MEZ is an interactive, live, real-time video art installation. When you walk up to MEZ, you see your own image on a video screen, processed as if you are in an impressionist painting, then a stained glass window, then a range of other surprising effects. The image updates continuously and much of the effect is determined by how you move, so you can dance and play with it for hours!
MEZ was inspired by the 'imp' and 'impression' still-image processing programs by Paul Haeberli of SGI (Silicon Graphics Incorporated), now of PhotoViva fame. These programs were in turn inspired by impressionist painters, who built an image of a scene by picking certain important colors from the scene and making complete brush strokes with those colors.
MEZ is custom software (OpenGL in C++) written by Chris Pirazzi, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. It runs on Windows PCs.
MEZ is my hobby and I have been working on it since 1991.
I brought MEZ to the Burning Man festival more than 12 times starting in 2001 (since 2004 it has lived at Camp Nose Fish in 3 o'clock plaza, center camp, and Rod's road), shown it at the Exploratorium science museum in San Francisco in October 2015, shown it in Dali, Yunnan, China, and also shown it many times in Pai, a small village in the mountains of Northern Thailand where I have lived for several years.
MEZ is not currently available in any form (product or otherwise), but as I have poured many years of work into it, I am considering ways of packaging it (e.g. as a standalone performance program, a screen saver, a module for Max/MSP or jitter, an After Effects filter, or other). If you are interested in MEZ, please send me information about how you would like to use it and features/video formats/file formats/... which you would need.
In the typical outdoor setup, the projector and computer are inside a moving van, panel van, or pickup truck for security, dust, and rain protection (cannot use a small car: the vehicle cab has to have lots of air space otherwise the projector will overheat):
In this configuration, I need 18' behind the screen for the truck, and at least 8' in front of the screen for the lights and the dancing people. The lights must be about 4' in front of the screen for the camera angle and spill to work out correctly.
Elevation (one square is 1' x 1'):
This is a picture of the setup from Burning Man 2002:
Nowadays, my screen is an 8'x8' DA-Lite fastfold screen (shored up against the high winds with a 2x4 support) instead of that wooden monstrosity in the picture, and I sometimes raise the lights up 2' for better lighting of people's faces (wind allowing).
Here is a more modern Burning Man setup, with the projector inside the van:
Here is a high-tech visualization of a typical indoor installation (this diagram does not show all the structure/trim we needed to use to secure the projector and other equipment from kids and participants in altered states):
The most time-consuming part of an indoor installation is typically erecting sufficient structure/barriers/trim to prevent kids and other participants from running behind the screen, tripping on cables, damaging the projector/computer, etc. For the Exploratorium setup we used a combination of barriers, rubber cable troughs, floor tape, and masking curtains:
If possible, an even better solution is to place the projector in a back room and project through a wall made of rear-projection screen material.
Running MEZ off a generator requires a generator with very stable power (not a typical cheap-o 2000W generator designed for construction tools) because nearly every projector contains protective circuitry that will shut off the lamp if the voltage wanders more than 10-20V off standard. This is critical because projector lamps will explode if it is shut off and on again quickly! So in order to keep the installation running, a proper generator is needed.
High-Sensitivity Camera: The camera is the single most important component to make MEZ work. It must capture rich colors in a dark/night situation, which is beyond the capability of most cameras (even with the bright fluorescent lights shown above). I used a security camera with an unusually large (light-sensitive) 1/3" CCD because it was small, could handle the dust, and doesn't look expensive and stealable like a camcorder. X10-type cheap tiny cameras are right out—not enough light sensitivity and colors are insufficient. Some higher-end camcorders may work if you can secure them too. Mobile phone cameras are not up to the task either.
Rear vs. Front Projection: Rear projection is kind of a necessity, otherwise participant blocks the projector beam as they are tying to dance and enjoy the experience. Typical front projection solutions don't work because the screen has to be raised higher than the participant and the participant ends up crooking their neck. There are some modern, ceiling-mounted front projectors that feature extremely sharp off-axis projection down to a nearby wall. These may work too (there are some successfully deployed for interactive video art in museums where space is limited) but there is a pretty big tradeoff of picture quality.
Projector—No Color Wheels! A 2500 lumen or brighter LCD or DLP projector with XGA resolution is fine, but the most important thing is not to choose a cheapie projector with a color wheel. Color wheels are a cost-saving measure in low-end projectors that produce disturbing rainbow effects if you move your head/eyes while watching the video. This really damages MEZ because the participant is pretty much guaranteed to be moving continuously!
Light Masking: It's critical to avoid light spill from either side onto the RP screen. Even the light from a small flame or distant light bulb is enough to cut the contrast in half and produce a much less satisfying experince. My flourescent light stands (see above) mask off any light from spilling backwards onto the screen. An important part of any installation is getting to know the neighbors and find out what lights they will have, working with them to position everyone's stuff to minimize light spill.
Light Type: Although you can light the participant with incandescent lights or the typical bright camera-mounted halogen camera light, the color and general aesthetic appeal of what you get on the screen is remarkably better with daylight flourescent bulbs. The quality difference is so much that it's enough to justify the pain of masking this non-focused light source, and the pain of dealing with cosmetic fears by participants that they don't like "seeing themselves" in flourescent light at night because it looks "unnatural." Maybe in 10 years we will have cameras which can adapt to incandescent light as human eyes do, but we are not there yet.
Light Angle: It seems relatively important for the participant light to be bright at face-level. At BM 2002 the lights went from ground to 4' off the ground and faces were unsatisfying. At BM 2003 they went from 2'-6' and it was mobetta, however this presents ongoing challenges with the wind as well.
Computer: Since 2004, "gaming" laptops with higher end graphics have been plenty fast for the OpenGL processing done by MEZ. Such a relief to no longer have to keep a Desktop working in the desert!
Video Input: The computer will need to have a video input from the camera. For modern laptops this will be a USB dongle (do not trust anything using WiFi or Bluetooth). For standard-definition video (both analog and digital) there are literally hundreds of brands of low-cost dongles available (typical prices are USD $20-$30) but almost none of them can actually deliver 30 frame per second uncompressed video into the MEZ software for processing, because they were designed for very different applications (movie capture via hardware compression). Even USB2 and above dongles often do not even come close to running at real-time speed. So you will definitely need to try many dongles and drivers. For HD input you are definitely talking USB3 minimum and it is very difficult to find anything that works in real-time and has a software driver stable enough to work in a standalone art installation. If anyone knows good SD or HD input dongles, please let me know at email@example.com.
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