Brave new worlds
Tal Yarden was an experimental film major at Bard College in New York’s Hudson Valley. His films were defiantly of the non-narrative variety, yet he didn’t like the narrow focus of curated group shows as a venue for his work. He was interested in working with multiple screens, and found a temporary home in the dance world, creating sets using film projections. But it wasn’t until video projection came into its own that Yarden found the outlet that suited him.
In December of 1999, Yarden was hired to do a projection on a building in Times Square to celebrate the New Year and the coming millennium. Using two Barco projectors, Yarden created a 60ft. vertical projection, and his company Eye Mag Media was born. With partners Patricia Fox and her brother Guy, Yarden designs video installations and stages multimedia shows for corporate clients.
VS: What type of work do you do with Eye Mag Media?
Yarden: We do a variety of work. From the design standpoint, we’re often contacted by event designers or show designers for fashion shows or publicity events, saying that they want to incorporate video into the project. A lot of times for ambient atmosphere or to show off their client’s product in an interesting way – to set the mood. We also do a lot of theatrical design.
VS: How did you make the transition from film to video?
Yarden: I got into video because film is very expensive to work with. It also scratches. It’s not really a good medium for doing ongoing installations. The [early] video projection units were big and clunky, as we all know. I didn’t really get into it until video began to be more affordable and smaller, more contained – something I could really manipulate in space. So it’s really only in the past four or five years I’ve gotten into video projection, because the projectors became small enough that you could really play around with them. You didn’t have to lift 150 pounds up onto some perch.
VS: What was your last job for a client?
Yarden: Timberland was showing off their various fashions and accessories to New York magazines and media to promote what they do to the fashion world, and the event designer, Frederick Anderson, asked us to create these panoramic landscapes, and then sets were built in front of these landscapes. So what we had was a field with a fence that transitions into another field going into a mountain, the mountain going down to a lake, the lake becomes a winter lake, and then back to a summer lake. [Timberland has] a print ad campaign that has eight images, so we went up to the Catskills to find things that were roughly in that vein. Then working a lot in After Effects, we reformatted them so that they were more panoramic.
VS: Can you describe what you did with After Effects?
Yarden: For instance, we wanted one sky to flow through all the different images, so we went along the terrain and cut out the background and replaced that with a single sky so that it would flow continuously through the four images. Then we pieced together four videos, one after another, dissolving the edges, blurring the edges, so it really was a smooth transition between all these different images.
VS: Was it on four different screens or one big screen?
Yarden: It was on one screen, but four different projectors that were all joined up. Then we do things like put little pieces of tape in front of the projectors to blend the edges, fuzz up the edges, so it really smoothes all movement. We burned DVDs of everything and synchronized it, so that clouds passing along continued all the way through. The ultimate panoramic image was 14ft.x100ft. and kind of surrounded the audience. Then there were sets built in front of it, with rocks and grass and some trees. People had tents – there were some actors in front of it.
VS: Did you use front or rear projection?
Yarden: It was all done with front projection. It was speeded up a bit to really get the cloud movement. It was done at a space called Eyebeam Atelier, which is going to be a new digital arts center in New York. It’s a big raw space right now with lots of big I-beams. They’re over in Chelsea where a lot of the art galleries are.
VS: What type of video did you shoot, and what cameras did you use?
Yarden: We shoot almost exclusively on DV because we edit on Macintosh computers using FireWire. For these one-day events it’s a lot less expensive than working on Betacam. We actually used two [cameras], a [Sony] TRV-900 and a [Sony] VX-1000. We also have a PAL DV because we’ve done work in Europe.
VS: What’s the editing program you use on the Mac?
Yarden: We use quite a variety. We tend to work a lot with EditDV. That’s the one we used for Timberland. But there’s not a lot of editing on that. It’s almost all done in After Effects, and then we really are using EditDV just to capture the video onto the computer, and then to make the loop. But EditDV is a very simple, solid program. We also use other programs, like [Apple] Final Cut. We use Avid, but a lot of times we use EditDV just because it’s very straightforward.
VS: Can you talk about the work you did on the Tokyo 2001 Digital Life show this past May as an example of the technical work you do?
Yarden: The whole show was to promote new Japanese fashion designers. For this event, we were really the technical design and staging company, just setting all the stuff up, and working with their video artists who had come over from Tokyo. We set up different VJ stations with them, and there was a live Internet feed from Tokyo. We really were in there more to enable their ideas.
VS: You mentioned you had 40 pairs of Eye-Treks video glasses.
Yarden: They were demoed for the event by Olympus. There was a Zen Room, and there was a single video projection – just atmospheric clouds and stuff like that – on a wall, and a woman playing a classical Japanese string instrument. Then there were these tatami mats, and people would take off their shoes and sit down and put on these Eye-Treks glasses, and get taken in to this other world of Japanese animation. You couldn’t see it without the glasses. The whole feeling was that you were jacking in to this other universe – kind of cybertech.
VS: Can you describe how the glasses work?
Yarden: It’s very odd. They have a little, like, periscope. They have small monitors for each eye, but instead of the monitors being right in front of the eye, they’re facing downward toward the ground from the top of the glasses. And then there’s a mirror that sends it back toward the eye, which gives it a little more depth. You feel like you’re completely inside that world because all of your peripheral vision is gone.
VS: How well did the effect work to suit the show?
Yarden: It worked great. The glasses are an interesting, acquired taste. I’m not sure that they’re for me. They’re great as a kind of experience. It really puts you inside a different world, which is kind of astonishing. For instance, if you move your head with the glasses on, what you’re seeing isn’t moving the way your head moves, so it can be disorienting in that way. It’s very internal. It’s like getting into a videogame or something like that. But the glasses work pretty well, although oddly, one thing that we had to deal with, you have to punch a code in because they are not licensed to be used by anybody under 16 years old. I was told by Olympus that it had to do with eye development. That people who are younger, their eyes are still developing in a certain way, and they feel like this could be damaging to them. Needless to say, I didn’t spend a lot of time with those glasses on.
Darroch Greer is a documentary filmmaker and historian, currently completing a film on hunger in America called Time of Hunger. He writes, produces, and directs documentaries for PBS, Discovery Channel, The History Channel, and VH1.
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