. So it's going to be "ch-ch-ch-ch" or "zoom!"—you have to visualize the sound. Because of that we kind of develop this software that will be able to help the visual," he explains. Yu also offers insight into how this artistic exhibition, and others of its nature, help in technological advancements. "For anyone to push the envelope in terms of technology, everything always comes from the imagination of an idea, and the story and the narrative that you want to tell. We try to figure out how to realize that, and that is how we will develop new technology," says Yu.
"The backward and forward images go along with the idea of memories, which goes throughout the entire piece. It's a life journey, basically," Yu explains. He has rearranged the shipping containers to resemble a subway platform, with a row down the center that creates a walkway, which is meant to serve as a metaphor for a train. The end of the tunnel is sealed off so that when you walk through the "train" you come to an open garage door that offers views of the historic pier outside of the installation.
On weekends the installation is geared more for children and includes a scavenger hunt based on words and sounds. The containers will have miniature speakers and a letter associated to each one that plays sounds like a dog barking or an ocean wave. Kids choose a word, like "dream" for example, and run around finding the sound associated with the letters, spelling the word in order to create their own story based on the sequence of the sounds. They can then write their story on the chalkboard walls inside the central tunnel.
"The Interactive New York (T.I.N.Y.)" runs from 1-16 June 2013 and is open from 9am-7pm daily with limited access on weekdays and full access on weekends at Pier 57.
Images by Karen Day