Sweep the Monster off of its..Steel Feet

With our steel structure close to being done, my team and I needed to start thinking about ways to make the other teams’ lives and job more easier, along with an easy assembly of the structure during set up. The eye team needed areas where they were able to suspend and/or place their eyeballs on the structure that wouldn’t obstruct the lighting team’s vertical LED lighting or the nest wall team’s application of the walls. This is where guest artist Parker Jennings really came in handy for this particular leg of the project.

Parker came in with this idea of creating a web of crossbars on the outer parts of the structure made out of pencil rod. These crossbars would reinforce the structure and give the other teams areas to place their contributions to the nest. While this was a great idea, we were worried about the strength of the pencil rod up against the heavy duty materials and technology that would be put on it. We didn’t want to risk anything being damaged so we went back to the drawing board and came up with using flatbar.

The flatbar solved the same problem of not obstructing the lighting team’s LED strips and gave the eye team and nest wall team easier attachment points to the nest while reiinforcing the strength of the entire structure ten-fold.

To put the straight flatbar on the arched structure, our team bent the bar by hand by clamping an end to the structure, welding it in place, bending and clamping to another area, and repeating the process. At the end we used a grinder to separating the six arches from each other for easy assembly at the installation site.

With the structure done, we wanted to create some sweeps to the structure to add some depth to it, elevate the nest and make sure no one was able to get too close to all the fragile moving parts inside the nest. These sweeps also gave an area for our sandbags to weigh down the nest in case someone leaned into it.

With the structure completely finished, it’s safe to say that was one of the most challenging endeavors i’ve had, coming in with no skills working with steell. It was also one of the most fun projects I have worked on and the nest came out great as a whole and made over 60,000 people very happy. Through our ups and downs we reached success and i could not be happier with the final product.

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3 Students vs. 1 Steel Monster

This journey was a test to my abilities and creation of new ones. I came in with some sculpture experience and set design skills but I had never worked with steel before. First thing we did was come up with a visual of a structure that was as close to the designer’s idea with the ability for other teams to build off of it.

Now that we had a design to go on. We went through the process of order the steel, having it bent and cleaning it. During this time, we also started collaborating with the designer to figure out what angle to cut the steel at. This area is where our problems started, where even though we triple checked these angles, the height didn’t reach our ten-foot goal. Guest artists Chris Labeck and Sarah Conway helped us during this process and we went back to the drawing board, using a lot of geometry and careful calculation. After we knew our angles were correct and tested them, we went into mass production of measuring angles, cutting steel, separating them into their respective categories and welding the ground pieces together under instruction of Sarah.

We achieved having pieces to make an arch type structure but had an unclosed space at the top of the structure with no idea how to connect the structure to each other. We thought about connecting them together with pencil rod, brackets, This is where our third guest artist, Mike Ortiz, came in with an idea of a ring to connect the top edges and only attached to only one part of a half arch for easy removal.

Up to this point I believe we’ve done a good job of creating the skeleton of the creek monster habitat The process is difficult and a bit tedious but rewarding because the addition of these new skills and the new relationships I have with these new artists. 

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Finding the Path…of Leaves

Aurora, from the leaf team, here. I never got around to talking about our process for creating the leaf path, so here goes. By design, the leaves needed to cover a a large swath of ground in an attractive way, lead visitors through the habitat, and allow young visitors an opportunity for safe interaction. To achieve these ends, the leaves took two different forms: a ground cloth fixed in place and individual loose leaves. Both of these elements needed to glow under black light.

The Finished Installation

My teammate and I knew from the beginning that time, durability, and cost of materials would be major constraints. As much as we would have liked to use real leaves for the loose leaves, we knew they weren’t practical. Laser cutting our own leaves from heavy card stock proved to be an advantageous solution. We could create shapes that mimicked those of the real leaves on site; they would move and rustle similarly to real leaves, and they would eventually biodegrade if they manages to escape our installation.

Our First Sheet of laser Cut Leaves
Testing The Glow of Different Pa

After much thought and testing, we settled on a layered approach to creating the ground cloth. The under layer, a plastic construction fencing, would provide stability and durability without retaining or trapping water. The upper layer, a perforated blue camouflage cloth, would give dimension when expanded and glow under the black light. I came up with the idea of attaching to two layers to each other with a tagging gun, the kind used to affix price tags to clothing.

Construction Fencing
Our First Test

The area underneath the nest structure proved to be its own unique challenge. Our original idea had been to fill that entire space with loose leaves ankle deep, but we could afford neither the time nor the materials to create so many leaves. The groundcloth from outside the nest, wasn’t quite right either; it just wasn’t strong or flat enough to to be a good walking surface in such a high traffic area. What, I thought, if we turned it upside down? That would solve the durability problem, but didn’t look all that great. We changed out the construction fencing for a garden fencing with a more screen like appearance. That did the trick.

It works!

An UnbeLEAFable Experience

Coming into this experience, I didn’t really know what to expect or what I wanted to do for the Creek Monster Habitat. As a stage manager, I don’t usually get to be super involved in the design and fabrication processes. I wanted to get the opportunity to break out of my shell.

After being given the task of creating a ground cloth that formed a leafy path, we didn’t know where to start. We explored many different ideas including weaving garlands, painting fabric, and painting actual leaves. Eventually, it was suggested that we experiment with construction fencing that we had as well as a camo hunting blind that had been purchased. Thus, our first prototype was born.

Creation of the First Ground Cloth Prototype

Once we created our first prototype, we decided this was how we wanted to proceed with making the ground cloth. We ordered more construction fencing and camo netting and began planning the assembly of our ground cloth. My teammate, Aurora, managed to create a map to determine the necessary sizes and shapes of ground cloth pieces based on the ground plan.

Map used to determine sections of the ground cloth

We began assembling the pieces by cutting construction fencing to the proper lengths and zip tying chunks together to fit our needs. Afterwards, we attached the camo netting using a tagging gun and rolled each of our six pieces to transport to the site.

We were also given the task of creating loose leaves to encourage audience interaction. We figured the best way to do this was to use a laser cutter to cut the leaf shapes. We tested with and researched a variety of materials from which to cut the leaves. We ended up choosing to cut the leaves out of a heavy paper. To increase UV visibility, we decided to splatter the leaves with UV reactive paint.

First Leaf Cutting Test

We had to be strategic about installation, laying the center piece after the nest was halfway assembled to hold the edges of the piece down and attaching the remainder of the piece with landscaping pins. After the nest was fully assembled, we began laying the remainder of the groundcloth pieces and securing them with landscaping pins.

Nest with the Groundcloth Laid Out

After opening, we learned how destructive over 60,000 people can be. Throughout the process, the ground cloth was pulled up and ripped, and we had to make repairs by repinning spots to fill the gaps.

Overall, this project helped me learn to be a better collaborator by better communication, how to manage time, and how to plan a project from design to fabrication,.

Reflections of a Creek Monster

When this course first began, not many of us knew what to expect.  I mean, a course focusing on creating a Creek Monster Habitat… what does that even mean?!  However as the weeks passed, the amazing guest artists came and went, and all the groups had to collaborate not only within themselves, but with other groups, the designers, and our fearless leader, Karen Maness – we all learned exactly what creating a Creek Monster Habitat entailed, and just how much work and trouble shooting was ahead…

Throughout this past semester, as a member of the Eye Team, I got to learn firsthand how critical prototypes are to either prove or disprove a concept before mass production on a fabrication project – and wow, by the end of the semester we had sure worked through some vastly different prototypes. I also learned how difficult making several blinking monster-eye sets (with 8 blinking eyes each) is to create via animatronics in a team where… no one really had substantial animatronics experience. Needless to say, despite a lot of great information and encouragement from our awesome Meow Wolf guest artist, Parker Jennings, we were ultimately so happy to scrap the idea of eye-blinking animatronics in favor of a more simple light & paint based eye-blinking tactic, but of course, that was only the beginning of the real work…

With only a few weeks to go before the show opened, and our mass production plan only now falling into place, we were lucky enough to have the skilled Emma Craig to lead us through the next few weeks of quick production.  This entailed pulling all the vacuform eyes, cutting their luan mounts, painting the eyes and boxes, sealing the boxes, disguising the eye-edges to blend in with the nest skin, and collaborating with the lighting team to figure out blinking logistics.  

But before we knew it, it was the day of installation and was amazing to be apart of this wacky and fun project!

Dear Creek Monster Habitat Class:

I have tried to type this intro at least a dozen times now… I just get so emotional.

I would like to begin with how much I appreciate each one of you. Classmates, collaborators, designers, friends. Not only I learned new abilities and delivered an amazing project, but I also found a great network of incredibly hardworking and talented people that I consider friends. After so much overthinking I decided to highlight all the triumphs I can think of over our 10-week span.

Week 1.

We successfully identified the story, function, audience/stakeholders, and constraints about this project. As well as what we brought into the class and what we wanted to get out of it.

Oh and we learned how to weave? That was cool.

photo: Laura Godinez

Week 2.

Welcome to the team. As soon as we went with our teams we started to work, the lighting team, pictured below talked about how we were going to light us the eyes and how we wanted to control them.

Week 3.

Prototypes! The eyes team came up with this little guy, the structures team had a model of how the framework was going to look and the LX team had a magic sheet of how the lights were going to look.

blinking prototype from the eyes team

Week 4.

We saw more light options for the eyes and some music samples

LED diode behind the big eyeball prototype from the Eyes team

Week 5.

the structure went from metal pieces to a dome in a weekend. The LX team created a magic sheet that could run effects on their EOSnomad and started working on color palettes.

Week 6.

The skin team got to see their prototype working as intended with fishing nets and a bamboo frame, the eyes team decided to use vacuum form for all the large eye sets and the LX team figured out how to control multiple software sending OSC messages (OSC means open sound control and it’s used to talk to and control computers in the same network.

Week 7.

the LX team recorded effects using groups in the magic sheet. The effects had a great effect on the overall look so all colors were chosen so it would be visually pleasant. The eye team scored another goal by figuring out the small eye boxes and how to move forward from the “blink” and the leaf team showed us the best UV glowing paper ever.

Week 8 – 9

I blurred those two weeks together. I just remember there was a lot of soldering, more than I could have ever imagined. The LX team tested the eye boxes with LED tape and they looked wonderful! However, since the eye team had cut the expensive blink mechanism we needed 3 large eye sets and 10 eye boxes. We cut cable, solder the connection ends, cut the LED tape, and solder some more. We also solder the raspberry pi boards, all the LED diodes to ribbon cable, we tested the LED diodes for the large eyes, we also extended all the LED tape on the structure and made 2 control boxes for the DMX decoders to live inside them. All this while all the other teams were going strong! The Eye team painted and crafted the large eyes and boxes, the leaf team cut and put together an enormous amount of construction fence, the structures team harvested for the skin team while they dressed the nest, and the music team made a sound network with 16 speakers.

Week 9 and the beginning of week 10 were the most stressful for the LX team and Davin and Delena and Karen…

Week 10.

Oh, week 10… lots of triumphs!

WORTH IT!

Reflections on Leaves, illusion, and interactivity.

Standing under the trees watching thousands of people emerge from the creek path and view our Monster Habitat for the first time gave me perspective on the process of creating this exhibit. The ground cloth, that I had been staring at up close under bright fluorescents for the last six weeks, transformed under blacklight to the glowing sea of leaves it was always meant to be.

 In the scenic studio

The fully lit installation

Young children played joyously in the blue glow. They tossed loose leaves and chased each other back and forth across the leaf cloth–until one of them tripped and fell.

We created an illusion of real leaves, an effective mirage, and we invited the public to interact with it. The illusion worked a little too well. The young guests wanted to drag their feet through the leaves, to kick them up in the air. The adults wanted to see how every aspect of the installation worked, to tug and pry at the illusion. As a theatre technician, it is my job to help create the appearance of reality on stage for the delight of audiences, but only knowing participants have physical contact with my work. The actors who interact with the things I build are aware of the illusion and take pains to maintain it. Perhaps the results of audience participation in the illusion should not have surprised me, but they did.

At first I was saddened by the crying child and the ongoing deterioration of the leaf cloth and other parts of the installation. However, the tears dried up, and my classmates and I patched up our creation. The tripping children were not careless; they were taken in by the mirage. Even the adults were not willfully destructive; they acted childishly out of curiosity. Sure, next time I work on an interactive exhibit, I will strive to make it stronger and safer. For now, I think the ability to play and wonder is worth a few tears and some elbow grease.

Working at the installation site

ETCnomad console – a Monstrous review.

If you’re a lighting design student or want to become and are debating whether or not to buy the “ETCnomad Educational package here are some pros and cons that I experience from using it on a regular basis to build the Creek monster habitat.

Pros

  • Your laptop is the console.

“You can program and run shows anywhere.”

Or in our case, a computer from the department of theatre and dance that lived in our lovely control shack. Take a look of this great video of me opening it:

control-shack-CM

The convenience of having the full capability of a console in a single USB key was a great advantage as we couldn’t have a board in the woods for obvious reasons.

ETC USB key and software for HOG, EOS and Cobalt picture by ETC

Besides, you can download the software on any computer and work on creating your color palettes, effects, magic sheets, etc offline allowing the programmer and designer to multitask.

LIVE magic sheet
  • The educational version includes the Gadget II

The Gadget II allows you to spit 512 channels (one universe) at a time with the two-port DMX/RDM to USB it has. Ideal for small to medium shows, installations, and events.

Gadget II picture by ETC
  • The ETC website reads:

“It includes a base ETCnomad lighting controller key and a Gadget II 2-universe USB to DMX/RDM interface. The tiny USB key plugs into a computer, turning it into a flexible controller that runs Eos-family software; ETC Cobalt-family software, HighEnd Systems Hog software. The Gadget connects the computer to your lighting system’s DMX/RDM devices.”

Which brings me to the next PRO,

  • You have full access to the HOG PC software

If you want to get more experience with HOG now you can as the key allows you to use it as a console as well

  • Affordable

Hardware and software for lighting are expensive, but students and educators only pay the $250 cost of the Gadget II

“The recommended retail price for the ETCnomad Education package is $250 (+ tax), which is the usual retail price of a Gadget.”

Here are the cons of the Educational package

Cons

ETC says the base version of the nomad, which is the one included in the student package, unlocks 1024 outputs or channels. However, it only allows you to control 512 at a time. I do not remember if it was because its the student version or if it’s the gadget that only allows 512 at a time.

ETCnomad is available in a base or unlocked version. The base unit supports 1024 outputs while the unlocked version supports 6144. 

  • You can’t use the High-End Systems super widget

Since ETC bought High-End one would assume you can use High-End products with the ETCnomad, but you can’t. You only have those 2 DMX outputs unless you buy or rent another gadget or a DMX brain.

Final Thoughts

Even with the few cons, the educational package of the ETCnomad was perfect for our needs. The price is very attractive for students, the portability depends on how big your computer is, and the versatility is something that I wish more companies would provide. Just keep in mind that you only have 512 channels available and 2 outputs when you’re designing or programming.

I’M DEFINITELY BUYING ONE WITH MY NEXT PAYCHECK.

If you are ready too, click here.

10 Weeks Later…

To say the least, this was one monster project…(*ba-dum-tssss*)

I recall our first official class this previous September: I was totally overwhelmed by our tight timeline, the scale of our project (compared to the size of our class), and quite frankly whether we were going to be able to pull off a project like this, period. Prior to this Creek Monster class, I had never worked on a project that required so much time, attention, coordination/cooperation, money, resources, etc. I am a Studio Artist by trade- therefore, I am accustomed to working independently, and on a MUCH smaller scale. I think that is part of the reason I was so interested in signing up for the class. I didn’t have a clue about production design or fabrication, and my knowledge of 3-Dimensional art was limited. I had taken one wood-shop class my Freshman year of College where I designed and hand-crafted a breakfast tray…that’s a lot different than a 10 ft tall monster Habitat. However, despite my lack of knowledge in these areas, I knew that this class was an opportunity that I couldn’t resist. So I went for it!

The most valuable thing I was taught, (or rather was burned into my brain), during this class, was the art of prototyping. I honestly don’t think I could tell you how many prototypes our class made collectively..but believe me when I tell you that it was a lot! Working as an independent artist, I never understood the importance of prototyping. Let me clarify: I always made sketches before starting a project, just so I have some initial direction. But that’s the thing: when you work independently, you can change your direction relatively easily AND whenever YOU want to. This mindset was very difficult for me to overcome. Honestly, that was the greatest challenge I faced during this class: to learn how to communicate, cooperate, and find time to work with my classmates and the eye team, (which I was part of). Unlike most classes at UT, this class wasn’t just a random group of students, it was a team. And without each team-member playing his or her essential part, there was no way this project could have been pulled off. It takes great responsibility, ownership, and maturity to understand this and take action. 

In my opinion, one of the greatest takeaways from this project is the experience. This class has given me the opportunity to create a project, (one that is larger than I have ever made), for an audience of over 50,000 people. The experience of working with such a fun, creative, dedicated team is something that I am very grateful for. I am thankful for the Texas Applied Arts program for creating this amazing class. In all honesty, I don’t think I would ever have the opportunity to work on a project like Creek Monster without this program. To be able to say that I was part of creating the Creek Monster Habitat for the 2019 Waller Creek Show is a great honor. 

Thank you to all the classmates, mentors, professors, guest artists, and volunteers that came together to make our Creek Monster Habitat such a successful exhibit. Cheers!

Creating a Voice for the Monster

At the start of this project, I felt like I was drowning. There was so much to do, so much direction to follow (or little depending on how you look at it), and so little time. Creative liberty can be a blessing and a curse. I have never had to work on such a large-scale project with so little direction as to just “make the sounds”. So many things can result from this, particularly a lot of ideas being scrapped or adjusted along the way. My journey as an artist has been very independent up until this point: I have always created for myself and have been guided by my own desires for the most part. Detaching from this mindset and having the flexibility to adapt to what was needed for the overall vision is perhaps one of the most important things that I have taken away from this, a learning experience for sure.

Trees above the entrance to the monster den.

I worked specifically on creating the entrance music for the exhibit. Coming up with the concept for the soundscape was not too difficult, but the collaboration and coordination between everyone else and myself was something I was not necessarily prepared for. It is hard to hear that what you made is not what the creative lead was looking for, but that’s just a part of the process. Pushing towards perfection is not easy when you are trying to portray someone else’s vision, but listening and taking in things you might not have thought of before can create something new and beautiful.

Image result for sea lion
A sea lion.

My team, the sound team, was tasked with creating a voice for the monster as well, something quite high pressure in the grand scheme of our work. We went through many iterations, always looking for the perfect sound and continually failing at it. Some were adequate, but we still needed something more. It wasn’t until a suggestion by guest artist James Ortiz that we honed in on what exactly we needed. He suggested sea lions, something I would have never thought of, and I found a great sample that I was able to transform to what is now the voice of our creek monster. Inspiration can be found in the strangest of places from the strangest of ideas, and I’m grateful that this was able to become my mark on this project.

This project has been one of the best experiences I’ve had the chance to partake in as a creative, musician, and aspiring professional. So many moving parts contributed to what would become an amazing exhibit that really defined what being a student at UT is all about. In the end, I believe everyone has a creek monster within them, some just might need a bit of commitment and direction to find its voice.

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