Fulldome Visualist Ethan Bach on The Five Spot with InPark Magazine

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InPark News Editor Joe Kleiman asked him five questions.  Here’s what he had to say:

1. Why are domes the perfect medium for interpreting aboriginal art and culture? 

I believe digital domes are a great way to share many expressions of art, culture, and storytelling. The immersive high resolution images paired with surround sound has a strong influence on the audience that is very different that traditional flat screen.The mere size of the image coupled with the curved screen means the audience feels like they are moving instead of the image on the screen. For over a decade, I have been working with Native Americans in higher education and for the past two and a half years in the digital dome. Empowering Natives and other Indigenous cultures to produce work for  the digital dome utilizes the medium for a much needed voice.

The way I was trained to work with any underprivileged or non-dominant group is to empower that group to tell their own stories. I don’t believe it would be appropriate for me to take someone else’s stories or experiences and retell them from a place of authority on the subject. As a white male who has access to this (and other) technology, along with all the other privileges that have led me to have this access, I believe it is imperative to share these skills with those who have previously been excluded.

A good example of this would be if I wanted to do a project about giving birth. I have heard about what giving birth is like, I know many people who have given birth and I have heard their stories and experiences first hand. Does that make me the best person to make a film on giving birth? Probably not. I would need to consult with several people and it would make sense if a person who has given birth was a lead on the project.

Just as giving birth is an experience only certain people have had or are an authority on, the same lies with Indigenous arts and culture. There are so many things that need to be taken into consideration when sharing someone else’s story that it is almost impossible to not be offensive as an outsider. I am not saying that it can’t be done, but that one must relieve their ego and allow respect to come first.

In speaking with Navajo artist Will Wilson about this question, this was his response: “…new media tech has unhinged the authority of texts in an interesting manner, and perhaps people who are from historically oral traditions are predisposed to operate more fluidly in those information systems.” What Will is saying makes a lot of sense. Oral tradition allows for more creative approaches to storytelling than conforming to specific narrative patterns found in the dominant culture. To allow Indigenous people access and training to create their own stories in the dome could open up entire new approaches to storytelling in this medium that we can all learn from.

In general, the digital dome is an excellent place for Indigenous arts and culture to be displayed because the stories and the images tend to have more of a spherical non-linear basis than non-Indigenous derived content. From traditional to contemporary Indigenous art and cultural representation, the dome provides a dynamic pallet for Indigenous people to share their experiences with a wider audience.

2. How did the DOD grant come about? 

As a digital artist, I wanted to create something to create easy dome master playback and to diversify what can be shown in a dome. In my artistic practice my focus is on creating immersive interactive media installations. The Department of Defense uses digital domes for training simulations. It was a perfect pairing of needs. The DOD needed a more interactive training environment to create better simulated environments and we needed an interactive immersive environment to expand the possibilities of art and storytelling.

My first charge as the Digital Dome Manager at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) was as a primary researcher for a National Science Foundation for fulldome development. The grant included developments in software, education and training and surface mapping. The Department of Defense grant was an opportunity to continue building on two of those components; education and training and software development.

In the first year of the grant, Charles Veasey and I developed vDome.  vDome is the world’s first software for the digital dome that runs off a single computer and allows for easy plug and play, VJing, interactive art, and gaming. I have been working closely with Charles, since we met in 2006 while attending the Electronic Arts MFA program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Charles and I have worked on several projects where we created video driven interactive immersive experiences through custom software. Working in the digital dome was simply an evolution of our own research and developments as technology driven artists.

3. The IAIA dome is currently used as part of a larger arts curriculum. Can you foresee degrees being offered exclusive to dome visualization? 

Part of the future of the digital dome and it’s development relies on college curriculum and workshops for artists and producers. The dome is still an untapped resource considering it’s potential. In order to utilize the dome’s potential, there will need as many people as possible envisioning, dissecting, and creating.

I can see the dome being integrated into a wide variety of higher education curriculum. For media arts, skills taught in the dome can translate into print, flat screen, installation and web.  Museum students can use the dome to view details of cultural objects as three dimensional virtual objects that they would not otherwise get to see except for in a small picture. Archaeology students can build virtual sites for studying and for digital preservation. The dome is an endless landscape for improving current learning modalities.

With the help of vDome, and the like, the dome will become less intimidating and more dynamic for integrative learning and art creation. Colleges, science centers, digital planetariums need to start holding courses, workshops and art shows in their domes. It will help create jobs, increase revenue for the dome, and open up a whole new generation of advancement in immersive cinema.

4. You recently left IAIA. How has that institution helped you grow as an artist?

I am grateful I had the opportunity to serve as the digital dome manager at the Institute of American Indian Arts. The digital dome is a great medium of complexity and untapped potential to wrap my mind around. Coming to the fulldome field as an artist and researcher who focused on interactive immersive video installation it was amazing to help develop vDome and add some new artistic skills to my quiver. Not only has working in the digital dome opened up a whole new aspect of my artwork, but it has also influenced my career path.

Digital domes are now a strong part of my repertoire. I have spent the past two and a half years focused on how to create and teach others to create content for this unique medium. Since working in the dome, I have become heavily influenced by DSLR photography techniques such as HDR, photogrammetry, and image stitching. My interest in combining digital photography and 3D environments including working with gaming engines is peeked. I have begun adding these techniques into my own artwork not only for the digital dome, but for single channel, web, installation, and print.

I have spent the past two and a half years focused on how to create and teach others to create content for this unique medium. Since working in the dome, I have become heavily influenced by DSLR photography techniques such as HDR, photogrammetry, and image stitching. My interest in combining digital photography and 3D environments including working with gaming engines is peeked. I have begun adding these techniques into my own artwork not only for the digital dome, but for single channel, web, installation, and print.

My recent artwork, The Royal Road Project, is a collaboration with Charles Veasey and J Craig Tompkins. It’s an interactive digital installation that journeys through one of the most significant trails in early North American history, the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. The project was created using DSLR video and stills and is now being displayed on a custom panoramic monitor with an aspect ration of 16:4.2. I have also recently created a panoramic canvas print from the project that has an 8:1 aspect ratio and measures 72” x 9”. I have begun to explore panoramic and spheric video and am working on my own dome productions. So you can say that working in the digital dome has opened my perspective to thinking and creating outside of the box whether that box is a standard monitor or a room.

Professionally my focus is now on working as a consultant, project manager and art producer for multimedia projects including fulldome. My goal is to work on both short term and long term projects with an emphasis on immersive media specifically fulldome environments. I am interested in facilitating installation and calibration of vDome, providing artist and producer workshops, helping educational institutions explore how to use their domes more effectively, producing content and curating fulldome art shows.

5. Does the future of fulldome lie with the inked, pierced, and dreadlocked?

It does not surprise me that the fulldome is attracting those who work with a theme of transforming experiences. With media artists, VJs and DJs interested in the digital dome environment, there are bound to be those of us who have tattoos, body piercings, and various hair styles. The dome is becoming an open environment for experimentation and exploration. The fact that science centers that house domes are looking for more life and activity and now that vDome is out in the world, it should make this technology a lot more accessible for various people including the inked, pierced, and dreadlocked.

Because of the work I have been involved with, one can also expect an influx of Native Americans and women involved in the fulldome production and art. I had one student produce a dome piece about violence against Transgender people on reservations. I have worked with artists that used abstractions and interactivity in the dome with a Kinect to express concepts of Indigenous astronomy. There are dome artists who are specializing in dome dance films. As the technology opens up more to various people having access, I think we will see a new breath of work to push this industry forward.

The dome is one of the next big things in the way of cinema and arts entertainment

and it is my vision to help more people have access and knowledge of how to create utilizing this technology. The fulldome industry will see a large increase in audience attendance when this happens.

To find out more about vDome visit www.artandemergingtechnology.com

www.ethanbach.com

Thank you Joe Kleiman and InPark Magazine for the article.

Original Article from InPark Magazine

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