Can you tell us a little bit about Squidsoup and what you do?
Squidsoup make immersive and interactive digital art experiences. We have been around since the late 1990’s, working in interaction design and digital media art.
We originally made websites, CD-ROMs and so on. I got increasingly frustrated with the screen, as it acted as a boundary, a barrier between you (the viewer) and the content you are looking at. We made various attempts to break down that boundary, including 3D specs, projection mapping onto physical objects and so on, culminating in the Ocean of Light approach which uses large 3D arrays of lights to visualise digital forms in physical space.
What’s the technology behind Ocean of Light?
The main visible component is about 6,000 individually controllable LED lights. These are updated in real time from a computer that sits behind the scenes. There are also various other items of electronics that have been adapted from video-wall technology to enable us to map screen pixels onto actual LED lights in real time.
In order to make it work, we had to build our own volumetric 3D software engine. This is different to a normal 3D engine, like a games engine for example, because it’s concerned with what is INSIDE an object, rather than just its surface. So we have built this virtual 3D space that includes particle emitters, shapes and forms. We then map that back into the physical world so people can coexist with these virtual objects and forms.
How did the work first come about?
The piece is the latest in an ongoing series of works that explore themes of presence and form in hybrid spaces (combining the physical and the virtual). The work on this project started in 2007 and is still going.
Here is a video of the first experiments we made (with the help of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) back in 2007.
How has it developed over the past few years?
Well, clearly we’ve augmented the scale of the piece. From 1m3 to 7m x 7m and 5m high for the piece we are showing at Leicester Diwali – and we’ve gone even bigger. The software has improved immeasurably as well, so we can now create new 3D/volumetric content really quickly, simulate it, make it interactive if required (by using people tracking), and so on.
What’s next for the Ocean of Light series?
We have current exhibitions in Buenos Aires and Pitlochry (Ayrshire, Scotland) as well as in Leicester. The piece has proven quite popular so we hope to keep showing it and, of course, to improve it. We’d like to go MUCH bigger for a start, and we have some ideas on what we could show in a really massive version.
We also have plans to ‘de-centralise’ the work, so each light is more autonomous and acts on its own to an extent, rather than taking direct orders from a central computer.
How do you feel the work fits into Diwali with its celebration of light?
I’ve been to a couple of Diwali festivals in India and found them to be a wonderful and hugely inspiring mix of celebration and spirituality. Clearly, light is at the centre of all life and would not even exist without it. The symbolism of light and its spiritual dimension are very apparent and referred to by many light artists, and in popular parlance with phrases like ‘seeing the light’, ‘the light within’ and so on. Light is still mystical and powerful, and was the inspiration for, and the medium used, in this piece.
We are honoured to have been invited to take part in Leicester’s Diwali celebrations this year, and really looking forward to seeing the mix of cultures and visual styles that will no doubt occur.
Anthony Rowe founded Squidsoup in 1997. He has some 20 years experience in digital media and interaction design; as an artist, designer, teacher and researcher.
In a former existence, Anthony sailed single-handed across the Atlantic (1988). He also has an MA in Design for Interactive Media (Middlesex University, 1997) and a PhD that explores interaction and immersion in Mixed Reality spaces (Oslo School of Architecture and Design, 2015).