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The Color Project Turns Satellite Pics into Art

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MPC NY and the Independent Filmmakers Project use film locations for generative art installation

The Color Project Turns Satellite Pics into Art

MPC New York was invited to contribute a generative artwork for the Media Center’s high profile launch. ‘The Color Project’ is part of an ongoing R&D concept created by MPC Digital in collaboration with artist Thompson Harrell and the launch piece remains on show at the center as one of five permanent installations.   

The Made in NY Media Center by IFP (Independent Filmmaker Project) brings together innovators across creative industries and is dedicated to defining and championing the future of digital storytelling.  The space empowers artists by connecting them to resources and audiences with the aim of evolving their art.

‘The Color Project’ focuses on exploring narratives through color, line, and form found in geographic satellite imagery. This implementation of the project highlights the locations from many of the films that have been championed by IFP.

The formal motifs of each film location are explored in the form of a grid of 162 globes.  In beautifully synchronicity, each view first plunges from space, coming to a stop on a single color in the landscape, creating a place-specific mosaic. Hopping from one location to the next, the piece reveals the character of Bogotá, Colombia (Maria Full of Grace), Cleveland, New York City, Florida (Stranger than Paradise), Vietnam and Virginia (The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers), among others, while also drawing attention to the contrast between the locations.

The piece utilizes Google Earth, and custom software programmatically records the geographical features of each location, which are presented on an impressive wall of 27 HD screens. 

The Color Project at IFP Media Center from MPC Digital on Vimeo.

MPC explains the technological challenges:

The main technical hurdle was scale: the sheer amount of content needed to create the installation was prohibitive without a scalable custom software solution.  We first needed to analyze well over 1,000 square miles of satellite imagery from 12 different locations, and identify hundreds of "meaningful" colors at pixel-level in each location.
We created a suite of sampling applications using node.js and MongoDB for storing, organizing, and analyzing over 60,000 colors that were collected. We created both an automated bot that combed each location for hours, as well as a web application that allowed us to hand curate location-specific architectural details and colors.

Using open Frameworks and Awesomium (an off-screen browser renderer), we built an automated sampling and recording interface to the Google Earth API and created a library of over 1,620 sequences, each spanning 1 minute and 30 seconds.

Finally, we utilized Python and Nuke to composite the final five sequences, each containing 324 individual videos to make up the mosaic.


Creative Director: David Estis in collaboration with artist Thompson Harrell

Executive Producer: Tim Dillon

Lead Developer: Jeff Crouse

Creative Technologist: Chris Vincze

Managing Director: Justin Lane

Film references: supplied by IFP

Music: Porcelain by Apparat


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Genres: Animation, Visual VFX

Categories: Short films

MPC New York, Fri, 24 Jan 2014 11:48:20 GMT