Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Bad At Sports Podcast

Just before leaving Chicago I managed to squeeze in an interview with Richard from Bad At Sports. Our talk took place in the garden, hence the lovely intro. Check it out...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

M16.2 3D Zoetrope (video)

M16.2 3D Zoetrope from R James Healy on Vimeo.

Here is the final video of the piece embedded from Vimeo. If you're interested in the work then please visit my website: and subscribe to the mailing list. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

M16.2 3D Zoetrope

The complete zoetrope measures 53" x 24" x 24". The cylindrical viewing area has a diameter of 24" and a height of 9". It's worth noting that this whole area is visible when the piece is 'on' (it's motorised) The animation is lit from above and below with LED's allowing the animation to be viewed in all lighting conditions.

Viewers are often surprised by the width of the slots when the zoetrope is stationary. Also, the shutter, 'drum', appears smaller when spun as the widest and narrowest widths are averaged. The facets above and below the viewing area soften as they blur in motion.

The stand is a beautiful object alone, crafted from solid walnut and finished with a clear lacquer. It's a fusion of traditional wood working skills and digital manufacturing. The top of the stand houses the zoetrope mechanism and electronics. The mains power lead is hidden in one of the legs.

The zoetrope is often immediately viewed straight on like a screen, however, viewers then enjoy moving around the piece much like a traditional sculptural object. As the animation is 3D, differing viewpoints change the fore shortening and reveal details in the objects and animation. Close up viewing is immersive, it allows the eye to follow individual shapes. From further away the objects work as a whole.

Viewers refer to the motion as hypnotic ( see the post, 'Stars and Stripes', for information about the development of the animation content)

The zoetrope can be viewed in day light just as any other lighting condition. This allows the viewer to appreciate the object as a whole rather than as a performance alone.

I'll be posting video of the piece within the week. Watch this space...

Sunday, 29 May 2011

In Production

The production process involves assembling elements from various sources, rapid prototyped, laser cut, off the shelf components and items commissioned from other craftsmen.

The picture below shows a tray of 3D printed models. The black material is a soluble support structure for overhanging areas. The whole tray is submerged in a solution for its removal.

All 59 models are laid out to check for errors and omissions. Note that there are eleven or thirteen of each model. The total number of each model defines whether the object appears to move forwards or backwards during the animation.

Each of the models is coded as are the stands and plate to which they are attached. Assembly involves matching the code of all three components. The digital animation provides an additional reference. The complete model is surprisingly sturdy.

The zoetrope has been developed in a modular fashion. There are many disciplines involved, including digital manufacturing, traditional wood work, finishing, metal work, model making and electronics. The modular approach allows several individuals to work on elements at the same time. It also aids construction and deconstruction for installation.

The stand, shown below in the craftsmen's workshop prior to finishing. The main box has large holes providing air circulation around the motor and power unit. Veneered panels slide into the routed slots on the legs.

The mechanism and internal components of the zoetrope were completely laser cut. One would assume that once cut assembly would be very simple, however, digital manufacturing techniques do have there draw backs.

There is a disconnect from the item during the design and assembly process that does not occur with traditional techniques. Traditional fabrication typically involves, marking, cutting and assembly. It's an organic process. In digital manufacturing marking and cutting are taken care of, but the items still need to be assembled. If a mistake happens, which is inevitable, then correction can be tricky. A simple example is a hole for attaching two items with a bolt. If this is positioned incorrectly then a new hole needs to be created. However, the marking process was taken care of on the computer possibly weeks or months before. Consequently there are no markings on the object from which to work.

The image below shows yours truly assembling the bottom light and centre shaft, embracing the idiosyncrasies of digital, then ultimately analogue manufacturing.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Prototyping 6.

The colour scheme for the geometry was developed together with the animation. Having matched the colours I proceeded to experiment with application.

The 3D printing technique creates layers of ABS plastic. It starts at the bottom and works upwards. A side affect of this process is that the object has very fine ridges. When moisture is applied the surface has a wicking effect.

I experimented with various methods of application and grounds to find a balance between finish and ease of application (there are fifty nine objects after all)

The stands were finished as the background. Consequently they are far more discreet.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Prototyping 5.

This piece of work is referred to as M16.2. The "M" stands for, "machine", and the numbers are an index and version. This is number 16, version 2, of an ongoing series of optical devices (machines) currently around the 22 mark. I'm constantly exploring new ideas in all media. Not everything gets finished and there is no relevance to the index. The naming convention makes it easy for me to catalogue things, particularly when much of the work is digital. It makes it simpler for others too, rather than saying something like, "the big spinning one".

As I mentioned this is version 2. M16.1 is shown in the post, 'A Zoetrope! What's That?' During the interim I have made many prototypes, finding solutions to problems and discovering new ones. The major [technical] differences between these versions is the addition of lights, a motor and a stand. The image below shows prototypes made in February 2011.

The image on the left shows a full scale mechanical prototype. It's probably worth mentioning that this machine differs slightly from a traditional zoetrope. This piece rotates in two directions, the animation one way, the shutter the opposite. This means that the viewer does not look through the piece, rather just straight at it. Of course a mechanism is required for this functionality and that needed to be prototyped.

The image on the right shows a Heath Robinson style prototype where I was experimenting with a good viewing height for the shutter. I used masking tape to adjust the height of the clothes rack...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Prototyping 4.

My post, Prototyping 2, documented development of the animation models and stands. The technique used for the stand proved effective. The model, not quite so. The origami technique was cumbersome. A lot of accuracy was lost in the process, furthermore, it was labour intensive.

Rapid Prototyping is a relatively new technology that allows artists to create physical models from digital data. Its perfect for this project.

There are a range of techniques and materials available. The process I used for these prototypes was 3D printing The final object is translucent white, made from ABS plastic.

The object is approximately 3mm thick and completely rigid. This meant that I could redesign the stand, reducing the posts from two to one. This is a far more elegant solution. The stands and interior of the zoetrope will be finished in matt white. I've found in previous prototypes that the stands somehow dissappear as the viewers attention is on the animation.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Prototyping 3.

I mentioned in a previous post that the zoetrope should allude to a beautiful item of furniture, a light even. Now that I am entering the production phase it is necessary to choose materials and consider how they contribute to the final product.

The zoetrope functions due to the persistence vision, the same phenomena that creates cinema. Viewers often consider this and the mechanical nature of the zoetrope as something, "technical". I decided to construct the stand of the zoetrope from quality hardwood as a means of grounding it in the natural world. It goes against the notion of something space age. It is also familiar in the language of furniture and interior design.

The shutter action of the zoetropes 'drum' requires [colour] contrast, so a dark finish is required. Whilst feeling that wood is the right material, I don't want to create something Victorian, or in any kind of antique aesthetic.

I chose walnut, a cool dark wood that is sustainable. I experimented with various finishes, but the material is so beautiful that it should be celebrated in its natural state. Clear water based lacquer protects the wood and exaggerates the grain. I have a susspicion that the veneered shutter will result in walnut overload, so a flat black finish is in reserve.

The image shows a plain walnut sample, clear lacquer and flat black. What isn't completely clear in the image is that the black retains the wood texture. The finish is flat, the material is not.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Prototyping 2.

A traditional zoetrope uses a strip of 2D images to create animation. My approach uses 3D models. Why? The 3D models create a richer experience. The viewer has three immediate areas of interest as things move towards, parallel and away from the viewing plane. Parallax also occurs, objects further away appear to move slower than those up close. Finally is the object. Just as sculpture it can be viewed from all angles. The viewer must engage with the piece.

The purpose of this prototype was to develop an effective means of accurately recreating the forms developed within the animation software. There are two elements. The 'animation' geometry and the stands.

Each animation object has two stands in order that it is displayed at the correct position and orientation. There are 59 objects resulting in 118 unique stands. The stands are very simple. A foot with a vertical shaft and an attachment specifically oriented to meet the animation geometry.

The animation geometry is also simple, a flat shape deformed (curved) along its length. It seems logical that these shapes could be treated as origami, folding a flat shape into the desired pose.

The quantity of elements and the accuracy required along with the developmental media (digital) mean that digital fabricating techniques are the most appropriate. This approach is an important part of my practice, though it does not seem appropriate to explore that within this post.

As both the stand and the animation geometry could be developed from 2D shapes, laser cutting seemed like the most appropriate approach. For those unfamiliar with the technology, a laser cutter is a laser mounted vertically that can move horizontally in 2 axis. A computer file defines its path, the speed at which it moves and the power of the laser. Its an affective method of quickly and accurately cutting flat shapes.

The final prototype. The stand technique has proved very effective, the animation geometry not quite so. The origami approach has a few flaws which I hope will be addressed in the prototype currently in production... if it worked first time, then there would be no need to prototype.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


As my background is in 3D (computer graphics) I've developed all the designs, animation and mechanical, in that media. Until you experience something in the real world though, you have no idea if it's going to work. Now that the animation is complete I'll be prototyping all the physical elements prior to final fabrication.

The image below shows a single segment prototype of the zoetrope (one of twelve) As the top of the machine will be covered the animation will receive little natural light. Consequently a series of LEDs provide illumination above and below. These create pinpoint light so they require diffusion. This is achieved via a perspex shade. The prototype allows me to experiment with brightness and quantity of LED as well as diffusion.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Animation Layout

I've developed the animation for this piece using techniques typical to my traditional [3D CG] animation work. However, this sequence will be recreated in the real world. Consequently it's subject to a different range of parameters. In film things are often 'cheated'. A common problem is geometry intersections. Usually these are painted out or hidden behind other objects, but this won't be possible with [individual] physical models.

The motion and colour choices were made hand in hand. The illusion of depth and motion change dramatically if for example, a pink form is replaced by blue or white. The swatch image illustrates how colours were sampled and tweaked in the earlier concept art prior to use in the animation.

I created many versions adding and removing content. The intention was to create something that sustains interest, balancing colour, form and motion. A zoetrope can only display 12 frames, so the content is looped. Initially the animation can be quite overwhelming, but after a few seconds the viewers understanding settles and a better appreciation of individual elements emerges.

I haven't posted the animation as I felt that would deflate the release of the final piece. The two stills show the animation at the loop and mid way point.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

A Zoetrope! What's That?

It's been brought to my attention that not everyone knows what a zoetrope is. Here's the Wikipedia entry The piece that I'll be making at What It Is has a twist on the idea. First of all the animation is a series of models. Also, the inside and outside of the machine move in different directions. The advantage is that the animation can be moved up to the shutter (drum) The viewer sees a larger animation in 3D with a better feel of foreshortening as things move towards and away. The video below is a prototype I made from cardboard. The bird animation (12 models) were 'stolen' from the Clark video further down the page.


It's my intention that the zoetrope function as a beautiful item of furniture independently of its performance abilities. The design is a typical example of form follows function. A stand to achieve the correct height, a box to house the mechanism and a cylindrical shutter for the animation. There is certainly a similarity to a floor light. As the shutter contains an array of LED's that can be turned on with or without the animation, the similarity is not merely aesthetic. The stand will be manufactured from quality hardwood whilst the box and shutter will be finished in a similar veneer.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Stars And Stripes

Whenever I'm in the US I'm always struck by the number of flags everywhere. I often find myself marveling at how they blow around in the wind. They're most interesting when twisted or tangled, which seems to challenge the notion of how a flag should look. I always imagine it as a rectangle. I'll be using the Stars and Stripes as a starting point for the animation in my zoetrope. Here's an indication of where things are heading...

What It Is.

I'm currently artist in residence at in Chicago, Illinois, where I'll be making a large scale zoetrope. Here's what I'm looking at through the window when I should be working...