Industrial Evolution

(c) 2000, Christa SOMMERER & Laurent MIGNONNEAU

developed for "Vision Ruhr" - International exhibition of media art
at the Zeche Zollern, Dortmund, Germany

suppoted by ATR Media Integration and Communications Research Lab, Kyoto
design support: Robeto Lopez Gulliver

1. Conceptual background

In the installation "Industrial Evolution," users can interact with historic images from the time of the Industrial Revolution. Images of factories, mines, assembly lines, production facilities and related administration facilities show the public's fascination with the technical accomplishments of those times, somehow similar to our fascination with the digital revolution of our times. Images selected partly refer to the "Zeche Zollern," a coal mine in the Ruhrgebiet region of Germany, while others are taken from factories and production mills around the world. Many of these images have originally been captured as stereo images, they have been viewed by a so called "stereo viewer" to create a 3D immersive effect for the viewer.

Driven by the desire to combine these historic images with modern digital technology and to make them interactively accessible to the users, we have created a virtual reality system that enables interactive real-time integration of users into and interaction with these historic images. As a user of the system steps into the installation environment he will find himself projected onto the screen in front of him and three-dimensionally integrated into these images. When moving in the installation space he also moves in the virtual space of the three-dimensional historic image, the space dimension of the real space being exactly matched to the dimension of the virtual space.

2. Interaction and integration in virtual space

By applying our in-house depth extraction method, we can calculate the three-dimensionality for each of the 2-D photographic images and use the resulting depth information to create three-dimensionally accessible virtual images. We first applied this depth extraction method in 1999 in a research project called "Time_Lapse" [1]. Here users could enter historic stereo images and interact with them in real time by using their body gestures.  In "Industrial Evolution" we apply the same method and use a camera tracking system to detect the user's gestures. As the user moves in the installation set up his gestures are captured and linked to certain image events on the screen: as the user for example raises or lowers his hands, image scenes can change backwards or forwards. By using a specific gesture, the user can even leave a snapshot of himself within the 3-D historic image. In this case the 2 D image of the user's body becomes integrated into the 3-D historic image and the final result can be printed by a laser printer and taken home by the user.

3. Presence, Time Travel and Virtual Sightseeing

Presence is usually understood as "both a subjective and an objective description of
a person's state with respect to an environment," [2] and the notion of being present in a remote place is commonly called telepresence [3] [4]. "Industrial Evolution" deals with the concept of telepresence, as the distributed presence of the user's image can be integrated into different images of the past. Similar to the idea of "touring the world from home through stereo images" in the mid-19 century, [5] "Industrial Evolution" provides a system of time travel that allows a seamless integration of past and present. As in a virtual sightseeing tour, users interactively access historic images of the past, interact with them, and integrate themselves into these images.

4. Reality and Virtuality

As the border between real and virtual space becomes increasingly blurred and permeable, we as artists are interested in creating environments that widen the user's conventional perceptions of space, presence and telepresence. While most of our other computer installations deal with the concept of "the living" and the "artificially living" [6], "Industrial Evolution" questions the relationships between presence and representation and between reality and virtuality.


[1] C. Sommerer, L. Mignonneau and R. Lopez-Gulliver, "Time_lapse: immersive interaction with historic 3-D stereo images," in 5th International Conference on Virtual Systems and MultiMedia (VSMM'99) Conference Proceedings, (Dundee, Scotland, 1999), pp. 295-307.

[2] S. Bly, S. Harrison and S. Irwin, "Media spaces: bringing people together in a video, audio and computing environment," Communications of the ACM, 36(1), 1993, pp. 28-47.

[3] M. Slater and S. Wilbur, "A Framework for Immersive Virtual Environments (FIVE): Speculations on the Role of Presence in Virtual Environments," Presence, Vol.6, December 1997, pp. 603-616.

[4] C. Cool, R.S. Fish, R.E. Kraut and C.M. Lowery, "Iterative design of video communications systems," Proceedings of CSCW'92, 1992, Toronto, Canada, pp. 25-32.

[5] T. Moriyama, "Whither Love of 3D - 3D Love Afterwards", In 3D-Beyond the Stereography, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography,
1996, pp. 17.-23

[6] C. Sommerer and L. Mignonneau, "Art as a Living System," in Art @ Science. (Wien/New York: Springer Verlag, 1998) pp. 148-161.