Ali, the cat. The camera replaces memory.
My final project combined a few different ideas I’ve been working with for a while now—cats with camera/screen faces, heiroglyphics or patterns of icons, the mona lisa. My interest was mostly using an anthropomorphic, cartoon like character, with a camera, to represent some kind of memory or interpretation/translation of reality into a video environment. I wanted to use augmented reality originally, but it would have been too difficult to get AR working in the time frame of the class, and using chroma keys with different colors worked pretty well for my purpose. The resulting aesthetic was a lot more bootleg than what the AR probably would have looked like. I liked the chroma key for this project, but I will probably try to incorporate AR in the future.
To me this wasn’t a fully realized project, but more of a chance to experiment with different ideas I’ve had for a potential thesis project or just an installation. I’m really excited about the possibility of using my own cartoony icon drawings as AR markers. I’m also intersted in creating sculptures like some of the pieces we saw in class that use live video to change the way a space looks in a screen.
Building the cat wasn’t too hard. I made a wire armature and attached a couple of servos, and then played with the servos and a couple of FSRs to figure out a simple walk cycle. Then I put the camera into the face.
I made a test environment out of a cardboard box and some construction paper I found.
I put together some video content, hieroglyphics, text, cat videos and other animals. I think this content needs to be refined, but some combination of text and symbols seems to be the best thing. The text is kind of funny and gives literal meaning to the cat thoughts. The symbols add ambiguity to the meaning of the piece.
I also needed to make a larger environment for the cat to move around in. An art gallery seemed like a good choice with the chroma key, because the white walls would make the video cleaner. I like the idea of a little robotic cat walking around an art gallery, but I’m not sure if the message is exactly what I want to say. The mona lisas didn’t really work, I would rather have just had solid colors, but I thought they looked cool when I started making it.
Building the gallery, I used only wood scraps from the shop, I only had to buy white spray paint:
I built a track for the cat to walk around.
At first I wanted to build the cat without any cables attaching him to the computer, but it was going to be a lot of work to set up the camera with a radio transmission and get a small enough battery setup for the cat to walk. Instead I wound a usb extension together with a DSL cable that I stripped to hook the cat up to the Arduino. That setup ended up being to heavy, and the cat would tip over a lot. I fixed that somewhat by making the cats walking motion smaller and slower, so his body didn’t jerk around as much.
Here’s a video of the cat walking and the what the monitor shows from the feed in his camera:
You can see the graininess of the camera works well with the chroma key to create a kind of comic/cartoon effect. But because the lighting is a bit too yellow and the camera auto corrects the color balance, the chroma key shifts a lot. It would probably make sense to control the conditions even more, like having more lighting and less movement from the cat.
Overall I learned about using certain video effects and live video feed with motion and thought a lot about the meaning behind my camera cat creatures and what may be possible to do as video installations in the future.